WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING PLANTS
Young trees and shrubs suitable for growing in the garden are available from a number of sources. Some types of plants are sold in supermarkets and a somewhat wider range is available from the high street garden shop. The garden centre presents a whole range of plants, nearly always in containers ready for immediate planting. The nursery has its plants growing in theand it is necessary to give the staff there some notice so that the trees or shrubs can be dug from the soil and the roots wrapped for transportation. Finally, there are a number of mail order organizations, some selling by means of advertisements in newspapers or gardening journals, others reaching customers by catalogue.
There is no best place to buy; all depends on the skill, experience, honesty and facilities offered by the retailer. Perhaps it is helpful, however, to point out one or two danger signs. The supermarket and to some extent the high street shop usually sell their shrubs as pre-packed specimens for obvious reasons. It is not easy to tell how long these specimens have been out of the soil or how dry they have become. So ask for this information and examine as carefully as you can. Container-grown plants in most garden centres are to be trusted, for apart from anything else you can examine them easily and reject any samples that have falling or drooping leaves, protruding roots, weak or broken stems, or signs of insect attack. Give the plant a light tug and if it comes easily out of the container look at the roots. They are almost certainly sparse and weak, indicating that the shrub has not been growing in the container but has only recently been placed there, so do not buy it. But on the other hand, if the roots are visible above the soil surface, thick and strong, then this indicates that the plant has been too long in the container and will not adapt easily to planting in the open ground.
It is not always easy to examine thoroughly a pre-packaged plant such as might be sold in a supermarket or similar establishment, but if the packages look weary and handled and if the temperature of the store is high, then the plants would have little chance of nourishing and they should be rejected. It might be possible to see one or two weak or dried-out stems, which, of course would be an indication of poor health. If buying from an advertisement in a newspaper or gardening journal, do not be carried away by the high-flown prose. If the plants offered were as strong, as beautiful, as easily grown, as quick to flourish and mature as the advertisement claims, then ask yourself why they are being offered at such a comparatively low price. This type of plant is often given a popular name of great appeal, but if you can look up the correct botanical name you are likely to find that it is not as romantic, as beautiful nor indeed as suitable as it is claimed to be in the advertisement.
RAISING PLANTS FROM SEED AND CUTTINGS
By far the cheapest way of raising trees and shrubs is to grow them from seed and the fact that this is done so seldom indicates that there must be some good reason. Seed of some plants is difficult to obtain and most are difficult to germinate without special conditions of heat and humidity. Those shrubs which can be raised easily enough from seed include leycesteria,, cistus and potentilla and the problem when raising these will be that of disposing of the many plants produced.
Fill a pot in spring with seed compost and water it, then sprinkle the seed very gently on the surface and cover with the lightest sprinkling of sand. Slip a plastic bag over the pot and secure it in place with a rubber band, placing the pot in a warm but shaded position. When the seeds have begun to germinate, move the pot to a spot where there is plenty of light but no direct sun and open the plastic bag to allow air to enter. When the seedlings can be handled move them, one to each small pot filled with a good potting compost, and then when the little plants have achieved a safe size put them in the garden.
The easiest way to raise new trees and shrubs is by taking cuttings, either in winter outdoors or in summer in the greenhouse. Take hardwood cuttings in October or November, choosing shoots of mature wood up to 30cm (12in) long. With deciduous plants the leaves will have fallen, with evergreens strip the low half of all foliage. Make a shallow trench some 15-20cm (6-8in) deep in a sheltered part of the garden, one side upright, the other sloping. Drop 5cm (2in) or so of sharp sand into the base of this trench. Now dip the lowest end of the cutting into some hormone rooting powder (5) and then stand it in the trench against the vertical wall so that the base rests on the layer of sand. Fill in the trench and firm down the soil. Roots will begin to grow when the clays get longer and warmer in the spring and by autumn new growth will be evident.
While they are passing their winter in the soil, visit the site occasionally to make sure the cuttings have not been smothered by falling leaves or otherwise damaged. If there has been heavy frost it is possible that the soil has been raised a little, in which case press it down again.
In summer take half-ripe cuttings, choosing a stem about 15cm (6in) long, soft and green at the tip and becoming woody at the base. Strip the leaves from the lower half (1). dip into rooting hormone (see below) and then insert in a pot filled with potting compost (2). After watering gently, cover the pot with a plastic bag and seal (3). Keep in a lightly shaded cool place until growth is visible in spring (4).
LAYERING AND DIVISION
Two further means of increasing your stock of trees and shrubs are the processes ofand division, both even easier than taking cuttings because the shrub does all the work for you! For layering it is necessary to have a plant which is low growing or has flexible branches low clown near the soil. In spring or autumn take one of these branches and bend it down until it touches the soil. Where it touches, gently cut half through the wood and slip a matchstick or something similar into the gash to hold it just open. Bury this portion of the stem in the soil, pegging it down just 5cm (2in) or so beneath the surface with a twig or perhaps even a hairpin. Prop up the green and growing tip on a stone or tie it to a small stake or twig. In anything from six to twelve months you will see from the increased activity at this stem end that new roots have been made. They will be at the point where you made a nick in the stem. Cut away the old stem portion between these roots and the parent plant. Leave the new young plant to make stronger roots for a few more months and then transfer it to its permanent home in the garden. Suitable plants for this type of layering include forsythia, honeysuckle, rhododendrons (above right), lilac, camellias and ericas.
An even easier form of propagation is known as division and it consists of dividing or separating some of the spreading growth of an existing tree or shrub which normally grows in clumps. Examples are, , ceratostigma, stephanandra, pachysandra, romneya and .
Examine your plant carefully and see where a portion is obviously growing apart from the main or parent plant. Thrust your spade strongly into the ground all around this smaller, separate plant to cut the roots which join it to the parent. Then dig it up with as much root as possible, transport it to its new site and replant, watering in well and keeping the soil moist for the first few weeks.
Sometimes it may be easier to dig up the whole of the parent plant and then cut away one or more portions to be planted separately. So long as no part of the plant is out of the soil more than a few minutes, no harm should come to either parent plant or the divided portion, but again keep the soil moist in time of drought. The best time to choose is late autumn for deciduous plants and spring or autumn for evergreens.
Still another means offrom your own or a neighbour’s garden is that of grafting. This is a much more complex technique involving a certain dexterity and skill that comes only from experience or sound tuition. No useful purpose would be served in giving sketchy details here. The previous methods described on these pages are relatively simple and almost foolproof. Grafting is a technique best left to the professionals.