Plant Propagation-softwood cuttings

Are you interested in plant propagation? One of the best ways (and easiest!) to propagate plants is by taking cuttings and subject them to the right conditions so they forms roots. Although semi-hard and hardwood cuttings will root, softwood cuttings are usually easier to root and become a sizable plant in less time.

So what is the secret to plant propagation and rooting softwood cuttings?

No secret really, just the right conditions for the type of plant you are trying to reproduce. Although what I am about to describe works for most plants, there are some that almost refuse to root as softwood cuttings. Purple-leaf Sandcherry immediately comes to mind. Sandcherry cuttings will almost always rot and die if you try to root them as softwood cuttings, so propagating them as hardwood cuttings with bottom heat may result in better rooting percentages. Discovering the proper conditions is one of the biggest challenges in plant propagation.

What is the right condition for rooting softwood cuttings?

Adequate sunlight, temperature, and humidity are three of the biggest factors that affect the rooting of a softwood cutting. Let’s touch on each just a bit.

Sunlight requirements while propagating plants

Plants require sunlight to produce energy. Along with the energy production, the sunlight does another vital role: to help the roots supply moisture to the plant and to draw moisture up into the stem. It does this by evaporating the moisture from the surface of the leaf, which causes a low pressure on the surface. This low pressure helps draw moisture up into the plants stem and up to the leaves.

Because a softwood cutting does not have roots, this process can be vital to the cuttings survival. This can be accomplished in many ways, but the two most common are using a misting system or a humidity chamber. An intermittent misting system provides moisture at a predetermined interval which keeps the leaves moist. A humidity chamber does the same thing, but the method of retaining the moisture differs. A humidity chamber retains moisture because it keeps it from evaporating because the cuttings are enclosed in a clear or opaque chamber.

Temperature requirements while propagating plants

Temperature is one of those factors while propagating plants that is often overlooked. The top of the cutting, including the leaves, should be kept cool, while the bottom of the stem should be kept warm. One way to keep the tops cool is to spray them with mist from a misting system. Another is to use shade cloth to reduce the sun’s intensity, however, you need to be careful not to reduce the amount of sunlight too much. Remember, the cuttings still need sunlight to help with the process of drawing moisture up into the cutting. The sunlight is also needed to help warm the rooting media to keep the bottom of the cutting warm.

Humidity requirements while propagating plants

Keeping the cuttings hydrated is essential to successfully root softwood cuttings. The moisture that is deposited on the cuttings leaves and rooting medium allows the cutting to live without roots. The moisture is drawn up into the cutting through the stem where it supplies the plant with moisture. Too much water in the rooting medium can cause the stems to rot and a misting system is a great way to control the amount of moisture in the rooting medium.

Another thing the moisture that is deposited on a cutting does is to keep the cutting cool. Plants go through a process called transpiration. This transpiration process is quite similar to our perspiring because it allows the plant to release water through its leaves which cools the plant off. This transpiration process is what actually draws the water up the cuttings stem and incorrect amount of water on and around the cutting can greatly affect the process.

Discovering the right conditions to get softwood cuttings to root is half the fun. Go ahead, give it a try today!

How to reawaken your misting system for spring

Just as getting your misting system ready for winter is extremely important, so is getting it ready for spring. With just a few simple steps, you can make sure you are off to a good start.

First, take a quick look at all the misting components. You are looking for any cracks, breaks, worn areas, etc that may become problems later on. Also think back to the previous year and if you had any problems with the system. If any problems with any components are detected, now is the time to fix them.

If you have a DIG digital misting timer that controls your misting system (and you should!), replace the 9 volt battery. Simply remove the battery cover by giving it a twist, and the battery will drop out. Remove the old and replace with the new. Don’t worry about losing your program, the timer takes about 30 seconds to completely lose power and erase the program.

Remove any misting nozzles that may be installed in your main water line. Note how you remove them so you can reassemble everything back the way it was originally. Rinse out the main water line to flush out any debris that may be in them, rinse the nozzles in warm water, and if you have hard water or other minerals that cause scale, a short soak in vinegar will help dissolve any deposits. Reassemble the nozzles in the main line.

If using Dramm stix, the same vinegar soaking process works for the nozzles on them. One more item to look for on Dramm mist stix is checking the small black tubes for wear. If the end looks worn and has a smaller diameter than the rest of the tubing, cut it off with a razor knife. Using the tubes that have the ends worn will cause them to pop out of the holes in the water line. This can cause you to lose your entire bed of cuttings. Also look for cracks in the tubing along the seam. Replacement tubing for Dramm mist stix can be purchased in the event of a defective tube.

Next, rinse out the solenoid valve. Shake out any excessive water and debris with it. Opening the bypass and blowing out the water is also an option. be sure to close the bypass afterward.

Check the irrigation wire for breaks in the insulation or corrosion of the wire itself. Replace if necessary.

Clean out and rinse any filters you may be using. It is highly recommended to use a filter to eliminate any debris from entering your misting system components. Debris can cause solenoids to stick open and clog misting nozzles. I can hear some of you now “I have [insert water source here] and have never had any problems with debris in my lines”. That may be true. And it may not be.

Wells can have flakes of rust fall off the casing and the pump can pick this up and send it down the line and into your water piping. Occasionally, sand can also be stirred up and sent through your system too. The aerators on your faucets keep these small particles from getting into your drinking water and that may be why you have never seen sand in your glass of water. Water supplied through a local water district is less likely to contain debris, but it does happen. When any repairs are done on any lines by the District, sediment can and will enter the lines. This sediment can and will find its way to your water supply and your misting system. A simple water filter can save you a ton of time and money by keeping this debris out of your misting system. How do I know this?

Soon after the local water district worked on the lines near my friends house, her kitchen faucet stopped working. To make a long story short, the plumber the District sent ended up replacing the faucet because it was jammed with small pebbles that were carried in from the street.

Lastly, take stock of how the system performed the previous year and if you have any plans to expand your misting system the current year. If you had problems, now is the time to correct them. Any plans for expansion can be incorporated before your misting system is put into service for the year without any interruptions to your rooting operations.  For instance, if you are adding a zone, installing a splitter or manifold with multiple outlets to deliver the water to it will be easier when there is no water in the lines. Also, the system will not have to be shut down to accommodate the additions.

Doing these simple steps before placing the misting system in service can help eliminate any problems that may arise later.

What do you do to get your system ready for another season of rooting cuttings?

An easy way to select the correct misting system parts

Have you ever tried to select parts for a misting system to root cuttings? It can be quite daunting unless you know exactly what you need can’t it?

Timers for a misting system

For instance, selecting a misting timer like the mechanical (Intermatic) ones commonly used is a basic mistake people make. Why is choosing Intermatic timers a mistake? Simple, a misting system that uses mechanical timers such as the Intermatic are immediately locked into using one setting for every cutting being rooted.  Regardless of the moisture requirements of the particular softwood cuttings, every cutting receives the same duration and frequency of mist because the timer can control only one misting solenoid at a time. Some cuttings can handle a fair amount of moisture, but softwood cuttings such as Barberry and others require much less and will usually rot and die when given too much.

Also, when and if (take it from me, it is ALWAYS when) you want to increase the size of your misting beds, you either have to use the existing Intermatic timers to supply the same amount of mist or buy new timers and solenoids to create a new zone which can then be programmed to supply a different amount of mist. Even so, every cutting within that zone gets exactly the same amount of mist.

The cost of the mechanical timers is quite high, making expansion a costly endeavor. The 24 hour timer is usually quite reasonable, but the interval timer that controls the duration of the mist typically costs well over $100 each! I wouldn’t want to buy too many of those.

See, choosing the correct parts for a misting system can be quite a feat and I just briefly mentioned the timers needed for the misting system. I didn’t even begin to talk about misting nozzles. That can be another confusing area when building a misting system.

So what is the answer when needing parts for building a misting system?

Take the misting system e-course!

Top 10 ornamental pests for 2011

According to an article I just read in Lawn and Landscape magazine, Dr. Dan Potter considers these insects to be the top 10 pests for ornamentals in 2011. What do you think?

Web-making caterpillars
Gypsy Moth Caterpillar
Spider Mites
Japanese Beetles
Scale insects
Borers in trees and shrubs
Emerald ash Borer

This past summer, I only had trouble with Web-making caterpillars and Japanese Beetles, but I have found a secret weapon for the beetles. Stay tuned to find out how I am decimating the Japanese Beetle population on my property.

Do you have trouble with any of these insects?

Win a book on plant propagation (and another secret prize) just for commenting!

Ok, I have had about enough of this cold weather and snow, how about you? I am tired and my back is telling me to take a break. I can’t wait for spring and summer to arrive so I can get outside and start rooting softwood cuttings again. To get our plant propagation juices flowing I have decided to give away a book of your choice about plant propagation.

Simply use the supplied Amazon search on the right or the links on the right or just below to browse for the book you would like and post a comment below telling me the name, price, and author so I know exactly which one you want. You can also let me know why you chose that particular book if you would like too. That’s pretty much it! At the end of the contest, I will choose one winner from everyone who has left a comment. I will then contact them via email, get the correct shipping address, and send the book absolutely free of charge!

Now for a few contest rules:

  • Contests is open to US and Canadian residents only and void where prohibited
  • The book must be about plant propagation ONLY. No other subjects qualify.
  • Only one book will be awarded even if its price is well below the $25.00 limit
  • My decision is final but I reserve the right to choose an alternate winner in the event that the original cannot be reached
  • The value of the book cannot exceed $25.00 excluding shipping
  • You can comment as many times as you would like, but spamming me with comments to win may result in deletion of all comments and remove you from the contest
  • Liking on Facebook or Tweeting about the contest will add a little weight to your comment (see below) so be sure to let me know when you leave a comment that you have done so (following me ( or friending me is even better!)
  • Comments are worth 1 point, tweets and likes are worth 1 point each. The winner will be obviously be the one with the most points : )
  • Leaving a comment and link on another gardening or plant propagation blog about the contest will also get you an added (secret) prize if you win, so be sure to let me know where you did it, just remember to not spam another blog just to win…you will be disqualified for that too…
  • Must be 18 or over to enter

That’s not too much to ask now is it?

I just did a quick search on Amazon myself and here are just a few books I found that qualify, and it took less than 30 seconds to find them:

The contest will end March 4, 2011 at 5pm Eastern time. Any comments after 5pm will not be counted! I will notify the winner as soon as they are chosen so be sure to leave a good email address when commenting. After successfully contacting the winner, I will post a comment letting everyone know who it is.

Good luck!

Can you use a water storage tank for misting without using a pump?

I often get asked if a simple water storage tank like a rain barrel, can be used to provide water for a misting system. In this day and age, many folks are thinking greener and using barrels or drums to collect water from their downspouts when it rains. Can this water be used for a misting system? The answer is simple; yes and no.

Why you cannot use a water storage tank for misting-gallons required:

The problem with using a storage tank for misting is not that it will not provide enough water nor enough water pressure to satisfy your misting system. First, I will demonstrate the volume of water needed, then the water pressure a misting system requires. We will use a Dramm pin perfect nozzle with a green pin as an example.

A Dramm pin perfect nozzle that uses the green pin uses .69 gallons per minute at 15psi, .82 at 22psi, .95 at 29psi, and 1.08 at 36psi. To make that a bit clearer, if the water pressure is just 15psi, the misting nozzle will use .69 gallons of water if run continuously for 1 minute. Assuming you have a 55 gallon water storage tank, you could get about 80 minutes of continuous flow if using 1 pin perfect misting nozzle. (55 gallons divided by .69 gallons per minute =79.7 minutes). Assuming you are misting for 10 seconds every minute you would be misting only 72 minutes out of a 12 hour day and using 49.68 gallons of water. (12 hours times 60 (minutes) = 720 minutes. 720 divided by 10 (seconds of mist every minute) = 72 minutes of mist in a 12 hour day. 72 times .69 (gallons per minute) = 49.68 gallons of water is needed). Remember, this is using just ONE misting nozzle! If you are using more than one, the number of gallons used in a 12 hour period will be even more. The number of minutes you could mist per day will be reduced also.

This example is assuming your water pressure is only 15psi. Most misting systems used for propagating plants will average 40psi or more. Remember, at 36psi, one Dramm pin perfect misting nozzle using the green pin uses 1.08 gallons per minute. This means that in the same 12 hour period, the single misting nozzle would use 77 gallons of water! (12 hours times 60 (minutes) = 720 minutes . 720 divided by 10 seconds of mist per minute = 72 minutes of mist per 12 hour period. 72 times 1.08 (gallons per minute) = 77 gallons of water needed.) Using the same 55 gallon barrel (and assuming you can get the 36psi pressure) the 55 gallon barrel would not supply enough water for just two misting nozzles for a single day! Using a much larger tank would provide the required amount of water (assuming you can fill it every day), but how will you provide enough water pressure?

Why you cannot use a water storage tank for misting-pressure required:

The example above mentions the average pressure a misting system for propagating plants requires. This pressure was 40 pounds per square inch, or 40psi. 1 psi is equal to a column of water 2.31 feet high (at sea level). This means that for your 55 gallon barrel (or any other tank for that matter) to provide just 1 psi, it would need to be raised 2.31 feet above sea level to provide that 1psi. To get 15psi, we would have to raise the container 34.65 feet (15 times 2.31 = 34.65). Remember, 1psi=2.31 feet which means that if we want 15 psi, we need to raise the container 15 times the 2.31 foot measurement. WOW, can you imagine raising  a barrel or other container almost 35 feet into the air just to get 15 pounds of pressure to your misting system? Me neither! Without raising the water storage tank to unspeakable (and unsafe!) heights, the only alternative is using a pump to deliver the proper pressure. But remember, this is assuming your tank is large enough to provide the amount of water required for the number of misting nozzles you have.

My experience is that using a water storage tank to provide water to a misting system is wasted time and money unless you do the math to determine if your tank is high enough and large enough to provide the volume and pressures required. Even if you have a storage tank large enough to provide the required amount of water every day, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself, like:

  • Do you have the time and resources to fill it every day?
  • Do you have electricity nearby to power the pump that is required to provide enough pressure to supply your misting system?
  • Can you use the time and money required to get the water storage tank to work for something better, like installing a water line from a well or city water?

Before committing to using a rainbarrel or other water storage container to provide water to your misting system, a bit of research beforehand will save you a ton of frustration later.

What parts are needed to build an intermittent misting system?

Good question.

Here is a short list of the parts needed to build a mist system for propagating plants. Depending on the complexity of your system, you may need parts not listed.

  • A timer that can mist for seconds at a time. Most timers purchased at big box stores or local plumbing outlets are not adequate for misting because they cannot be programmed to mist in seconds.
  • A fast closing solenoid. Slow closing solenoids cannot be used in a mist system because it affects the accuracy of the timer.
  • Main water piping. This can be PVC or black irrigation pipe. Main water piping should be at least 1/2 inch in diameter but 3/4 inch is better.
  • Various fittings. The required fitting to adapts from your water supply to your misting system will be needed as well as any tees, 90’s or others to adapt your misting nozzles.
  • Misting nozzles. the misting nozzles you choose will determine if you need any special adapters for your water piping. Some use a flexible tube that simply get inserted into a hole drilled into the pipe. Be sure to decide which nozzle you will use before starting assembly of the water piping.
  • Wire. Irrigation wire  is used to carry the low voltage electrical signal from the timer to the solenoid. If using two mechanical timers, larger gauge wire will be needed to connect them everything together.
  • A water filter. If you have a whole house filter you may not need a second filter, however, if your water is not filtered at all, a filter for just the misting system is a good idea. Small particles can become lodged in the solenoid valve or misting nozzles, rendering them useless.
  • A back flow device. Some state or local governments require a backflow preventer to eliminate the likelihood of contaminated water being drawn back into the water supply. A whole house backflow preventer is quite costly but there are devices available that are installed between an outside spigot and the hose.

Now that you know what parts are needed, why don’t you take the misting system e-course to learn even more!

Michael Dirr iPhone app to debut at the 2011 National Green Centre in St. Louis

For all you tech savvy folks with iPhones, Michael Dirr, the author of the highly popular Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses, will reveal an app called Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder. The app features over 9400 plants, 7600 hi resolution photos, over 1100 line drawings, and 72 search criteria to make looking for information easier. It is being released by Timber Press and the cost is $9.99 and is sure to be the best source for information on woody landscape plants available.

I haven’t heard if it covers the propagation of the plants covered, but I sure hope it does!

5 tips on maintaining your plant propagation misting system

Maintaining your misting system is vital to a long lived and trouble free service, but isn’t as difficult as you may think. Here are 5 tips to keep your system running in tip top shape.

1. Check your misting system daily for correct operation
A quick daily check will alert you to any problems that can be corrected immediately, potentially saving your cuttings from a sure death. A quick glance at your cuttings will tell you if they are being under or over misted.

2. Clean your water filter monthly
Cleaning the filter ensures it is flowing freely. It also will alert you of any debris that may be getting into your system so you can correct it. Don’t have a filter? Install one, it may save your cuttings!
3. Check your misting nozzles for proper operation
The Dramm pin perfect nozzles as well as others occasionally get plugged up with minerals or algae which causes them to spray incorrectly. Knowing how to correct this may save your cuttings from drying out. With the Dramm pin perfect nozzles, a simple twist of the pin usually corrects the problem.
4. Check your entire misting system often for leaks
A small leak will not really affect the operation of your misting system but can alert you to a pending disaster. If a fitting, joint, or other part of your misting system suddenly begins to leak, immediately check to be sure there are no breaks or cracks. A part with a small break or crack can suddenly fail, immediately turning your misting system useless.  As well as alerting you to a potential problem, a small leak just wastes water, something we all need to conserve more of.
5. Check to be sure the solenoid valve is operating correctly
Malfunctioning solenoids can cause too little mist being delivered, too much mist being delivered, or a continuous flow of water dripping from the nozzles. Debris, algae, and worn internal parts can cause the solenoid to run continuously, wasting water and potentially delivering too much moisture to the cuttings. On the other hand, a solenoid that has lost its connection to the timer due to a break in the wire or loose wire nut will not deliver any mist to the cuttings at all, resulting in their death.
Paying close attention to the operation of you misting system can reduce the likelihood of catastrophic failures. Following these simple steps may save you time and money and also save your cuttings from certain death.