Sometimes all it takes to get the kids interested in gardening is to show them some of the amazing things that plants do. Cuttings are a brilliant way to do this. Take a few stems of a tradescantia plant and place them in a glass jar of water on the kitchen or greenhouse windowsill and in a matter of days they will start to root. Pot them up and give a plant to each child to grow on. Another great plant to propagate with children is the spider plant. The plantlets form on runners from the parent plant and can be potted up into quality compost to root and grow on. As they mature, each plant will go on to create its own ‘babies’ to astonish the little ones.
July is a great time to bulk up favourite plants using a fascinating technique of leaf cuttings. It’s a brilliant project for the kids over the summer holidays but it is sure to keep the grownups occupied too.
Great plants to propagate in this way include African Violets (Saintpaulia), Gloxinias and the Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus). Some begonias can also be propagated in a similar way from sections of a leaf. Cuttings taken from leaves will produce plants identical to the parent plant so you know exactly what you are getting and if you get them growing now you may be able to pot them up for Christmas gifts. It doesn’t take long either, in a few weeks, usually about five or six your cuttings will have sprouted little plantlets that can be potted up and grown on into new plants for friends, family or even a gift for the children’s teacher.
You don’t need any special equipment or complicated techniques so it’s a brilliant project for sunny, summer afternoon.
– Simply fill a deep seed tray or a large pot with a gritty, loamy seed compost. John Innes Seed and Cutting Compost from Westland is a good choice.
– Level the surface and break up any clumps of compost.
– Carefully cut off two or three leaves of the plant you want to propagate, use a clean, sharp knife and cut close to the base of the plant. Choose healthy fresh leaves full-grown leaves that show no sign of disease or pests.
– Mist the compost so that it is moist but not over wet.
– For African violets you take what are called leaf petiole cuttings. This means that the new plant forms from the leaf stalk. Make a hole in the compost with a dibber about 3 cm deep but at a shallow angle. Make sure the surface cut of the leaf stem is clean and then push the stem into the hole so that the leaf is now sitting on the top of the compost. Place a propagator top, or a clear plastic bag over the cuttings to conserve the humidity.
– For Cape Primroses, take each leaf and using a really sharp knife or razor blade (children MUST have parental supervision for this) cut the leaf across the main vein horizontally into 5cm sections. Make a corresponding slot in the compost surface and insert each section into a slot so that about 2cm of leaf is submerged and the remainder sticks up vertically. Place a propagator top, or a clear plastic bag over the cuttings to conserve the humidity. Keep a close eye on your cuttings. If they show any sign of going mouldy or rotting, then remove them. It’s really important not to over water.