Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 9, 1972


Lecture 2, Part 2.8

An Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms

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Contents of this Segment:

Propagation by seed is best, when possible; Position of parent plant to take cutting from; Optimal size of cutting; Grape vines; Transplant as soon as possible; Pruning of strikes; Wilting; Rooting powders; Bulbs.

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Villa Montalvo Lecture Series

Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 2,

Propagation, Part 8


When you grow a seed, here is the perfect classical production of a plant. When you can grow from seed: Grow from seed. When you want this repetition for security, use it. But you are taking now a piece of growth that has no roots. It has got to produce some roots, and all the time, the growth wants to grow. Forever, to a certain degree of limitation, this plant is out of balance. That top part will always be, to a certain degree, ahead of the root procedure, which is not so with a seed. You have got the perfect balance. You have to remember this because it applies in some plants tremendously.

Take the little Begonia tausenshoen, the fibrous begonia. You can propagate this from seed… You can treat it as an annual, which it really is. Or you may propagate it from strikes. Little pieces of the begonia struck will root. You will find when you grow it that the perfect result comes every time from seed. You get a better plant, a better length of blooming, a more robust plant. No matter what tricks you do, what techniques you follow with the strike or the cutting, it never works as beautifully as the seed. That is because the seed comes absolutely true, and as does the cutting. But the seed makes the better plant.

With this cutting or strike, you must remember this: Where you take that strike or cutting from. You must learn to study your plant as to whether you require one-year wood or two-year wood to strike best. There are relative changes in this matter. Some even prefer three-year wood. At all times, the classic procedure is to take as small a piece as possible. This is why you do not graft a rose. You do not graft a vine, a grape vine. You bud them. The smallest possible embryonic matter is the best. You cannot take the bud of an apple or the bud of a pear or the bud of a peach. You can, but it is not satisfactory; you have to take a graft, a scion, and insert it into the stock.

The larger the strike or the cutting the more growth that you have out of balance with what is to be the root formation. Therefore the smaller the piece you can strike, the better is the final and total result. There are variations on a theme of this. For instance Camellias, as you know, you really only should ever take four leaves and the youngest shoots. On the contrary, there are some plants  that you cannot take the one year growth and strike at all. Two year is necessary to make a good strike.

That I have said, in all cases, you should cut a cutting below the leaf joint at an angle. This does not apply to the grape vine cutting. You must cut through the bud. And never take a strike of a grape vine, always a cutting. The one strange reason, and it’s a huge variation on a theme... The one reason is that they are prone to a disease if there is a heel on the vine that is struck. It must be a cutting. However, the grape vine is very unique and has the largest methods of propagation that exist, and are extremely fascinating. And if we only had time, would love to discuss it. We haven’t.

Now, it also behooves what part of the plant… We have discussed the time. The times are the two equinoxes. And they are the externals of the two equinoxes for the simple reason of this: It is the time when the plant is not at its utmost virility. Those growths are in a tight, mature, undeveloped state. They have all the embryonic matter inside. They have not run. And therefore those two times are the important times to do those matters. And also the climatics of the equinoctial are the correct for good striking. They will not strike or try to grow too fast on the top. They will root  because of the equilibriate of the equinoxes.

And do not forget that it is vitally important to remove from the striking bed as soon as rooted, and to nurserify, or to put into pots.

The position of taking these cuttings or strikes

Take again the carnation. It should be taken as a strike and not a cutting. Any part of the carnation which is beginning to run to bloom—I am not, of course, referring to an actual bud on a stalk. That would be impossible to think of—but any stalk which is running toward, building towards blooming, is no use at all. You want those tightly developed shoots at the base near the whole crown, close to the central earth position of the plant. Therefore it is well to prune this plant to produce these growths at the right time. Cut back, and produce these lovely lush, strong, developed shoots that are not running.

And then pull each one by holding the main plant with the left hand… You take the one shoot that you want, and you tear that downwards and you get a piece of skin with the fresh growth. And that’s exactly what you want. You then clean it up with a pair of secateurs and you bundle them together and strike them.

Now there are some plants which you should wilt for a day before you strike, Geraniums and Pelargoniums and such.  Most of these matters you should strike immediately. Some people do believe in putting them in water for half a day. I don’t recommend it for this reason: They start to drink like mad. They start to breathe out of their foliage, and that’s just what you don’t want.

Plant, and again, do not cosset. Strike and do not cosset. Do not put in water. Do not use powders unless you are dealing with extremely problematic strikes and cuttings. Don’t use these matters that nurserymen have in packets that say, “This is the ideal thing. It hurries up strikes.” Well of course it does, and taking aspirin hurries up your end. Let the strike proceed in its own good way. And normally speaking, all these matters will root in their correct time. And you will get a much better plant.

Propagation of this sort is, of course, intricately varied, as you realize. Lilies. Almost all lily bulbs  can be propagated by peeling off those… (I can’t think of the word… It’s the little flabs that are on lily bulbs… Each lily bulbs is made of little… Well, you know what I mean.) You may take each of those off individually, and again, in sharp sand or vermiculite you may strike them over a period of three months. Every one of them will root. Well, practically every one will root and eventually make a bulb. The Sanpulia and the Begonia, you may strike from a leaf, providing that you have just a small piece of stalk on the leaf. There are endless variations on themes. And, of course, bulbs we won’t go into because they propagate almost entirely by having little baby bulblets, as you know.




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