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Encourage propagation to make your garden grow

Have you ever wondered how you could make a great garden even greater? Just multiply what you already have. Gardeners have a great gift for making more of a good thing. Some of the more popular plants I have been successful in multiplying include azaleas, gardenias, oak trees, most flowering plants, vegetables, bulbs and those special house plants we all know and love.

When rooting woody plants, it is most helpful to use a rooting medium that helps the cut stem create healthy roots. In the case of an azalea, cut a stem from new growth after the flowers die. Cut a 3- to 5-foot stem of soft growth with a diagonal cut. First, put the cut stem in warm water, then immediately into a jar of rooting hormone. Shake excess powder from stem and place in a pot with moist planting soil. Make sure you poke a pencil straight down into the soil to prepare a place for the powdered stem to assure that the rooting powder doesn't slip off, then gently push the soil against the stem. Cover the pots (hopefully you'll have lots of cuttings) with plastic to keep in the moisture, making sure to lift up a section of the plastic to allow air to circulate around the cuttings. Within several weeks, you should see perky leaves and perhaps some new growth. If the plant wilts or turns brown, the writing is on the wall _ those cuttings just do not want to reproduce. If you take about 20 cuttings, you should be successful in propagating at least half. Without using a rooting hormone, I have even had luck propagating both azaleas and gardenias by just placing the cut stem into potting soil and setting the pots on an old cookie sheet. The soil will stay moist by keeping the cookie sheet filled with water.

Oak trees are easy. Just find a willing squirrel to do the handiwork and transplant the seedling to a small planter. When the second leaves appear, transplant again to a larger pot (preferably one specially made for tree seedlings) and watch the acorn become a tree.

Just about all flowering plants make their own seeds. So all you have to do is collect the dried seeds from the pods and plant them just as if you purchased the seed packets from the nursery. Marigolds and zinnias are among the most popular flowering plants with which I have had the most success. They produce their own seeds which, when dried, can reproduce their own offspring. Of course, it is possible to reproduce many other flowering plants this way, so try your luck with a favorite and let me know how it turns out.

When a vegetable (like lettuce) produces flowers, the resulting seeds can be used to propagate more of its offspring. This is called "going to seed." Therefore, it is to our advantage to collect the seeds for propagating more and more of the same vegetable. Some plants, however, are open-pollinating, meaning the seeds inside the vegetable itself will produce future plants. These include tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, beans, etc. Unfortunately, heirloom plants do not reproduce clones of themselves. So, while it's great to have heirloom veggies, don't expect to reproduce them with any amount of success.

Bulbs are easy, too. Just dig up the bulb after the leaves have turned brown and fallen over, then divide and propagate!

Spider plants are usually grown as houseplants but, in the humid climate of Florida, they make wonderful plants for the lanai and other areas inside and outside. And boy do they make lots and lots of babies on lovely hanging spiderlike arms! Just take one of the babies and place in moist soil (sometimes it's best to leave the stem attached to the mother as you do this, but if you cut them off, it's not a problem) then just watch them root and grow and produce babies of their own. I make a lot of these at holiday time and give them to friends and family wrapped with lovely holiday foils and ribbons. Any suggestions from our readers as to how you grow and share your plantings at holiday time? Write me _ I look forward to hearing from you.

_ Editor's note: This column is provided by Gloria Diana Uhl, Certified Master Gardener and free-lance writer. Send questions and comments to Gloria Diana Uhl, Citrus Times, 301 W Main St., Inverness, FL 34450 or e-mail to gardenshareshadrach.net.

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