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Like all creatures on planet Earth, our ornamental plants just want to reproduce. And they have a variety of ways to do it, ways we can take advantage of in order to get many more of them at no cost except for a little pleasant time and effort in the garden.

February and March are the right months in our part of the world to propagate ornamentals. As the weather begins to warm up, plants with root systems that persist from year to year, such as perennials, roses, shrubs and many others, start producing hormones that stimulate growth of both roots and vegetative foliage. It is when plant tissue is flush with growth hormones that we have the best chance of success when propagating.

Plants produce new plants by making seed, by producing new growing points (crowns), by extending underground roots that produce new top growth at intervals and by making special structures in plants of the lily family (bulbils). We humans add other techniques that plants don’t often or never do by themselves: taking and rooting stem cuttings; cutting segments of fleshy roots and replanting them; and layering and taking apart lily bulbs into their single scales and replanting these.

Let’s take a look at these techniques one by one.

Seed — Only open-pollinated plants produce seed that grows into the same kind of plants. Hybrids — that is, crosses between subspecies with slightly different characteristics — will produce seed that shows whatever variations were in the parents’ DNA. In other words, if you plant hybrid seed, the resulting plant may not be anything like the hybrid it came from. Annuals like Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) are more likely to be open-pollinated than the seed of perennials. If you want to save seed of a favorite flower or herb, just make sure that it’s not a hybrid. If the botanical name is known, and there’s an X in front of the species name (for instance, Dianthus x allwoodii), that X tells you it’s a hybrid.

Division — Many flowering perennials evolved in temperate zones, where the roots persist in the soil while winter kills back the top growth. Plant a perennial with one crown — a crown is the growing point from which the stems arise — and the following spring you may find that the plant has made two or three smaller extra crowns over the past growing season. You can dig up the whole plant and gently separate these crowns, and each will have its own set of roots. If the plant hasn’t been divided in years, you can hack between the crowns with a Japanese saw.

Now trim back any long, trailing roots, trim old stems back to within an inch of the crown, and replant so the crown is just at soil level. Water the crowns well. You will have many plants where you had one before.

Extending underground roots — Think of bamboo, or just about any other invasive plant that spreads by underground roots. Plants need no help from us in making babies this way. Our job is more like keeping this technique from overrunning the garden.

Stem cuttings — When a semi-woody plant like a rose or a flowering shrub is pushing new buds, cut off about 8 to 10 inches of the growing tip of a stem or branch, dip the cut end in root hormone (available at any garden center or online), plant 4 to 6 inches deep in good soil or in pots, water well, and cover with clear plastic bags to keep the air humid.


Spring plant sales abound in April and May with everything for the garden, from ornamentals to veggie starts. All sales are benefits for the sponsoring clubs, scholarships and community projects.

Santa Rosa Junior College: Horticulture students sell plants they’ve raised in the school greenhouses. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the Lark Hall Greenhouse located in the same building as the Planetarium. Parking is available for a small fee in the Beck parking lot off Elliott Ave. Free parking up to one hour in the surrounding neighborhood. Cash, check and credit cards are accepted.

Willowside School: Middle school students help support this nursery, which also raised money for school programs. They have thousands of plants each season, including a variety of low-water and drought-tolerant perennials, California natives, a multitude of succulents, grasses, salvias and many ornamental plants to invite beneficial insects, butterflies and hummingbirds into the garden. $4 for 1 gallon container. They also have specialty Japanese maples that are 3 to 6 feet tall selling for $25 to $50 per tree. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. rain or shine. Today, May 5 and 26, June 16. 5299 Hall Road at Willowside, in Santa Rosa. 707-569-4724.

Santa Rosa Garden Club: A large variety of healthy plants propagated by club members, with an emphasis on drought-tolerant plants including an outstanding selection of succulents and perennials. Also look for deer-resistant plants and succulents, many in unique and fun containers. One fun aspect of the sale is a rummage sale of garden-related items. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. Rain or shine. Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa. Gardenclubevents@yahoo.com

Santa Rosa Men’s Garden Club: Many varieties of geraniums and some 50 varieties of tomatoes, as well as succulents, both individual and dish gardens. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Sunday. Inside Coddingtown Mall, Guerneville Road and Cleveland Avenue, Santa Rosa.

Harvest for the Hungry Garden: This is the Mother of all Vegetable sales. An abundance of more than 100 varieties of tomatoes and dozens of varieties of peppers, squashes, eggplants, cucumbers, melons, herbs and some other edibles. In addition, there will be ornamental plants, garden art, books and gently used garden tools for sale. Proceeds support the garden and other charities committed to feeding the hungry with sustainable garden practices. Master gardeners will be available to give planting and gardening advice. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21. 1717 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, behind Christ Church United Methodist. Harvestgarden.org

Green Thumb Garden Club: Members offer plants that they have grown or transplanted from their own gardens, including tomato plants and other vegetable starts, succulents, drought-tolerant transplants and a variety of outdoor and house plants. Check out the white elephant table for gardening finds. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21. Ace Hardware parking lot, 750 Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale.

Windsor Garden Club’s Spring Plant Sale: Tomato, herb and veggie starts, Drought-tolerant starts, cut flower starts and succulents. Part of the Windsor Town Green Earth Day Health and Wellness Festival with music, environmental information and activities. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday

Graton Community Club: New Orleans is the theme for the club’s spring show, which includes a big plant sale featuring hundreds of tomato and other veggie starts, succulents, perennials, drought-tolerant plants and more. Also available are handmade novelties and recycled treasures, a raffle, garden art, flower arrangements, live music and refreshments. A $10 lunch is served both days. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 27-28. 8896 Graton Road, Graton. 707-829-5314

Luther Burbank Experiment Farm at Gold Ridge: A chance to pick up garden plants developed by the Plant Wizard himself, Luther Burbank, at what remains of his farm in Sebastopol. Part of an open house with other activities. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 28-29. 777 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol, accessed through Burbank Heights and Orchards. 707-829-6711, wschsgrf.org

Healdsburg Garden Club: A wide variety of plants propagated from members’ gardens. Heirloom tomatoes and water-wise plants such as succulents will be featured. The sale will also include air plants (tillandsias — great for the non-gardener) and own-root heritage roses. Also shop for crafts such as accents for your home and garden, Mother’s Day gift baskets, tea cups filled with succulents, dried flower arrangements in teacups and other small succulent planters. The sale includes garden supplies like tools, pots, gardening books, and even a new reel lawn mower. Bring your clippers for sharpening ($5), your orchid for repotting ($5), your gardening questions to pose to experts, including medical marijuana information. Breakfast offered for $5, lunch for $8, $10 for both. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 28, Healdsburg Senior Living Center, 725 Grove St., Healdsburg.

Santa Rosa Iris Society: The club’s annual spring show and sale. 1-5 p.m. April 28 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 29. Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center, 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa.

Redwood Empire Rose Society: Roses for sale grown by members of the Rose Society as well as companion plants for your rose garden. 1-4 p.m. May 5. Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center 2050 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa.

Hessel Community Guild: Look for a large variety of annual and perennial landscape plants and hundreds of vegetable starts as well as a white elephant area filled with garden-related items and local crafts. Coffee, tea and baked goods will be available by donation. 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 12. 5400 Blank Road, Sebastopol. hesselguild.org

The cuttings don’t have roots yet, so you have to help them by keeping the soil and air around them moist. Not all the cuttings will “take,” but if you make sure they don’t dry out, you should get a few new starts.

Root cuttings — Expose the fleshy roots of plants like acanthus, anemone, echinops, Papaver orientale (oriental poppy), phlox, Primula denticulata (primrose) and verbascum. Select a nice fat root or two, and take 3 to 4-inch cuttings.

Push soil back over the cut roots of the mother plants, and water. Replant the cuttings just as they grew under the mother plant — that is, oriented the same way in a new garden bed or in individual pots. Water them well, and keep soil moist. The cuttings should push up new top growth within a few weeks.

Layering — When spring perennial stems are long enough, gently bend one over and pin it to bare soil with a clothes pin or even a small stone. Cover the spot where it’s pinned with soil and water it well. Roots will form where the stem touches the soil. This may take the bulk of the growing season. In late summer, cut the stem between the mother plant and the layering spot. You’ll now still have the mother plant, and a new youngling to boot.

The lily family — This information applies to members of the lily family (Lilium species) but not to daylilies (Hemerocallis species). Lilies make seed so you can go that route — but it may take several years to get a flowering plant from seed. You’ll notice little black balls appearing in the leaf axils of your lilies. These are bulbils. They can be planted and over a year or two will make a new lily plant.

The fastest way to propagate your lily is to dig up the bulb, wash away the soil and pull off the cloves (the way you separate cloves of garlic), making sure you get a little part of the bottom heel where the lily’s roots grow with each clove (or scale as they are more accurately called in the lily breeding world). Replant each scale as a separate plant and, by the next year, you’ll have many new lily plants.

Using these techniques, you’ll soon be awash with new plants and be able to make drifts of many of the same kind and color of flowers across your garden, an effect much more visually stunning than a hodge-podge of single plants.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based garden and food writer who can be reached at jeffcox@sonic.net.

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