Propagating Plants in the Pandemic

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(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Orinda Garden Club members (L-R) Pam Wiley, Katie Wittmann and Jean Rowe tend plants they have propagated for the club’s April plant show.

    Looking for a project to relieve the boredom of staying put in the pandemic? Ladies of the Orinda Garden Club (OGC) have a solution for you — propagate plants. Because the OGC has enjoyed a great success rate propagating plants for months, they plan a plant sale in April. 
    Things were much different when the pandemic first hit.
    Jean Rowe, an OGC organizer of the upcoming event spoke to this: “No nurseries were open. Plus, we had more time on our hands, it was special to try our luck at propagation. Then, we conceived the idea of reviving a plant sale. Historically, the OGC held a plant sale every year in conjunction with the library book sale, but we stopped in 2005 when the library quit having the big sale and did several smaller ones.”
    She added, “So, going back to our roots, it seems a great project on which to focus. In this COVID-19 time, we cannot get together for regular meetings, but we can grow the plants for the sale, thus earning money to donate toward educational projects.”
    The club held propagation workshops on Tomato Seed Saving by Sue Andersen-Berger and Succulent Propagation by Dena Raffel. Further, Joyce Nelson offered workshops on plant division and cutting. Since the organization adhered to the 10-person limit for gatherings, two workshops on each topic were held so participants could safely distance.
    Rowe continued, “Members brought cuttings, succulents and bulbs to the workshops from their gardens so they could learn how to propagate them. Then, they took them home to nurture over the winter until our spring sale. Zoom has been an excellent tool. The club holds sessions where members can ask experts questions about their plants while actually showing them what they’ve been nurturing.” 
    Nelson, a propagation guru, said new cuttings need warmth, light, air and water to be free of pests. Berger, the tomato expert, explained you should only propagate heirloom or open-pollinated tomato seeds, since hybrid varieties are a cross between two or more varietals, and you can never be sure what the outcome will be. She has propagated hundreds of tomato seeds and promised to have difficult to find tomato plants that are very tasty for sale at the OGC event. 
    “We are carrying on a tradition in our sale, delving into the past,” said Rowe. “We have cuttings from former OGC members like a Pelargonium Citronellum, an evergreen lemon-scented shrub owned by Dorothy Lamb, a club founder in 1934; rhizomes from Pat Connolly, a member from 1982 to 2010 and camellias from Shirley Meneice, a nationally recognized propagator from Carmel.”
    Current OGC President Jane Wiser said the club has a wide mission: “The purpose of the Orinda Garden Club shall be to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening, to cooperate in the protection and conservation of our national heritage and to encourage and assist in the beautification of the community.”
    The plant sale helps the OGC carry out its endeavors, primarily beautifying the community by offering many new plants to be placed in Orinda gardens.

Propagation Tips from OGC Members
• Take a 3-5” cutting from a mother plant, just below a node, which is where leaves are coming out.
• Remove leaves at the lowest node. Cut off any blossoms.
• Using a root hormone is optional; but, it usually helps.
• Use a mix of potting soil and perlite (30-50%). Water thoroughly. Keep watering as roots develop, which should begin in 5-8 weeks.
• To determine if roots are developing, give a delicate tug. If you find resistance, it’s working.

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