By Deborah J. Benoit
Editor’s note: Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Massachusetts, who is part of Vermont’s Bennington County Chapter.
Summer ends and all those lovely annuals we’ve grown so fond of will soon come to an end, too. But it doesn’t have to be.
Some of those “annuals” aren’t really annuals as their life cycles aren’t completed over the course of a single growing season. They’re actually what are referred to as “tender perennials,” perennials that aren’t cold hardy in our U. S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones.
While they won’t survive our Northeast winters, they can spend the winter indoors safe from freezing temperatures. This means that the beautiful fuchsia you’ve had hanging on the front porch or the colorful wave of coleus bordering your favorite flower bed don’t have to die when the first killing frost arrives.
You can bring a potted plant indoors to overwinter or dig up an in-ground plant, pot it and bring it inside until spring. But a better alternative may be to take cuttings of your favorites to grow new plants that will be ready to move outside in the spring. It’s a little more work, but it’s a fun project at a time when the garden is heading toward its long winter’s nap.
By taking cuttings from tender perennials, such as coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), begonias (Begoniaceae) and geraniums like the lemon-scented citronella plant (Pelargonium citrosum), you can grow new plants over the coming winter.
Look around your garden. Any likely candidates? You’ll want a nice, healthy specimen to give your cutting the best chance to root and produce a robust plant.
Whether you’re taking a cutting from a coleus, geranium or begonia, the process is the same. You have the option of rooting in water, then transferring to soil once roots have formed, or placing the cutting directly in soil.
Begin by taking a cutting about five inches long from the end of a healthy stem, being sure to include several leaf nodes. A node is the place on the stem where a leaf is attached. Put the cuttings in a container of water so they’ll remain fresh.
Prepare each cutting by removing the leaves from the bottom portion of the stem, leaving only the top two leaf clusters.
To root in water, place the cutting in a container of room temperature water, making sure no leaves are below the surface of the water. Place the container in indirect light. Change water weekly. In a few weeks you should see roots appear.
Once roots have grown, transfer the cutting to a container with potting soil. Keep the soil moist, but not wet.
As an alternative, you can start cuttings directly in soil. To do this, prepare a container of moist potting soil. As with water-rooted cuttings, remove the bottom leaves. Dip the wet stem in rooting hormone (available in the gardening section of your local store).
Use a pencil or chopstick to make a hole in the soil. Insert the stem and gently press the soil around it. Pots can contain one or multiple cuttings.
Place a cover, such as a clear plastic bag, over the container to help retain humidity. If condensation appears on the cover, open it to let the excess moisture evaporate to prevent rot.
You’ll be able to tell when the cutting has rooted if you tug gently on it and feel resistance. Once it has established roots, it should begin to show new growth.
Be sure the young plant stays out of cold drafts and away from drying heat sources. Water as needed and provide adequate light.
By spring you should have a new crop of your favorite plants for your garden.