This spring has brought me so many new projects that I often get overwhelmed when choosing what to write about. I figured this morning I would share with you what I have planned for today.
Sometime back toward the beginning of the year, I was lucky enough to be shipped some plant material from a few very old varieties of currant bush (some of which are very rare). I received three varieties of white currant (White Versailles, White Dutch and White Imperial), and one pink currant (Gloire des Sablons). I had never rooted currants before, though I had attempted (and then forgotten about and killed) some gooseberries before, but these were so special to me that I became intensely vigilant about their care.
This week it has finally become time to pot them up and I have to admit that I look on them adoringly and get a little giggly-excited when I talk about them to people. They’re like my little babies! They went from dead-looking little twigs to well-rooted, sturdy young plants.
Have you ever rooted anything from the ribes family? It’s really very easy. They naturally root from their little buds (okay, I know the technical term for those buds is in my brain somewhere, but I’m totally blanking!) and will even produce additional roots when layered in the garden.
Basically, all you need for rooting cuttings of ribes is dormant plant material (if you live in the north, there may still be time to get some of this) and a lightweight soil that retains moisture, but also allows for drainage. I just used a peat and perlite based potting soil. You can add a rooting hormone if you really want to cover your bases, but I got wonderful results from just the twigs-in-dirt method.
There are several ways to do this, but this is what I used and I had a 96.9% success rate (yay math! That’s 31 out of 32 cuttings that rooted successfully!)
Clip your plant material into short stems, allowing 5-6 buds (nodes? is the word nodes?) per piece and leaving one healthy-looking node right near the base of the cutting.
Fill your containers with your soil. Some people do this in straight perlite, some in straight peat… I think this mix contains peat, compost, sand and perlite. It’s just the big bag of custom potting mix that my local mom-and-pop nursery sells. I kind of thought the peat would make it ever so slightly acidic, which is generally the preferred soil of currants.
Poke a hole in your moistened soil with a pen or stick or finger or something, but don’t use your cutting to do so; it could damage the nodes (I sure hope I have this word right). After poking the hole, insert the cutting so that only 2-3 nodes are showing above the soil. You don’t want to get too ambitious; the more nodes above the soil, the more stress the plant will have to endure in order to create leaves from those nodes, and the more work the new little baby-roots have to do, absorbing nutrients.
Try to back-fill your hole by inserting a pen/stick/finger into the soil elsewhere in the pot and maneuvering it so that the hole fills from the bottom first. This ensures that you won’t have a huge air gap in the soil around the plant material (like a mini dibbler). Also, make sure the soil is not compacted from doing this. It should be light and fluffy (think freshly sifted flour).
I opted to water mine from the bottom, so that there was always water available, but I also used one of those drainage inserts in the bottom of my tray. Most things that you read tell you to put a plastic bag over the cuttings, but it seemed like when I had the plastic bag on them the first two days I kept bumping it and disturbing the plant material, which I can only imagine didn’t help them form new roots. I eventually pulled the plastic and tried misting them once a day (or once every other day) until they began to form leaves.
The biggest thing with rooting cuttings is patience. You want to make sure you have roots forming, but to check by disturbing the cutting can be perilous for those new wittle baby roots. I simply waited and waited until I saw a sneaky little root poking out of one of the holes in the bottoms of the pots. The one cutting that I did disturb in an early attempt to check for roots is the only cutting that didn’t make it. Coincidence? Possibly.
So yesterday I ventured out and purchased a new stack of terra cotta pots, and today I will be introducing my little baby currant bushes to their new more spacious living quarters. Hopefully they’ll continue to grow and thrive and next year I can post about how wonderful it is to taste a currant that was first bred in the 17th century!
Have you started anything from cuttings for this season?