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Getting to the root of a miracle; DOWN TO EARTH: A gardener's notebook.

THERE'S no accounting for what turns people on. I'm still thrilled by the miracle of vegetative propagation.

I just love taking root cuttings, and it's a good excuse for spending an afternoon indoors out of the rain.

There's something magic about taking a dead-looking piece of root and turning it into a heap of strong young plants.

The best time for taking cuttings is winter when plants are dormant.

But, in fact, I've been successful with root cuttings at any time of the year. They work best with plants that make long thick roots such as Acanthus, Echinops, Verbascum and Oriental poppies.

You need to ease the plant out of the ground, ensuring you keep all the roots intact.

Find a single root about as thick as a pencil, clean off the earth and cut it off with a straight cut. Then replant the parent plant and firm down the soil around it.

The key thing is to know which is the top and which the bottom of the cutting.

Plant it the wrong way up and it won't root, rather like planting a bulb upside down.

So cut the root into sections about one and a half inches long, then recut the bottom end of each cutting - furthest away from the body of the plant - with a diagonal slice. The top of the cutting will then be flat and the bottom cut to a point.

Plant the cuttings point down into a deep tray or potting of compost until the tops are just covered with compost. Then water well and put in a cold greenhouse or frame. Make sure they are kept moist through the winter.

When spring comes, you'll see what looks like a little green bud on each cutting. Don't disturb them.

It takes a lot longer for the root system to develop after the top begins to sprout.

Wait for a good-sized shoot before you pot them on. Each plantlet needs to develop a network of root hairs which is what draws nutrients from the soil into the cutting.

All being well, I'll have a heap of good young plants, including a stack of poppies, for next summer.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 19, 1998
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