Raising Your Own Shrubs And Trees

Shrubs, and still more so trees, are the most expensive items in the plant world of the gardener. This is principally because they take much longer to produce than, for example, bedding out plants or perennials. Furthermore, the nurseryman, for commercial reasons, raises only things for which there is a regular popular demand, whereas the gardener may want something, say a tree, that he has seen in a friend’s garden which he cannot find in any nurseryman’s list or displayed at any garden centre.

Propagation by Seed

In autumn, the tree may be scattering (and wasting) large numbers of its seeds on the surrounding ground. Why not try raising the tree from seed? The general impression is that it takes too long. Yet, for example, from seed of a fine maple, it is possible to have a specimen 20 ft. tall, in ten years.

Raising Your Own Shrubs And Trees

Sow the seed in a pot of seed compost, transfer the seedling after a couple of years into a bigger pot and then at about 2 ft. high plant it out in the garden. For the small garden, the Japanese maples are ideal. Lots of seed is usually produced. If you sow some of it, you can expect to get seedlings in two years 2 ft. high, big enough to plant out in a rock garden.

The usual way of sowing seeds of trees and shrubs is in pans of John Innes seed compost, standing them in a shaded cold frame. There is now a more effective way of doing it. You remove the husk or acorn cups, cut off the wings of maple seeds and, as soon as they are ripe, put them in a plastic bag, mixed in with damp peat. You then tie the neck of the bag with a bow of thin string. Put the bag in a dark, unheated shed. When spring comes, at regular intervals, untie the bow, tip the contents, seeds and peat, on to a sheet of newspaper. You may find that some of the seeds have produced a small rootlet. If so, very carefully you put these seeds, it h the rootlet pointing downwards, in a small ilot of John Innes seed compost, which you water and put in a shady place. You treat it as any seedling and in due course the leaves (with a bit of luck !) will appear. After extracting any seeds which have, sprouted, or as it is called `chitted’, you put the remainder, peat and all (making sure that it is still damp) back into its plastic bag.

This operation can be repeated, going through all the bags say once a fortnight. Great care must be taken not to damage the rootlet.

In due course, those seedlings that grow should be put into large pots as soon as they have filled the smaller pots with roots and eventually planted in a nursery bed until they are big enough to go into their permanent positions. Usually one nearly always raises too many for one’s own garden but the surplus is very welcome to friends and for charity sales.

Propagation by Layering

Propagation by Layering 

Few shrubs are more desirable or more expensive than magnolias. These are quite easily reproduced by layering-as are rhododendrons. As it does little harm to an established plant, you can generally get a friend to let you operate on one that you covet. Spring is the best time to carry out the operation but any time of the year will do. You choose a low-lying shoot and remove the leaves from its base. You then lightly fork the soil below it, working in some peat. Then scrape away the soil and gently pull down the shoot into the hollow. When it is firmly embedded, you either by means of a stout wire hook driven into the ground or a good heavy stone laid on it, fix the shoot, firmly pressing it into the ground. And firm it must be, for your next operation is to bend the free end upwards as steeply as you can and tie it firmly to a stout stake that has been driven in beside it. Then cover the base of the shoot with peaty soil and press it down firmly.

Next you wait for a season’s growth to take place, i.e., for a year after the layering. Then cut through the junction of your layered shoot with the main plant and then, after cutting the ties to the stake, very carefully, with a fork, remove the layer, which should have produced roots which must not be broken.

Sometimes the layered plant will have grown bigger and will be so well rooted that it can go into its final place at once. Otherwise it should be planted in a nursery bed and left there for a further year before it is again lifted and planted in its permanent position.

Most shrubs that have low-sweeping branches – particularly, as already mentioned, rhododendrons, can be propagated in this way. In fact, if you look and feel carefully round the base of an old rhododendron bush vou may find naturally self-layered pieces which can be carefully cut away, forked up, and planted (preferably in autumn) with plenty of peat worked into the fine root system. Layered plants when put into their final position must be well staked as the fine roots formed are only surface roots.

Propagation by Cuttings

A great many trees and shrubs can be quite easily propagated from cuttings. All poplars (populus) and all willows and sallows (salix) grow freely from stout shoots cut in winter when they are dormant. Once the ground where they are to grow permanently has been cleaned and dug, they are driven in and the soil round them firmed, a crowbar or some similar tool being used to make a hole to receive them. They should be firmly staked. The shoots from the lower part of the sett- for this is what these stout cuttings are called-should be cut clean back to the stem. Very considerable branches of the popular weeping willow can be propagated in this way and a substantial tree can be produced in a few years. As a general rule willow cuttings need a moist situation.

Heaths (ericas and callunas) can also be propagated by cuttings quite easily, but in a quite different manner. The short, current year’s growths are pulled gently off in July or August and dibbled into sandy soil in pans in a frame standing in a shady place. In a year many of them will have made tufts of roots and can be repotted in the following spring.

There is a number of trees the propagation of which is beyond the scope of the amateur unless he is capable of the skilled crafts of budding or grafting. These include apples, pears, cherries, apricots, quinces, medlars, damsons and other members of the rose family. Many of these produce fertile seed which will germinate but they are of hybrid origin and the seedlings will differ from their parent. Very, very rarely a seedling will arise that is better than its parent, but the chances are very much against this happening.

For the same reason, many modern shrubs do not come true from seed, but with the fine, dust-like seed of rhododendrons, which should be sown on a mixture of peat and sand and kept carefully watered, there is a chance that something good may arise.

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