Dumb Canes, Smart Roots

Thursday, July 5, 2012
Progress Report The blog has cautioned of the perils of accepting the challenge of propagating plants that cannot be replaced. Usually there are sentimental reasons, but sometimes it is the rarity of how they were acquired that puts the pressure on. Against my better judgment, I usually accept and I have both good and bad news to report on this spring’s efforts. A few weeks back I wrote about Charlie, the butterfly bush entrusted to me by his husband and crushed by a falling limb. My very best efforts failed when the only 2 available cuttings collapsed and died, one in water and one in a small pot of rooting media. Sometimes it is hard to know what happened, but here’s what I think. The stems were thin on the young plant and had just bloomed. They were a bit woodier than I like, without much of a green tip at that point in their growth. The trauma of the crash may have played a role and I may not have found it soon enough to stop the dehydration. I haven’t yet told my dear friend what happened but will confess soon if he doesn’t read it here first. My only redemption lies in the rootball replanted after the storm in the ground where Charlie almost got growing. I see one sprout returning and have watered it with Hormex Liquid Concentrate to help regenerate roots lost when the little tree was pulled hard to one side. Charlie was the impetus for my new collection of large and small butterfly bushes and I take heart knowing his legacy will continue in them. Sure hope my pal agrees! A sadder result has come from my heroic efforts to save the Ti plant, an historic family heirloom for one of my clients. More than 50 years old, the plant had died back before they called me. I still might now have been able to save it, but the odds were against this project from the start. The first cutting put out one root which I found after the top turned black and collapsed. This revelation led me to unpot the original plant, which had no live roots at all and stood up only out of habit, I suppose. I washed its base, dipped it in Hormex Rooting Powder #3, and watched it begin to die. Finally I cut the rest of the pitiful cane into pieces and stuck them in different media: damp sand, lightweight mix, and finely ground bark with similar results. At my wit’s end, I dug up the original soil. It smelled terrible and did not drain at all. I must conclude that old, collapsed potting mix that was probably too heavy in the first place got overwatered repeatedly long before it came to me in such sad shape. The roots drowned and rotted, thus the smell. I am sad for my client to return from overseas to such bad news. However, I am ready to celebrate my Dieffenbachia success, but there are no sentimental reasons for this one. There is a huge dumb cane in a pot in an atrium I traverse often. Its pot groans with crowded roots and a jumble of canes that coil around the surface of the soil and shoot 4 feet high with grand leaves. Awhile back one of the canes kept tipping the pot over and the interiorscape technician cut it off, leaving a stump. That 6 inches of dumb cane tempted me for a few weeks. It did not belong to me; there was no one to give me permission to cut it further. Who knew if the interiorscape company was hoping it would sprout leaves again? I rationalized that a) the plant could still sprout leaves if I only cut 3 inches off the stump and b) sometimes it is easier to beg forgiveness than gain permission. Even after I determined to take my hand pruners with me that day, even after I put a plastic bag into my purse, even after I knew there were no cameras or people around to see me, my hands shook as I snipped the cane! I trembled again as I dipped it in HLC and slipped it into a pot of damp sand, sure that my mother would say, “Doesn’t matter if you get caught by someone else – you know what’s right and wrong and you have to live with yourself above all.” Now that the cane has rooted and is a nice young plant, I smile each time I pass its parent still trapped in that little pot and growing for all its worth. No, I didn’t get caught, and almost don’t feel guilty any more, either. Now I’m lusting after a huge philodendron in the same atrium…Sorry, Mother.
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