Share plants with mates

Propagation is one of gardening's greatest pleasures

Life & Style
Tall, beardless Iris ochraleuca has yellow and white flowers in early summer.

Tall, beardless Iris ochraleuca has yellow and white flowers in early summer.

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Fiona Ogilvie's tips for a winter garden.

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Propagation, as in making more plants, is one of gardening's greatest pleasures. Last summer wrought a terrible toll on our landscape, many of us are still confronting miles of bare dirt and wondering how on earth we can cover it without going bankrupt.

But it's amazing how many plants you can produce from your garden if you focus on it - even more if you share around with friends - and a mild, sunny midwinter's day is a perfect time to start. Most flowering perennials are dormant in winter and are easy to dig up, divide and replant. Kept watered and mulched they will take off in spring and quickly make an impact.

Most flowering perennials are dormant in winter and are easy to dig up, divide and replant.

Daylilies, asters, catmint, beardless irises including Siberian irises (I. siberica) and taller, yellow and white flowering I. ochraleuca, campanulas, agapanthus, lamb's ears (Stachys), pokers (Kniphofia), salvias and sedums in every shape and size can all be safely divided now.

There are heaps of others, the only ones to avoid are those in flower or about to, like Algerian iris, Kniphofia 'Winter Cheer', hellebores and wallflowers.

Some perennials are incredibly hard to split, Siberian irises spring to mind, but most are strong, tough plants, you just need to be firm with them. Remind yourself that apart from peonies, who prefer being undisturbed, perennials benefit from regular division, otherwise their roots become congested and over time their flowering diminishes.

If you can't pull a clump to pieces, chop it with a wood splitter, or try levering its roots apart by pushing two forks back to back into the plant's middle.

I recently divided a huge, intractable clump of catmint, 'Six Hills Giant' by digging the whole thing up, soaking it thoroughly and then attacking it with a sharp spade. I ended up with 17 new plants, so I was pretty pleased with myself.

Winter is also an excellent time to take cuttings. Low growing, herb-type plants like rosemary, cotton lavender (Santolina), rue (Ruta Jackmans Blue) and many artemisias grow readily from 15-centimetre cuttings taken at any time of the year.

Strip off the lower leaves, push the stems into a mixture of half and half compost or garden soil and coir peat, and keep damp, the propagator's mantra. New shoots indicate new roots, normally formed within one to two months. The new plantlets can then go into the garden, but again, keep them well-watered and if possible, thickly mulched.

Deciduous shrubs are dormant when leafless and are easily propagated from hardwood cuttings. Take 15-20 cm. lengths, from the youngest wood (brown not grey), pot them in the same half and half mixture as above and keep damp. Any deciduous shrub can be reproduced in this way though some root faster than others.

Easy ones include lilac (Syringa), hardy hibiscus (H. syriacus), buddleias, japonica (Chaenomeles) and its cousin the quince (Cydonia), forsythia, caryopteris, shrubby honeysuckles, mock orange (Philadelphus), hydrangeas, deutzias and may bushes (Spiraea).

Lastly, seedlings. It's worth checking the garden to see what sprang up when you weren't looking. This week I transplanted love-in-a-mist, Californian poppies and lots of red, white and pink-and-white campion (Lychnis). There's nothing like lovely free plants to keep a gardener happy.

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