Friday, April 24, 2015

Playing With Sticks

One thing I am rarely without is an experiment.  Maybe it's my inquisitive nature.  Maybe it's because I loved science when I was in school.  Maybe it's in my genes (apparently my paternal great-grandfather conducted many horticultural experiments--supposedly when my grandmother was growing up they had a tree that grew three varieties of apples and two of pears.)

Doesn't really matter why I do what I do.  What matters is that I am always coming up with things that make me say "What if I. . . "

One of my current experiments came about quite spontaneously in late winter this year.  I had pruned all the trees in my orchard as well as many of the bushes and shrubs I have around the house.  And, being winter with snowy ground that was somewhat difficult to walk over and not what I would drive over (being that the tractor was broken), I just let the cut off limbs lie where they fell until the snow melted and warmer weather arrived.

In March I noticed that not only were the buds on the maple trees growing in size, but so were the buds on my forsythias. Including the branches I had cut off the forsythia bushes.  And then my mind said "Hmm.  Wonder if I can force these branches to flower by bringing them indoors where it is warm, and putting them in water."

An experiment was born.  After all, what could it hurt to bring in a few sticks, plunk them in a vase, add water, and see what happened? At worst they would die and I'd have to put them on the brush pile, as was my original intention when I pruned them from the main plant in the first place.  At best (I thought), they would flower and I'd have a pretty 'bouquet' to bring some cheer into my dining room when it was still to early for flowers to be blooming outdoors.

So, that is what I did.  Chose a few slender sticks that had healthy looking buds on them, nipped off the cut ends to open up fresh wood again, brought them in the house, stuck them in a vase and added tepid water. Then I put the whole thing on the ledge in my dining room and waited, changing out the water every few days for good measure.

The buds swelled.  Then, slowly, they began to open right before Easter.  Success!!

But that wasn't the end of the experiment. No, my experiment expanded when, upon changing the water around the time the first blossoms opened, I noticed one particularly strong stick had what looked to be root hairs developing at the bottom. Roots!  Could my sticks grow roots, and then be transplanted outside as new forsythia bushes?

I thought it was worth a try.  Forsythia do tend to sucker from the roots to expand the plant, and they can also be propagated by 'layering', a technique where you bend the tip of a young branch over to the ground and bury it in a few inches of soil. If just burying the growing tip of a branch would cause it to grow roots, why couldn't I get my sticks to grow roots if I just kept changing the water and left them in the vase even after they were done flowering?  It was worth a shot.  Again, if it didn't work, they would just end up on the brush pile with all the other sticks and limbs I had amputated with my pruners in late winter.

Then, at Easter Breakfast at church, not only were there (greenhouse grown) daffodils in the vases that adorned the tables for breakfast, there were pussy willows.  And, as usual, once the breakfast was over, the church members were urged to take home the contents of the vases (because the family who donated the flowers/bouquets did not wish to take them back home for disposal).   And my brain said "Hmm.  Pussy willows.  Willows are what rooting compound is made from. Willows root easily from cuttings.  I wonder if I took home these two pussy willow sticks and stuck them in my vase of forsythias, would they grow roots?"  Because not only would that possibly help my forsythia sticks develop roots (the pussy willow rooting hormone being present then in the water of the vase), I might get some pussy willows out of it too.  I don't have any pussy willows on my property and would like some.

Home went the daffodils and pussy willows.  Into the vase they went, and I arranged them with the blooming forsythias to make a pretty centerpiece for our table for Easter dinner (we hosted my side of the family that day).  Afterward, the spent daffodils were plucked out (and put in the compost pile; no plant matter goes to waste!), and the vase moved out of direct sunlight for a few weeks.

Last weekend, we had beautiful weather.  I spent quite a few hours working outside, cleaning up and weeding the flowerbeds, picking up all those pruned limbs laying around, and deciding where to plant my sticks that were now sporting little roots.  I finally settled on putting them near the top tier of the retaining wall that runs along the northeast corner of the house.  

Phase one of the experiment: did they bloom?  Yes.  Success.

Phase two of the experiment: will they grow roots?  Yes, most of them.  Success.

Phase three of the experiment:  can I transplant them outside and have new bushes?  The next several months will tell.

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