Friday, July 8, 2011

How I rooted azaleas on a zero-dollar budget

I don’t have a green thumb. I also don’t have any green in my wallet for plant propagation. Still, I wanted to try to root some azaleas from cuttings I made from the front yard.

I live in my family’s old farmhouse, built by my great-grandparents in 1885 and modified by generations since. I remember my Grandma having azaleas lining the sidewalks when I was a kid, and a few are still left, but they have been dwindling. I have considered buying new ones since I moved in six years ago to replace the missing ones, but have never found it in my budget.

So when I trimmed some overhanging limbs the other day I had a sudden idea: Maybe I could root the clippings. But I’d have to act fast; I hadn’t prepared for that when I started. I quickly filled a couple of containers with water and shoved the clipped ends in to save them. I called my dad, who grew up in the house and actually knows gardening, for advice.

“They used to root them in south Alabama – in Mobile,” he said. “We never did that up here (in north Alabama.)”

Well, great. This wasn’t turning out like I’d hoped.

I decided to try to the Internet.

“Cuttings of the stems of most evergreen azaleas can be rooted rather easily,” said a page from

Now, that’s more like it.

Of course, I was also hoping it could be done cheaply – and, truth be told, completely free. So I set myself on a challenge.

(Let me note that the website said I should have refrigerated those cuttings, but by the time I read that it was too late. Besides, since I intended to spend no money, I would be acting quickly; everything I used would have to be already in my possession.)

First, I needed something to bed the cuttings in. Surely there was something amid all these outbuildings I could use: In more than a century of farming this place has accumulated not only a barn but a wash house, a wood shed, a potato house a chicken house and an attachment to the garage we just call “the shed.”

My dad had been a truck farmer for about 15 years after his retirement, and there in the shed were some of the Styrofoam containers he used to put tomatoes in. They had holes in the bottom for drainage. Perfect.

I’d need a planting medium. I found a couple of bags with some soil still inside.

Next I read the Website instructions and hoped I could get them right.

Here’s what I did:

I filled two boxes four to six inches deep with the soil. I didn’t have a rooting hormone, so I skipped that step. I cut each of the cuttings two to five inches long, stripped the leaves of all but the top cluster. I then took a knife and stripped the bark off the bottom, punched a hole in the soil, filled it with water and stuck the cutting in and repeated until I had all I wanted.

Next, I needed a place where they’ll get plenty of light, but no direct sunlight (to avoid burning.) I have an empty spot at the end of the shed.

I built a mini-greenhouse from a couple of cement bars and four-by-fours that I put around the crates. I put an old window on top. A Facebook friend advised me to put a scrap piece of two-by-four under one side for ventilation.

Once winter arrives, that same Facebook friend says I should dig a hole and have the top of my crates level with the ground.

Cost, except for water from the faucet, for the whole project, so far: $0.


Read the instructions from people who actually know what they’re talking about here:

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