Figs, pecans, maple syrup…

Week 3 – 2nd August 2011

Learning to propagate from cuttings

This week was very interesting in our Organic Farming course. In the morning we focused on propagating plants, hardwood trees in today’s case, from cuttings. Hardwood trees include figs, grapes, kiwi fruit, maple syrup tree and pecans… Sounds like a smorgasbord already. There are also some notable ornamental (non fruiting) hardwood varieties too, such as Crepe Myrtle, Gingko Biloba, Mock Orange and May Bush. I believe we will be covering semi-hards and soft woods in coming weeks.

Now I am not convinced that I have my head around the pruning end of things. It’s a very important task this pruning business and i felt a bit overwhelmed by all the new information. What I have managed to glean at this stage is: If you do it well it can make a massive difference to the amount of fruit or flowers you produce. If you do it badly, it can mean a very poor crop. Pruning can be done for purely aesthetic value, but this is less significant in a farming setting than it may be in your home garden. Pruning your trees thoughtfully can also mean that harvesting your fruit is much easier. For example, you can keep fruiting trees to a certain height, shape (i.e., like a vase) and even keep them flat (this is called a palmette) say against your fence, in order to make picking much easier.

Pruning a fig tree

The key with pruning seems to be to chop the branch off just above the second bud or node of the most recent seasons growth. This can be tricky to spot unless shown and I don’t have the technology (yet) at my fingertips in order to highlight this on a photo! But here is an example on Ficus carica (Brown Turkey) which is a variety of Fig where our teacher Mark, has taken off the branches (for us to use as cuttings) just above the second bud of the most recent growth… I guess as you get familiar with your own trees, you will know where you pruned them each year, so it should get easier to discern where to snip!

After pruning, we headed back into the lab to propagate new trees from our cuttings. Mark had pre-prepared cuttings from 13 different hardwoods, but I will just show pics of the ones I planted. Once in the lab we selected some cuttings that seemed to be flexible and have some full buds on them. Then Mark showed us the method for preparing them for propagation.

1. Select and cut (straight cut) under a bud on the bottom end of the cutting and make sure the cutting is green (not dead) at this point. If it looks good, this will be the base of your cutting.

Mark makes the initial cut

2. Aiming to make your cutting about the length of a pencil, search up the cutting and cut above another bud. Your top cut should be on a slight slant, just above and behind where the bud sprouts from. Don’t cut on too sharp an angle, nor right behind the bud as this wood will die back and may cause the bud to die also.

3. If the cutting is long enough, repeat this process, until you have multiple cuttings.

4. Take your secateurs and make three shallow incisions or shavings around the base of the cutting, this will allow roots to grow evenly around the base of your future tree.

5. Dip your cutting in hormone treatment (or for us organic growers you can use honey, molasses, or aloe vera) each of these will promote root growth.

My cuttings in pots

6. Using a dibble stick (which can be a cutting cast off or a pencil) create a hole in your pot of soil to the depth of about 3-5 cm. This simply helps the cuttings to go into the propagation mix without wiping off all the growth hormone/honey/aloe vera/molasses.

7. Place as many cuttings into a pot as you can (5-9), then push down soil to ensure cuttings are secure and air pockets have been excluded.

You will always know which end to plant as the slanted cut is at the top of the stem.

Some trees can be planted immediately as we did today, others, like Pecans, need to be pruned when the plant is dormant (after harvest) and stored until spring planting. To keep them cool and moist you can place them in your fridge to simulate winter, before they are ready to be potted. Always check the exact conditions your tree needs to grow. We took cuttings from 2 varieties of Pecan tree and placed the cuttings in plastic bags in the fridge for later.

Taking cuttings from Pecan tree

Cuttings from Pecan tree

Cuttings in plastic bags

In the afternoon in our Crop Husbandry class, we talked in more detail about pruning, examined some varieties of hardwood trees and fruit trees growing at the campus, and then we went across to our veggie patch to set up the irrigation system.

This was a fairly simple task, although it took all 10 of us about and hour to get it happening. You can see from the photo that we are using star pickets to hold up irrigation pipes with sprinklers attached at the top. These cut across our veggie patch at 5 metre intervals and should keep everything well watered. Now on the farm we use the same kind of irrigation pipes, but they are laid along the rows and the seedlings/seeds are drip fed, which to me seems like a more water saving approach. I intend to ask our teacher if there are any benefits to watering the veggies this way, otherwise I think I would recommend drip feedings as a way to have more control over what gets watered (and I suspect less weeds)….

After this was completed we finished up and I headed over to the citrus orchard and collected some mandarins, nectarines and oranges to take home. Since we already had plenty of citrus at home, I was able to take them to the farm on Wednesday and share them with Rod, Tania and the guys. It felt nice to be giving something back!

Alright that’s all from adventuresingrowing this week…more updates soon x

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10 thoughts on “Figs, pecans, maple syrup…

    • I know for me, its so easy to get carried away when pruning and before you know it there’s nothing much left! I have certainly killed one or two things through over-pruning. The secret seems to be to aim to reduce the plant by a third, to focus on dead or cross-over branches, and to always leave a couple of nodes of new seasons growth – otherwise you are left with dormant buds from last season and you just wont get flowers or fruit from those!!

    • I don’t know!! I suspect there is a fair investment by companies to move away from simple home practices like this as there is not much money in them. Honey is great for promoting roots. I found this little recipe at davesgarden.com: To make the honey a rooting hormone agent you will need to take a few very simple steps: 1) boil 2 cups of water 2)add 1 TBS(tablespoon) of honey 3) Let mixture cool then put in an airtight container 4) Store out of light, either sunlight or artificial 5) Dip cutting in solution then pot up, no real need to put baggie/plastic over cuttings. Please note: The shelf life of this solution is approximately 2 weeks. (thanks dave) I have also heard that the honey needs to be fresh, not processed as you would buy in a supermarket. Oooh this makes me think about bees – and that’s a topic I am keen to learn about down the track!!

  1. Hi again – very interesting to read details about correct pruning practices. Pam recently pruned our small citrus orchard … she wishes she had first read such information. Very interesting to also read of some of the “organic” alternatives to regular rooting hormone.

    • Hi Ian & Pam, what a shame we didn’t get that post up before your pruning of the citrus! We will be learning more about pruning and cuttings so stay tuned. The key is to always keep two nodes/buds from the most recent season’s growth as the buds from last years growth will be dormant. If you leave the plant to fruit without pruning, you will get lots of fruit on a longer stem, but the fruit will be smaller and not as tasty. if you cut back to the second node, then you will get less fruit, but it will be bigger and tastier! Apparently, you also want to prune into the tree to allow both light and ventilation, as both these help the tree to grow and produce more fruit. We are hoping to purchase a scanner and an ipad soon so that we can upload some diagrams to highlight some of the things we are learning. We are keen to share what information we can….

      • Hi Ian & Pam,

        Being a learner gardener I wanted to check on the Citrus pruning issue for you (and anyone else that is reading). I have since learned that Citrus do not need much pruning (as you will read below, courtesy of Burke’s Backyard website). What I have said above does apply and disease and ease of access to fruit are other key issues (as below). Happy gardening…

        Citrus pruning

        It is not necessary to prune citrus to produce fruit. The trees can be pruned however if it is necessary to shape them in some way, for example to remove low hanging branches, or to remove branches that are rubbing and can cause bark damage and allow an entry point for disease. Use secateurs (for small branches) and a pruning saw (thicker stems) for the task. Tip: Make a small cut underneath the branch first then cut through from the top. This will stop the bark tearing.

        Citrus may also require pruning if too heavy a crop is produced. A heavy crop can weigh down branches to the point where they can break, especially after heavy rain. In this situation either remove some of the fruit to lighten the weight or cut out some of the smaller branches. The heavy crop can be avoided again by removing some of the young, developing fruit before it gets too big. The tree will then produce larger fruit.

    • Hi Dad and Pam, I missed last week’s pruning class as I was unwell, but thanks to Michelle coaching me over the last week, by the time I got back to class today I found that I successfully did prunings and cuttings of a chestnut tree. it seemed quite tricky to start, but once i got the hang of it it was easy. i think michelle may have mentioned, we had previously been given the hint to dip the ends of cuttings into aloe vera to stimulate cell growth, we used this on some rosemary cuttings and it worked really well. a much better alternative to buying expensive chemicals hey? lots of love, rachel xx

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