New Year, New Pots

So shortly after Christmas, I decided to hit up Lowes to see if they still had any of those small succulent pots; by two days after Christmas, they were down to one sad sad kalanchoe chocolate soldier and a few dead looking airplants.  On the upside, storage bins were on clearance so I picked up a cheap one to hold my various potting mediums – as well as a few bucket planters that looked like they had formerly held some holiday cypress plants.  I’m guessing they didn’t make it, and the enterprising Lowes staff had dumped the plants and put the planters they had been in on clearance.  Combined with the “all christmas stuff 50% sale”, I scored three for 50 cents a piece.

New planters!
Basement soil kit – premade potting mixes, peat, perlite, vermiculite, sphagnum moss, coarse sand, etc.

Three pots have three purposes, all eventually headed for the office if all goes well.  One is for a cutting I took off a plant at Christmas – formerly my grandmothers for many, many, many years, I’m currently trying to grow a cane of her dieffenbachia – which I’d been wanting a cutting of since finding out my sister was now it’s caretaker for sentimental reasons.  It’s a very pretty variegated houseplant, but poisonous enough that with all our pets I’ve decided it probably shouldn’t be in the house.

The lopped off top of one dieffenbachia cane.

Pot #2 is intended to eventually be a cutting off a schefflera that I took from my father’s funeral a few years ago.  The original has become somewhat of a beast in my living room, doing very happily and getting very large.  There’s not a lot of scale in this picture to reference, but the tallest parts of this are nearly up to my chin and I’m 6’4″.

Schefflera – loving it’s east facing window.

I started trying to take a cutting off this when I read that every three years or so, they need to be repotted – not necessarily up-potted but freshened up, essentially.  Taken out of the pot, dirt shaken off, roots trimmed back and loosened up, and potted in fresh soil.  It was also recommended that for a fuller plant, you could encourage branching by cutting off all the leaves and hacking off the top growing node of the plant, since it by nature grows up and this is one of the few methods that encourages the plant to grow lateral branches.  I’m not sure that I want the plant to grow out any more than it has, but I figured it might be good to start now on a backup version in case any of my attempts to eventually trim this back end in disaster – or if it ever just gets so large that it needs to start over.

(The aforementioned dieffenbachia, I’ve been told, would occasionally get so big that my grandmother would cut the top off, stick the top back in the pot and start the plant all over again to contain it’s size.)

What I didn’t know when I started this project, but mentioned in an earlier post, was how to take a cutting.  I took a few compound leaflets, not realizing that I was taking the petiole and not an actual branch – essentially it was the stem of the compound leaf.  There’s not much information online about what will happen if this works, because it’s not how you’re supposed to do it.  But it’s what I did.  I took two – an older, large branch and a newer shoot from up near the top.  On a tip, I also took one and cut all the leafs in half horizontally (supposedly this would help reduce moisture loss as it rooted).

Yes, I used this picture before, I’m just trying to show the different approaches on the leaves from this picture.

I had placed them both in a plastic panera cup with some drainage holes drilled into the bottom, and then inserted into my go-to dish – washed out yogurt cups.  (These are ridicuously useful for all kinds of things, I recommend hoarding a large stack in a closet somewhere.)

Aside from the fact that the large compound leaves were being very tipsy and top heavy (what you can’t see in this picture is that the yogurt cup is weighted down with spare change at the bottom to keep from falling over), this worked well because I could eventually see through the clear plastic that after a few months something had started rooting.  The picture above was from my post a few weeks ago – and as you’ll see below, once the roots appeared they started making up for lost time.

Two scheffleras, one cup.

The roots had started gathering at the bottom and circling since they first were visible a half a month ago, so it was time to upgrade this puppy.  Plus I was anxious to see how it was progressing up close, and the bonus of ditching the extremely tipsy container might have also been an incentive.

A sign that it was time for an upgrade.

So I prepped up a potting mix, got one of the tin pots ready, and dumped the plastic.  Here’s what I found:

Scheffleras, bottom side.

Surprisingly, of the two cuttings, the young shoot (with the horizontally cut leaves) had not rooted.  The larger cutting actually had, and that was the one circling the bottom of the cup with long feeders.  This may be counterintuitive, until I considered the older cutting from the bottom might actually have a “woodier” petiole and thus had more likelihood of succeeding as a not-recommended way to take a cutting.  This train of thought was prompted by the fact that along the petiole, higher up but still beneath the soil line were small bumps that actually felt like they might be latent nodes that were trying to grow out roots.

Also, because it was top heavy, the stem was nearly sitting right at the bottom of the cup so the plant had no room to grow down – that’s why the roots were circling the bottom.  For a cutting this size, the cup was obviously a mistake (and that’s part of why the dieffenbachia cutting you see above has a much larger pot to root in).

For the new home, I put a light bottom layer of sphagnum in the pot liner to keep the soil from pouring out the drainage hole, and topped that with a bottom few inches of home-mixed medium.  For the medium I used a mix of my “soil bucket” (where I mix up reclaimed potting soil, scoops out of my compost bin, worm castings, a bit of garden clay, and a bit of peat) and vermiculite and perlite to improve drainage (since it’s a plastic pot liner).  Of course, everything had to run through the sterilization process – which meant I got to feed my newfound love of the smell of microwaved dirt again.  Once I filled the pot enough for the plant, I used a pre-mix potting soil, stuck in a glass rod and some florist wire to support the top heavy stem, put in the plant, filled in and gently pressed it down.  End result:

A slight upgrade from a recycled Panera water cup.

I sprinkled a light layer of vermiculite across the top, moistened the soil down, and sprayed the top layer with a mix of diluted peroxide and spectricide anti-fungal.  Now the true test will be to find out what happens with this plant now that it actually has roots.  I don’t think the compound leaf stuck in the dirt is going to grow any new branches or leaves, so my hope is that it survives long enough to fuel enough photosynthesis to keep the roots growing to the point that it sends up a new trunk.  Even though I now have proof that you can get a petiole of a schefflera to root, I may eventually find out that it’s pointless if it doesn’t produce any new growth and that’s why no one talks about it.  Send positive thoughts that isn’t the case.

Oh! And in other holiday related news, I did set up another holiday gift from partner’s family – an aquaponics tank at my desk at work, now populated with a ridiculously pissed-off veiltale betta I’ve named Hank. The theory of this tank is that it’s essentially a natural filtration system – the fish waste (Ammonia) turns into nitrites and nitrates in the rocks on top, which you root plants into, which absorb the nitrates as fertilizer and clean the water.

So now when I’m stressed at work, I can have look at the tank and hopefully enjoy the plants, and realize that however bad my day is Hank is probably in a lot worse mood than I am.


Hank’s tank.  Recently seeds, no growth yet.

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