As our heirloom blueberry cutting experiment continues (described previously here, here and here), we’ve suffered some losses. As a refresher, our goal is to pack many cuttings together in a means that can be easily separated and replanted later, while at the same time avoiding the use of rooting hormone. Lessons learned to follow.
Here is our planter box three weeks into the experiment (as with most of our photos, click to enlarge):
Looks pretty good, right? Well, our experience with cuttings (including the previous batch a couple of years ago), is that the thinner cuttings seem to do really well to begin with, but then die later on. In comparison, the thicker cuttings seem to take longer to get started, but then are more likely to survive.
My personal tendency is to want to create little bushes in-being out of those scraps, so I always leave more of a plant intact on those little fractal twigs than I should. A branching twiggy thing has more surface area and more budding points compared to the very small cross section for initial nutrient transport or locations for root formation. All that initial growth seems exciting, but this growth is consuming internal energy that you want put into creating roots. Better would be hardly anything visible going on; the plants that did the best a couple of years ago seemed to be the worst for a long time, and then flourished while all the rest died.
True to form, all the little leafing thin twigs you see above have dried up and died. The thicker twigs are hanging in there, with one very large shoot coming from the woody stem to the right.
However, some of the little woody stems seemed to lose their new stalks. We found one perfect little clump of leaves lying in the pan, seemingly otherwise healthy. Unfortunately, monsters have intruded on the experiment. After finding that twig, we noticed that our cats have paid inordinate attention to the planter box. Not seeing any signs of litter boxing, we assumed all was well. Not so. Here is an action shot of Ultimo inspecting the planters:
What the plants see, however, is this:
Sure enough, within moments of the above photo, Ultimo (or Oruchimo in Japanese, roughly translated), performed a kitty full-body rub and twisted the big stalk through about 120 degrees counterclockwise, narrowly missing the nice little clump on the saddle twig to the left. Sadly, that big woody piece was our best performing cutting. It is still hanging in there, but we’ll see.
The same dense pack that made it easy for us to control light and water also made it easy for the plants, as a group, to be attacked by monsters.
Monsters aside, what we have seen in this nearly two month experiment in starting cuttings without growth hormone is no signs of rooting at all on the tiny twigs which have already dried up. Our lessons learned thus far:
• The lack of growth hormone is having a noticeable effect. We’ll see if the lack of this material is an overwhelming obstacle or not.
• Many sources say that buds should be removed to encourage root growth. The first batch of cuttings were taken too early for buds to form, but this cutting was almost ready to sprout. The buds were there, but very tiny. We should have removed them.
• We kept too much water applied for too long.
• We have not maintained a sufficiently acidic soil. Based on a reader’s tip, we’re working on a soil mix with crushed pine bark for the next batch. We’re also working on a better fertilizer mixture to help maintain the right pH for blueberries.
• The inability to sprout new little plants from thin-stemmed fractals appears to be confirmed.
We’ll keep this experiment going as long as it will hold out, and see what happens. In the meantime, we’ll be getting the next hormone-free experiment ready, possibly with a control in the mix.