Not so long ago, between Covid 1.0 and Covid-Delta, I stopped in the garden center of a local box store. They have a TLC rack there. When I visit, it’s a lot like stepping up to a slot machine in a casino. You never know if you’ll get a winner.
On this particular visit, I picked up a pink polka dot angel wing begonia. I’m still not sure why it was marked down. Some shriveled leaves made the plant unsellable, but all in all, it was a nice plant. It just needed some — as the sign indicated — TLC.
I’ve become quite smitten with the plant, now repotted and enjoying its new digs. Although it hasn’t flowered — I’m not even sure if it does flower — I’m enjoying the polka dots and its vibrant redness when the morning sun hits it.
The question, though, is how to make more plants — and as if the algorithm gods were reading my mind, a technique appeared on my Instagram newsfeed. The idea was to take a leaf cutting, turn it upside down, make slices along the major leaf veins, and then place the leaf right side up on potting soil.
This process called to mind another technique from Ken Druse’s Making More Plants. In his book, Mr. Druse used a begonia leaf, cut off the section where it attached to the plant so the major leaf vein was opened, and then planted the leaf in soil.
Then, there was my tried-and-true method — just cut off a piece of the stem and place it in water.
I waited for weeks — nothing. Several times, I even considered throwing everything away — but I eventually forgot about them to focus on other gardening tasks. Then, I decided it was time to clean out the propagation section of the yard and noticed that the begonia cuttings in the small glass vase had roots!
The pots with the leaf cuttings, though, had nothing. No growth. No sprouts. No brown. . . No brown? By now, the leaves should have been dead, but the leaves had retained their color and looked relatively healthy. It could only mean one thing.
It was time to dig and explore.
I first examined the leaves on which I had tried the Instagram method — and there were roots emerging from the main vein, but not at the locations where I made cuts. Perhaps those areas weren’t flush against the soil.
I then dug up the leaves on which I had used the Ken Druse method. There were roots there, as well, and they far healthier than the Instagram method.
While all three methods produced roots, I’ve reached a conclusion that works for me. Without a doubt, the Instagram and Druse methods are fascinating — and I can even see situations where it may make sense. A commercial grower, for example, can mass propagate plants using pieces of leaves — as long as each piece has a major leaf vein.
Taking into account I may not have done either method perfectly, it just seems like a long time to wait for a result. In fact, I’m still waiting. After looking for roots, I repotted the leaves to see how long it will take for actual plants to emerge.
For the slightly impatient me, though, I’ll stick with placing cuttings in water. Not only do I get roots in roughly the same amount of time as the leaf cuttings, I also get a plant that’s ready to be potted and to receive some of my own TLC.