There is no more interesting operation to the amateur gardener than that of increasing his stock of plants by cuttings or slips. Heretofore, it was accounted a great mystery, and unless with some of the commonest kinds of Geraniums, few amateurs ever presumed to invade the territory of the professional gardeners. Nearly all writers on the subject had so befogged this simple matter with technical nonsense, that few, not regularly brought up to the business, presumed to attempt it. We now consider it one of our simplest operations, far simpler than raising many kinds of plants from seed, and though we raise now over two millions of plants annually, and keep a man with three assistants doing nothing else the entire year but propagating plants from slips, yet we could take any careful, intelligent man from among our garden laborers, and install him as a competent propagator in a month. Where plants are propagated from cuttings in large numbers, we elevate a bench, usually four feet wide, above the flue or hot-water pipes, to within a foot or so of the glass at the front, and on this table or bench we place three or four inches of sand, of any color or texture, provided it is not from the sea-shore, and contains salt. This bench is boarded down in front, so as to confine the heat from the flue or pipes under it, and give what is called "bottom heat"; the sand on a bench so formed will indicate a temperature of perhaps seventy degrees, while the atmosphere of the greenhouse, particularly during the night, will be ten degrees less. Now, if the cuttings are in the right condition, and are inserted an inch or so in this sand, freely watered, and shaded from the sun from 9 or 10 A.m. to 3 or 4 p.m., cuttings of nearly all kinds of plants are certain to take root in from ten to twenty days. But the cuttings must be in the right condition, and this is best shown by the engraving, (Fig. 13). It will be observed that the upper portion of the shoot is snapped or broken, while the other is only kneed or bent; this snapping point, as we now term it, is a true indication of proper condition of the cutting; where it bends and does not break, it is too hard, and though a catting will root, when in that condition, it will be Blower in doing so, and the roots thrown out from it will be weaker and more wiry than when emitted from a cutting taken in the condition in which it breaks. Besides the plant grown from the older cutting will not likely be so healthy or vigorous as one made when the shoot is in the proper state.
Fig. 18.-Proper Improper Statb Of Cutting.
In propagating woody plants, such as Roses, Azaleas, or Camellias, this test of breaking or snapping of the cutting does not in these indicate the proper condition, although they also will root if taken in the soft state, yet we find it is not quite so well to do so as to wait until the cuttings of these woody plants gets harder; what this proper hardness is, it is not very easy always to determine. In roses the best condition for taking the cutting is reached when the young shoot, (of which the cutting is made), develops the flower bud to about the size of a large pea. Although the shoot on which the flower bud shows, will make a proper enough cutting, yet if it is not desired to waste the flower, cuttings had better be made of the "blind" shoots, i. e.y such young shoots as do not flower. In making the cuttings of roses, or in fact of almost all plants, (with a few exceptions hardly worth noting), there is no need to cut at a joint, although nine gardeners out of ten still do so, particularly those who have learned the business in Europe, where, in this as in many other things in horticulture, they still follow the dictum of some savant of a century ago, never questioning why. But our business necessities here, have caused us to ride rough-shod over many of their set rules, and in none more ruthlessly than in this matter of propagating. But as this book is written mainly for amateurs in gardening, I will proceed to give a simple method by which any one can propagate plants from cuttings or slips, even when no greenhouse or hotbed is at hand. It is called The "Mud" Or "Saucer System&Raquo; Of Propagating.