This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The art of propagating is frequently rendered a tedious and difficult operation with the amateur, and even the professional horticulturist, in the immediate vicinity of towns, where the scarcity of all good soils is much felt, particularly the total absence of one very essential propagating commodity - viz., leaf-mould - which necessitates the use of many makeshift composites that would test the skill of the renowned provincial propagator. Leaf-mould is not absolutely indispensable in propagating. Peat is superior in the case of hard-wooded plants. Others root in pure loam, while in sand alone many root rapidly; but the roots produced in sand are so long and tender that breakage while shifting is unavoidable, consequently the young plants get a check at a period when they have little spare energy to withstand it. With a proportionate addition of leaf-mould to the sand, masses of short roots are formed into a ball at the base of the cutting, which can be conveniently lifted and replanted without ever molesting a fibre. Unquestionably leaf-mould, or something equal to it, possesses advantages in this respect not to be derived from other sources.
As the propagating season advances with the dawn of another year, the inauguration of Cocoa-Nut fibre as a valuable substitute, containing all the rooting qualities of the mould, may be of service to those whose endeavours have hitherto been thwarted through the want of needful appliances in this indispensable operation; for on spring propagating of all sorts of soft-wooded bedding, stove, and greenhouse plants, with sure and rapid strides, rests the grand basis of the future display.
Cocoa-Nut fibre affords great advantages in propagation. I find cuttings root more surely and quickly in a mixture of fibre and sand than in any other mixture I have tried, its soft texture having a peculiar root-producing tendency - a result attended with many benefits, as it is observable that cuttings, when long in rooting, soon become weak and sickly. When used in pots or pans, as each are emptied of the rooted cuttings, the contents may be turned out, put through a sieve, and again returned into the pots, and refilled with cuttings. When a small bed is used (which is the best of all modes of propagating), as each successive batch is removed a stir up is all that is required previous to inserting another lot. As a plunging material it is equal to, if not better than tan. When done with for this purpose it makes an excellent covering for Hyacinths, Tulips, and all other bulbs, previous to their introduction into forcing quarters.
This convenient substance can be had in the neighbourhood of towns where brush and mat factories exist for little more than the carting away. Nurserymen supply it in bags of any quantity at a very cheap rate. Though not new, it is surprising that this refuse, so easy of access, should not be more taken advantage of by those whose supplies of propagating materials are limited. J. M.