The Q&A Archives: How can I provide the best environment for my plants?

Question: Can I start a plant from a cutting in just soil or jar of water? I have a piece of a clematis that I would like to grow. Also: how can I improve the quality of my soil for a veg. or flower garden? It tends to get hard at times... and yet I have some clay in my soil. Is it recemended to pinch off dead flowers,etc. on any plant?

Answer: You can start cuttings from most tropical plants (houseplants) by rooting them in water. Some outdoor plants will root in water, but not all. Clematis probably won't develop roots from a cutting. If you want to start a new plant from an existing clematis, try a method called layering. You simply bend one of the stems down so it lays on the ground; make a nick on the bottom side of the stem, hold the wound open with a toothpick, then cover the wounded area with soil. The stem should produce roots by the end of the summer. When it does, you can cut the rooted stem away from the parent clematis and pot it up or plant it in a different part of the garden.

Improving poor soil takes months, sometimes years. Start by spreading a few inches of compost or other organic matter over the top of the planting bed and digging it in to a depth of 8-12". Plant your flowers or veggies and then mulch over the bare soil with additional organic matter. At the end of the growing season, dig the mulch into the soil. The following spring, prepare the planting bed in the same manner, plant and then mulch again. Dig everything into the soil at the end of the season. The third year, repeat the process. By then you should have some nice planting beds.

Deadheading flowering perennials will extend the blooming period. I'd remove the spent flowers as soon as they begin to deteriorate and before they begin to set seeds. This will redirect the plant's energy into producing new flowers.

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