by Mimi Hedl

After three months rooting, the rosemary cuttings looked vigorous, time for them to go into individual pots. I’d promised one to Jeremy, to give his wife for Christmas, and I want to give one to Gene, the chef at the Greek Restaurant down in Belle, the rest will sit like ladies in waiting.

Years ago, I read that cuttings taken from the end of August through October would root well, as the rooting hormone flowed in abundance during that period. Of course when I’ve told other people, they’ve countered that they’ve rooted cuttings in May or November and I’ll concede, yes, of course, they had good luck, all the while knowing these “rules” do not have a hard-fast reliability. Odds simply favor cuttings in the anointed time period. I like to defy authority too. I say this as a gentle guide.

When you turn over a container with rooted cuttings, you want the soil dry enough so you can gently separate the plants, but with enough moisture so you won’t rip those delicate root hairs. Holy cow! These seedlings have outdone themselves, they have roots enough to keep the plants going for weeks without water. These cuttings want to live.

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Running my fingers through the roots I see how the loose potting soil, the same soil I start my seeds with, a pro-mix, has given the rosemary cuttings a chance to develop ample roots. And after all, we gardeners look for that quality in all we grow. The secret to successful plants lays in the soil and the looser the soil, the easier for the plants to spread out, suck up nutrients and establish themselves.

Conventional gardens, where a tiller, or plow in these parts, comes in and turns over the soil, gives the worms nothing to feast on during warmer winter days. No roots means no subterranean connections between all growing things. The web that holds water, supplies nutrients, provides micro-organisms a home does not exist. Cover crops, perennials, mulch, native plants and grasses weave together to form an underground ocean.

When I walk our gardens, I see the lushness on top, but I imagine the life underneath. All my labors in the autumn go towards making that unseen labyrinth richer. Every wheel barrow load of mulched leaves, the straw that goes on the asparagus bed, the blueberries and raspberries, all the organic material insures next year’s garden’s bounty.

Roots fascinate me as much as seed pods. How has this plant anchored itself to the earth? Does it have a tap-root like dock? Or roots that go in every direction, strong roots, like in tick-trefoil, desmodium canescens, that you positively cannot dig out once the plant reaches maturity. Chickweed has a weak root, but it strategizes with numbers and seed that forms quickly so that if you pull it out, you spill enough seed for the next crop.

Walking the gardens now, after years of learning the plants’ ways, I marvel at the wonderful ways each species has developed to secure itself to the earth. Because I know a bit about their habits, they feel like old friends. Give them what they need, and they respond with lushness, like these roots on the rosemary cuttings now perched on my window sill, soaking up sunshine until spring.

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