Garden Q&A: Salvia are garden workhorses, and easy to propagate

Garden Q&A: Salvia are garden workhorses, and easy to propagate

I have a salvia I bought last year that has done very well for me. I wasn’t sure if it was going into the right place, so I bought only one. Now, I want to try it in other places around the yard but can’t find it this year. Can salvia be propagated, and how is it done?

Both annual and perennial salvias are true garden workhorses and both can thrive in your north Florida garden. Annuals provide quick though short-lived warm-season color, while perennial types can bloom year-round unless they’re killed back by frost. The colorful, slender, tubular blooms of these plants make great cut flowers and will last for several days indoors. Both types are fast growers that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. And, if all that’s not enough, they’re easy to grow and have no serious pests.

Since you’ve found one you love, propagating more will be easy. This time of year, you can make stem cuttings.

Cut a 4- to 5-inch-long actively growing stem or side shoot just below a leaf node and remove all but two or three sets of leaves at the top. Dipping the cut end into a rooting hormone available at nurseries is helpful, but not always necessary.

In a container holding about 3 inches of vermiculite, perlite or a 50:50 mix of potting soil and perlite, make a hole about the diameter of a pencil. Just plain potting soil also works well. Insert the cutting and firm the medium around it. Be sure the container has drainage holes. Nothing likes soggy toes, especially not plants.

Place the container with cutting into a sealable plastic bag or under a cloche to minimize moisture loss but open it occasionally to let in fresh air.

Place the covered container in indirect light and walk away. In 4 to 8 weeks, the cutting will have developed roots and be ready to be potted up in a potting medium. Gradually expose these new plants to more sunlight and slowly acclimate them to their new environments.

When you plant these in the landscape, remember that most salvias perform best in full sun, but will still perform in part shade, though not as well. They want well-drained soils and are considered relatively drought-tolerant. Give them an application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer each spring. When blooms are spent, remove these spikes to encourage additional flowering.

Look for seeds later in the year. They may be viable and might provide even more plants, as long as the parent plant isn’t a hybrid. Another bonus from a hard-working plant.

I was recently in California, where artichokes were served in practically every restaurant. That was OK with me because artichokes are one of my favorite food groups. Since I saw so many plants there that we routinely grow here, I wonder if we can grow artichokes in Florida. I’m ready to give it a try.

Even though Florida shares a lot of flowers and fruits with California, so far, artichokes haven’t been one of them.

What we consume is the unopened flower bud of a thistle-like plant. They’re not well adapted to Florida’s climate because our warm sub-tropical weather causes the bud to open before they’ve reached marketable size. This early flowering destroys the tender edible parts of the bud.

So far, almost all the nation’s artichokes are grown near or along the California coast, where climate is cool and mild. Castroville, Calif. is known as the Artichoke Capital of the World.

Historically, artichokes originated in southern Europe, where they have been cultivated since Roman times, and were taken to California by Spanish explorers. Much later, in colonial times, Thomas Jefferson grew artichokes in his extensive gardens at his Monticello plantation in 1767, successfully finding ways to combat the cold winters.

But don’t despair of never enjoying locally grown artichokes. One intrepid assistant professor of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, Shinsuke Agehara, has your back. Since 2015, Agehara has been working to make the delicious artichoke a viable alternative crop for the Sunshine State.

Why? Because Florida small growers are looking for alternative crops that are attractive to consumers and profitable for themselves. One plant can produce several flower heads, which can be sold for as much as $5 per artichoke. Clearly, it would be a benefit to the grower who can provide for that market.

However, while waiting from more progress from UF, if you want to give artichoke growing a whirl, look for seeds of the “Green Globe” variety. Because seeds are known for their “genetic variability” and don’t always produce plants true to type, planting portions of old artichoke rootstalk or root shoots is a better idea. It’s reasonable that our local nurseries don’t offer these. But a quick search on-line produced several vendors, each of whom also provided tips for growing.

One even suggested the option of growing artichokes in containers. I love containers for experimenting with plants I know nothing about. You can move them around until you find the right place for a particular plant. Mostly, I like the fact that there’s no long-term commitment. It’s just one more potted plant, after all. So, what do you have to lose?

The University of Florida publication, “Artichoke-Globe” (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MV/MV01100.pdf) is a good starting point for potential growers. Though written for commercial growers and far more detailed than the homeowner will want, “Specialty Crop Profile: Globe Artichoke” from the Virginia Cooperative Extension is another excellent resource for anyone anxious to start their own artichoke garden (https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/438/438-108/438-108_pdf.pdf).

Paula Weatherby is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and ask for a Master Gardener.

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