Gardeners are caretakers, so a gardener's nurturing skills are often needed to fix something that's not quite right. At those times, we are rescue workers. Here is the story of my recent rescues across the seasons.
Where others wouldn't think twice (or even once) about the many volunteer seedlings that pop up in strange places each spring, we gardeners notice and then leap into action! With hawk eyes, we scan the ground.Each year, when the weather breaks and the ground wakes up from a long winter, I go out looking. It's a treasure hunt of sorts but also a mission.
The best place to find various growing things in need of help is in the fallow, abandoned vegetable garden out back—the repository for all my yanked-out flowers from the previous fall. The garden at rest is usually the motherlode of finds in the spring, like a giant seedbed full of goodies. So this begins a rescue of relocation, or transplanting.
This year, I found baby marigolds growing at the edge of the dormant garden. The rescue instinct kicked in. If left at the edge, those poor little seedlings would surely get mauled by the lawn mower or rototiller. Time for intervention!
Step by step, the little ones were taken care of. The triage began by placing them into small cups and carrying them to a safer spot.
After ensuring that they survived the dig by watering and watching them for a few days, I planted the marigolds in a protected location, a freshly-dug flower bed along the sidewalk out front.
Marigold transformation from spring into fall
My next rescue was similar: tiny portulaca seedlings found at the base of a maple tree. I had placed their dried, spent parents under the tree last fall during yard work and forgot all about it. Portulacas hide better than marigolds, so they often go unnoticed until they bloom. But we gardeners have eagle eyes for pop-up seedlings, don't we? Even when they are growing in the strangest of places.
This time, although the seemingly millions of portulaca seedlings were growing in a great spot, they were simply too crowded to grow to their fullest potential. This was a rescue of thinning and transplanting. Some people thin and discard, but I only do that if the castoffs are weak. (Somehow, I have a hard time throwing plants out.)
Again, a dramatic transformation from their early beginnings. The rescued portulacas were placed here and there as accents in my flower beds. My favorite repositioning, however, was in the old, holey, enamel-coated pot. Talk about trash to treasure! In the end, the original spot under the maple tree retained many portulacas that are still blooming in the fall.
The old "holey" pot
Plant rescue needn't be just for the outdoors.Houseplants need rescue from time to time as well.
My third rescue involved trying to solve the problem of a snake plant that kept falling out of its pot. It was top-heavy. I could have found an appropriate pot and supported the plant in some way, but I chose to propagate the snake plant instead because I love a challenge. This is also a rescue of relocation (in a manner of speaking).
For those who have never done snake plant stem cuttings, here are the steps:
Cut along the length in one-inch to two-inch sections.
Try to remember which end is up, and lay the sections all in the same direction. In general, the narrow end is the root end.
Lay the cuts somewhere to air out for a day or so.
Place the sections in small pots of planting medium of your choice. I wouldn't choose anything too soggy. I used orchid soil mixed with a little sphagnum peat.
Water a little bit and allow to air out for a day.
Place a baggie or plastic wrap over each pot and tuck the plastic under the bottom, or use rubber bands to hold the plastic on. The idea is to create a bit of humidity. It's ok to snip holes in the baggie for air. Take the baggies off to lightly water and to air out from time to time, then place them back on if you suspect your cuttings are getting too dry.
Place on a windowsill out of direct sun or under plant lighting.
WAIT. WAIT. And WAIT some more. This is, by far, the hardest part.
Patience is required! When you have just about given up, and when you are beating yourself up over what a bad plant caretaker you are, voilà! You will see bulges at the base of your snake plant sections that will soon develop points and grow upward. It can take months to get to this point. But those bulges! Oh! Happy Day! At the end of the experiment, I had snake plants all over the place. It took 120 days, but it was well worth it.
A final rescue to happily report is one I tried for the very first time this year. It involved relocating a sedum, Autumn Joy, from under a row of mature cedar trees in my back yard.
The cedar tree location was not a problem for many years, but the cedars are giants now, swallowing up the poor Autumn Joy. Living under a cedar tree is no way to display your beauty, so I started in spring by digging as many offsets of the sedum clump as I could and placing them in an annual flower bed near the road.
Then I planted zinnia seeds all around the sedum transplants.
The zinnias grew, practically covering the sedum, but when the spent zinnias were removed at summer's end, the sedum began its show, first with pale flower heads that turned a lovely shade of pink as shown here now that it's fall.
The Autumn Joy flowers will transform into crimson to end the display.
Swallowed up by cedar trees—Help!
Rescued Autumn Joy
Plant rescue takes many forms, all of them originating from the heart of a nurturer. We are caretakers, keepers. A gardener is a rescuer. We are ready to help in-season and out. Let's see what challenges the next season brings.
About Timmy Jo Given
I am a gardener and nature photographer. Blessed with an acre, I and my husband have decorated our Delaware property with trees, shrubs, and perennials. I love to plant! And I love to grow things from seeds in my windowsill garden. When not elbow-deep in soil, I tutor English and Spanish at Delaware Technical and Community College.