Thursday, August 4, 2011

STEVIA - Propagating the Sugar Plant!

Last March, I found a small Stevia plant at Dutch's Nursery on South Seneca. I've been wanting to grow this plant for years. I'd heard it was a good substitute for sugar. One teaspoon of Stevia Powdered Leaves or 2 drops of Stevis Oil equals One cup of Sugar!  "200 X Sweeter than Sugar", they say.  I also notice that 2 oz of Stevia Oil sells for about $12.

Here it is approaching the Ides of August, and the little Stevia plant has not only survived the terrific heat,  it has thrived and is almost 2 feet tall. So, a few days ago, I  decided to kill two birds with one stone. Propagating from "cuttings" and turning a few leaves into Stevia Sweetener.  For that matter,  I don't care for any non-organic "sweeteners" in my drinks. Stevia is all organic. No added chemicals. No Carbohydrates,  I might even try Stevia  in my Famous Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!

  So part of the process of preparing the cuttings is to strip most of the leaves off the 3 and 4 inch stems  as you would with most other plants you prepare for cuttings. All I had to do was save the leaves. Dry them in the sun for a few hours, and grind them into a course powder. Which I did - easily with my hands!.  Later on in the coming weeks,  I will attempt to extract essential oil from the Stevia powder.

 Lets Get Started

You should start with a sharp blade (box knife) or a sharp scissors and a tray. I used one of my trusty cake pans.  Throw in some damp towels or  wet paper towels or just wet newspapers. This is so you can quickly cover  the clippings that you take so they don't dry out from the air and heat in your garden.  Try to find fairly new growth that is bendable but snaps easily between your fingers.  If you bend it between your fingers and it doesn't snap, it is probably well matured and  past the growing stage you need.

 Your cuttings should be about 3 or 4 inches long and have several leaves attached to the stem. Cut your stems at a long angle about 1/4 to 3/8,s eights inch long.

As you cut the stem cuttings, slip them under the wet towel or papers. Try to keep them from drying out as much as possible. 

Notice the angle of the the cut on this stem. This allows for more surface area for water to be drawn in and also for more area to apply rooting compound if you use it. I will be explaining this later. You will also notice that there is about a half-inch to three-quarter of the stem left below the bottom node. Always leave about that much stem below the first or rooting node. A "node" is where a leaf is attached to the stem.

This shows the relative size of the cuttings as opposed to the thumb and forefinger. You might also notice the Green Thumb. No. I don't have the right to get all puffed up!  This green was due solely to the Chlorophyll rubbing off on my hands as I made the cuttings. It isn't permanent and unfortunately, to my chagrin, washes easily down the drain with plain soap and water!

Strip away all the larger leaves. Be careful not to disturb the tiny underlying leaves under the large leaves. These will become the new growth on your new plants.  Leave one or two leaves at the top for the plant to make food with the light you will provide for it. 

Every place where there were leaves is called a node. You should have at least 2 nodes on each cutting. The bottom one which will be sprouting the roots and one above it. As well as the ones at the top. Notice the tiny leaves that were left behind when the larger full grown leaves were taken off. Do not remove these tiny leaves. It is recommended that you use an alcohol dampened knive blade or scissors for trimming the leaves and bottom end slice. Use Alcohol for the same reason you would sterilize any surgical instrument - to prevent spreading plant diseases from one plant to another. 

Leave the leaf stripping until you have taken all the stems you want from the mother plant and brought the stems into a cool and comfortable area to work. Your wifes Kitchen is an ideal place.  Don't take time struggling with stripping leaves in the garden. Same with the cutting off of the stem. Just snip it off  with your scissors  and quickly slip the new cutting under the wet towels in your tray.  Trim the leaves and make a neat angled cut later inside.  

Make Sure You have Clean Pots

If you are using small pots or 4 or 6 - cell packets,  wash them well then sterilize them to avoid disease.. Be sure they are clean before starting to plant your cuttings. This is especially true if you are reusing pots or cells.  Put about a teaspoon of household bleach into a gallon of water and  mix. Wear goggles if you can. Be careful with bleach. It can burn your skin  and if it gets into your eyes pure from the bottle, it could blind you. Also don't allow any to get on your hands as it could cause painful blisters. Wash it off quickly if you spill any on you.  A word to the wise. Be careful with bleach. Pour the extra down the drain. Keep out of reach of children.

 Put your pots into a container and carefully pour the bleach solution into the container.  Allow your previously cleaned pots or cells to set in the bleach water for a few minutes then rinse them off. Set your cells or posts aside to dry.

Prepare Your Planting Mix

I used what was handy. You might use something else. It is important that your mix be light, fast draining, and allows air to penetrate.easily. These things are essential for starting roots on your cuttings. This is what I use:

                 My Planting Medium

                    1 part Perlite - Which can be any brand.  Some people use clean "Children s' Sand" found at any hardware store or Big Box store. Although I never seem to have much success with a sand mix except for starting Weeping Willows.

                    4  parts "Garden Soil" by Miracle Grow - ordinary  vermiculite can be used. in place of. the  expensive "Garden Soil". You do not want any heavy "Top Soil in your mix or large pieces of wood bark.. 

          Add enough water to make the mix fairly moist - but not wet. 

Your mix should look something like this. A Coffee Can full is just about right for 20 or 30 very small rooting pots. Since your new plants will need to be transplanted into bigger pots soon. Stick to very small pots as shown in the picture above or use a cake pan etc and plunge in one cutting about every inch or so.

 Fill your pots with your mix and press it down gently but firmly until the pots are full. Leave about a quarter inch empty to the lip of the pots. Wether using small pots or planting everything in a pan, use a #2 pencil (regular lead pencil) to make a hole down through the center . Have you ever noticed that they always say "Use a #2 pencil to do everything? I'm telling you, a #3, or  #4 or even a #6 pencil would probably work!

The mix should be just wet enough to keep from collapsing on itself when the hole is made. Do all the holes at the start. It will make things a lot easier!

Using a "rooting compound" is practical for this job although many people us other materials or none at
all. There are many brands available out there. Some people say aspirin works. Also highly concentrated Weeping Willow water.  Natural Aspirin comes from willow bark so who knows. That's why American Indians chewed on Willow Bark to sooth toothaches and menstrual pains. I couldn't say. I will have to do an experiment some day - on plant propagation. I don't even have real teeth!

If I am using rooting powder, I use the cap of the container. I pour a little powder  into the cap and then dip the rooting end  into the powder -  coating it well.  To avoid contaminating the  main jar of powder,  wash and dry the cap thoroughly before putting it back on the container.

Eight sections of 4 small pots fit almost perfectly into a cake pan with a little space to spare. After all the cuttings are finished and in the pan, pour about a cup or so of water into the pan and let the cells or pots soak up the water. Do not drown the plants in water. If this happens, use a paper towel etc. to soak up the extra water. 

After the plants have been watered, set them under a plant light  with a clear or semi-clear plastic covering over them. This could be a clear dish pan, a big freezer bag, or just a grocery sack as shown here. I would leave one end open to the air and if the plants seem to be getting dry (finger touch on the mix), water them a little. If the air is dry, you might want to spray them down with a mister or spray bottle.

With any luck  you should be seeing roots within a week to 10 days. For my light, I used one of those spiral florescent bulbs in a goose-neck lamp. 26 watts ( 100 watt equivalent light output.). They are close to true daylight and cost very little to run. Turn your lights on from 12 to 16 hours every day. Keep your plants near comfortable temperature - 65 to 75 degrees full time. Avoid cold drafts. Your plants should start to root in about a week. This procedure can be used for a lot of different plants. Experiment. Try to propagate some of your favorite plants.

News Flash!
A few of these plants were showing roots today - Total time from planting to roots showing - 6 days.

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