Once more unto the breach - wart leaf ceanothus propagation from cuttings and seeds

I have tried and failed to propagate Ceanothus papillosus, wartleaf ceanothus, many times. It's one of two kinds that grows wild where I live - the other being Ceanothus thyrsiflorus, California wild lilac, which I have propagated successfully from seed -  never from cuttings. The cuttings get moldy and/or dry out in the conditions I've been able to provide so far. Now - a new tack - bottom heat!

So on Sunday, I took "semi-ripe" - also known as "semi-hard" - cuttings from a branch that was trailing low on the ground, and also I prepared seeds.

The branch from which I took cuttings
I read that late summer or early fall is a good time to take semi-hard cuttings. Semi-hard cuttings are taken from this year's growth, where the base of the cutting is hard, and the tip is soft. Also you can try bending the cutting - if it's sort of bendy, not too stiff, not too soft, then I think it's OK. It's one of those things you get a feeling for - and I'm not entirely sure I've got the feeling as yet.

Cut just below a leaf node at the bottom and either take a tip cutting - or cut just above a leaf node at the top. Remove all but one or two leaves at the top. If leaves are large, cut them short. Also remove any flower buds and side shoots.

Small branch before preparing, with heel (on right) - where this little branch was ripped off the main branch. Sometimes there is more of the rooting hormone there - varies by species and I don't know about ceanothus. Worth a try.

Same small branch, prepared as two cuttings. I dipped the cuttings in rooting hormone - I think #3 is OK. I use some liquid stuff and am not very scientific about it.

I didn't have enough ceanothus for one flat so I made half the flat of some manzanita cuttings - same technique. I had to reject many of the potential cuttings due to damage, fungus, or etc. Only use healthy material!

I read that ceanothus is difficult to grow from cuttings. And that bottom heat helps. Also frequent misting but just a little bit. My experience is that they get fungus or that they dry out.

I have a misting system - in parts - not yet in place. But my greenhouse I think is too hot right now, anyway.

So I put my mini greenhouse in the pool shed - which is open on one side - to keep it out of direct sun, and put the bottom heat mat under the seed flat. I hope the plastic covering will stop the cuttings from drying out.

My latest idea about where to propagate cuttings... The pool shed! It's protected there - maybe not so bright. It's open on one side. I might move it into more light later on.

I read on a CNPS forum that Yerba Buena nursery uses a mix of two parts vermiculite to 8 parts perlite for ceanothus cuttings - so I tried that this time. No moisture-retaining peat.

I used two parts vermiculite to 8 parts perlite

This is perlite

This is vermiculite

The finished flat

Bottom heat, shade, and covered in to keep the plants a little moist. I'll have to mist just enough to keep them moist - with the cover, and being out of the sun, they should stay pretty moist. Wish me luck!
So - I'm going to be diligent. Honest I am.

OK - on to the seed prep!

I prepared seed from 2010 and from 2012. (I seem to have lost a lot of 2012 seed - I KNOW I collected seed. Hm.... ).

First I liberated a little muslin bag I had tied over the end of a branch and left there. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the seed had popped out of its nutlets all by itself, in the storage bag. Not many, but enough I hope.

I put a bag over the end of a branch to catch seeds. This is what came out.
Not so many seeds in the bagged lot, maybe about 12 or so

I got these from some nutlets saved in 2010. I read that seed can survive 100 years! Again the seed had popped out of the nutlets in the storage bag. Any unexploded nutlets just didn't have seed in them, that I could see.

So first - "scarification" which in this case means a 12 hours soak in hot water - pour on nearly boiling, and let cool. Next "stratification" - 1-3 months in the fridge, in a bag of moist perlite, faking out the seeds that they have been through winter. Last time I put the seeds in peat - this time in perlite. In the peat, some seeds got fungus - it's good to keep checking - also in case they germinate in the fridge - in which case, immediately plant!

I am bound and determined to grow Ceanothus papillosus! I think it will be a useful garden plant for people in my watershed (and maybe elsewhere). It's a shrub - whereas Ceanothus thyrsiflorus is a short-lived tree, which fewer people want in their wilderness property gardens - we have enough trees of various sorts all around us as it is.

Will I be successful? Time will tell...


Good luck! I've don't see Ceanothus papillosus here, just C. thyrsiflorus.

I almost always use bottom heat for seed germination, but rarely, if ever, for cuttings...unless the greenhouse is particularly cold. I'll be curious to see if it helps. The challenge with bottom heat is not letting the planting medium dry out too much. I'm seriously considering adding capillary mats to my benches to help with that.

I do always use shade cloth over cuttings though, at least until roots have formed, so your pool house should be a good environ to get them started. I hope your cuttings take!
Brent said…
This is such a nice detailed description. And so methodical too. My recent propagation efforts were to take some clippings of Yerba Buena and stick them in the damp ground, so I'm a far cry from your level of sophistication.
ryan said…
Really interesting. I've always wanted to try bottom heat and ceanothus or manzanita cuttings, but I've never had the time or believed in myself. I hope you have good success. An easy propagation technique if you already have them growing on your property is to try layering -- staking a young branch to the ground and just leaving it there for a while to see if it roots. I've seen many kinds of ceanothus naturally layer themselves, so it might be worth a try.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks all for dropping by - and Ryan I'll definitely try your suggestion - I might wait till the rains start - the shrubs are awkward to get to with a hose, and I have a feeling irrigation would help the process of layering.
Town Mouse said…
Yeah, good for you! I do hope it works out this time, but I know you just like a challenge ;->

Hope it all works out.
Country Mouse said…
I'd just like to update any current readers (I see there are quite a lot of views of this post for some reason in the past couple weeks). Currently the score stands at Cuttings: 0, Seeds: lots of plants. Today in fact I'm potting up the propagules into deep 4 inch pots - their roots are healthy and quite thick, not hair-like, but branching and white. They're outgrowing their 2 inch pots. I'll keep trying with cuttings - first establishing the best time of year to take them -- My best to you all in your efforts - Country Mouse