Dear Miss Floribunda,
In last month’s column you mentioned that coleus is easy to root in water.  I tried it and it worked. What else is so easy?  I am looking to expand my garden at no expense, so cuttings do seem the way to go. What else do you recommend?  I am wondering how hard would it be to take cuttings from shrubs already in my garden. Right now – thanks to the previous owner of this house – I have hydrangeas and crepe myrtle in bloom. In addition I have a forsythia, some azaleas and boxwood.  Would it be difficult to root pieces of these in water? I’m trying to avoid anything that requires great skill, so just tell me “don’t try this at home” if I’m likely to  end up with a discouraging mess of rotting wood. 
Inept on Ingraham Street
Dear Inept,
I am very glad that you are inspired to take on new propagation projects. Impatiens and fibrous begonias can rooted in water or  just as easily directly in potting soil. Geraniums are also easily rooted in potting soil, or even ordinary garden soil. I discovered this many years ago, when I clumsily stepped on a geranium I’d just planted.  I was with a more experienced gardener who told me to stick the broken parts back in the soil, water them, and “wait for a surprise.”  They were blooming a month later.

Forsythia is an easy shrub to root in garden soil.
Forsythia is an easy shrub to root in garden soil.

Of your shrubs, forsythia is easiest to root in garden soil.  I started with one bush, and for a few years tried unsuccessfully to get my spring bouquets of them to root in water. One year I decided to stick the twigs in some problem places along my back alley way just to see what they might do. They rooted and bloomed the next year.
Most people have success rooting hydrangea, with varying degrees of preparation. Both Mr. Minnowhaven and Dr. Agronomosky recommend using a rooting medium. They say to take a  4- to 6-inch cutting of this year’s wood, stripping off the lower leaves and leaving only a few tip leaves, apply the rooting medium to the end of the stem, and put it in a pot in a combination of vermiculite and perlite.  The pot is then covered with a plastic bag to create a mini greenhouse.  (Dr. Agronomosky uses this technique in June for rooting boxwood and azaleas as well.) This method will also work for crepe myrtle, and summer is the time to take long cuttings of new wood.
Aunt Sioux, however, prefers to layer her hydrangeas, as well as her figs.  I myself have used layering to propagate azaleas and lilacs. You just take a branch, bend it down, put soil over it, anchor it with a brick and forget it.  When you notice the new plant the next year, you clip off the “umbilical branch” and replant it.
I know you were hoping to be able to root all your plants in water, but I know of only one person who has successfully rooted a hydrangea in water and that is Capability Green. She takes cuttings in August, always in the morning, and places them in individual jars of water.  She chooses her cuttings from branches that happened not to have flowered. She changes the water every other day and finds roots developing within a month. She waits till fall to put the young plants outdoors in well-prepared soil, and places large glass jars over top of them that she waits till spring to remove.  Capability has also divided hydrangeas in fall, and she has grown new crepe myrtle plants from shoots that burgeon from the base of established trees in spring.
To speak with our experts, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society on Saturday, August 20, at 10 a.m. at the home of Jean and Millard Smith at 3600 Longfellow Street.