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Cuttings develop healthier roots in media versus water

Although cuttings like these coleus can root in water, they produce a better root system in a mixture of sand and peatmoss. David Samson / Forum News Service

Q: I saved several coleus plants from last summer's outdoor planters, and I've been growing them indoors this winter. I'd like to start cuttings from them so I'll have more coleus for spring planting, as they did so well on my shaded deck. I've heard it's easy to start cuttings in water. - M. Larson, Hillsboro, N.D.

A: Coleus are fun and easy to start from cuttings, and it's also a great children's gardening project. Yes, coleus will root easily in a glass of water, and I've used that method frequently, but there's a better way.

Roots that develop in water tend to be straggly and poorly branched. Transplant shock can be great, as roots transition from water to potting mix. A better method is to root cuttings in vermiculite or a mixture of half sand, half peatmoss. A stronger, more prolific root system develops, and transplant shock is minimal as the rooted cutting is shifted into potting mix.

Q: I ordered seeds for my vegetable garden, and they've arrived early. Is there a preferred way to store the seeds until spring planting, or is it fine just to leave them in the shipping box? - Jason Olleson, Alexandria, Minn.

A: Seeds in their sealed packets store fine at room temperature for the short time between late winter and spring planting, as is commonly seen with all the seed racks currently displayed in stores and garden centers. Seeds maintain best quality for longer time periods under refrigeration, so there's nothing wrong with putting seed packets in the refrigerator.

Seeds that arrive in the mail should be unpacked from the shipping container and individual packets stored away from heat in a cool location.

Q: In the recent heavy, wet snow, several branches on our globe arborvitae evergreen snapped. Is there anything that can be done to save the branches? Will it help to bandage them where the break occurred? Tom M., Fargo.

A: If the break is immediately wrapped, with the portions fitting together precisely, there's a slight possibility they will heal. Rubber electrical tape has a bit of stretch to it and can be used to bind the broken parts together. This must be done as quickly as possible after the damage, or the branch tissue will dry out and be incapable of healing together.

Bandaging a broken branch doesn't always work in winter because the healing probably won't occur until cell growth begins in spring, but you have nothing to lose by trying, and with a little luck it might work.

Q: When is the best time to start tomato seeds indoors? - Mary Larsen, Minot, N.D.

A: If I were a comedian, I'd say the best time to start tomato seeds is 8 a.m., but in garden-talk timing refers to calendar date. Tomatoes are best seeded between March 15 and April 1 to produce plants that will be ideal size for planting in the garden between May 15 and May 25.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.