A Gardener’s Diary
Mussaendas, ixoras, gardenias, pentas and coffee are all related, and belong to a very large family of plants comprising over 600 genera and 10,000 species. The first three I have named are of particular interest to growers in Guyana, the initial two for their colour and the gardenia, of course, for its scent. mussaendas originated in the Old World tropics and is one of the most spectacular shrubs available to us. The best and most commonly planted mussaendas are the pink, white, and the red varieties of Mussaendas erythrophylla. Their attraction comes not from the flowers but from their enlarged and highly coloured sepals. Mussaendas are not naturally tidy plants and have a tendency to straggle.
This can be corrected quite easily if the plants are pinched back or cut back from the time they are youngsters in order to make them bushy. In fact, quite old plants can be cut back and shaped very nicely if they have been neglected in their early years. Some of the colour types of mussaendas (red for example) have always been thought difficult to propagate. These can be rooted from soft wood cuttings about 2.2 inches long, taken from the tip of strong healthy shoots, treated with rooting hormone and grown under a mist propagation system. However, most of us don’t have mist, so the chance of success using soft wood shoots is very much reduced.
By far the best way of propagating mussaendas in the absence of a mist unit is by hard-wood cuttings. When mussaendas have finished flowering they should be cut back hard until you are satisfied that the shape of the bush is right. Hard-wood cuttings are taken from prunings which have a diameter no less than 3/8 inches. These cuttings should be no more than six to eight inches long. The bottom cut is always slanting and just below a leaf joint (called a node), and the top cut is always just above the node and straight across. This helps to distinguish the top of the cutting from the bottom. A sloping cut at the bottom exposes more of that very important layer of cells called the cambium layer, which eventually produces new roots.
It is very important to keep the time between taking the cutting from the parent bush to inserting it into the root medium as short as possible. The routine is therefore as follows. Take the cutting and prepare it immediately. Once that is done dip the base in rooting powder, knock any excess off and insert it into clean sand at ⅓ its length. Water the sand at once and then let nature take its course, which is likely to be several weeks. Success is indicated when the cuttings start sending out tiny green shoots, but it is important to remember that at that stage there will be no roots formed. Wait a couple of weeks after this before you attempt to lift and pot off the cuttings.
The dwarf ixora is another plant now being widely planted. It was also considered difficult to propagate but in fact it is quite easy. Unlike the hard cuttings of mussaendas the best and quickest method of rooting the dwarf ixora is to take the tips of young shoots, I would say about 2 inches or so long, and just push them into clean sand. Just try stripping off a few of the bottom leaves and that should be sufficient stimulus for rooting to occur. You can expect nearly 100% of success in just a couple of weeks or so. If a 5-inch diameter plastic pot is filled with sand, I would think that you could get about a dozen or so dwarf Ixora cuttings into it. All for now. Take great care and may your God go with you wherever you are in this great country of ours.