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How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Posted by jrcagle z7 MD (My Page) on
Sat, Sep 25, 10 at 14:33

Hi all,

So this year has been quite dry on the east coast. When I cut sprigs of swamp milkweed, no sap bleeds out; all of the spicebush has gone woody-stemmed.

The downside of this is that when I put cut sprigs in water (lunchmeat containers filled with water), they dry out quickly -- 2 days max.

By contrast, back in June, even when the temps were as hot as now, the plants would stay mostly green for 4 - 7 days.

Is there any secret to helping them stay green in water?

Thanks,
Jeff


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Jeff,

I've been looking at what I have these days and discovered that the plants (Incarnatas) which were where the soil was kept moist and mulched are in great shape. I am now feeding my Monarch cats with one plant that is in such soil but also was dapple shaded by other perennials - beautiful green leaves.

The plants in full sun where I did not water or mulch were the ones where they laid their eggs but those plants are faltering fast - yellow dropping leaves and very little new growth.

You are right about the Curassavica! Nice to have around just in case.

Another thing I will repeat this coming year is starting new plants by Winter Sowing. I did this again this year and had over 30 plants which I transfered to the veggie garden at the end of June. The leaves on those are very fresh as well and will finish my season without worry. Next spring I have gardeners who want these plants so I will winter sow more to keep my fresh patch going. :O)


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Jeff,

I would never keep cut plants in water.

I've posted on here many times my system for keeping plant cuttings fresh for many weeks, some plants for months. Too tired to write it up again. Maybe a search will help you find one of those posts.

Larry


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Well, I am going to search for that info Larry. I would love to know about your system. If anyone else finds it, please post it here? Thanks.


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My system for holding cut plant fresh.

OK, here's a copy and paste from a post I made back in July to a post started by Miss Sherry about holding willow cuttings. This one was more for collecting cuttings distant from your property and how to get them home fresh, but the technique is the same for cuttings from your own property.

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"IMO putting cut LFP in water like cut flowers is not a good technique to use for LFP's and can actually start breaking down the plant rather than helping it. I've posted before on the method I used for many years to keep cut LFP's fresh, often for weeks in the dead of summer and at the end of season even for months. Takes a little work on your part, but robust healthy cats are the reward.

If the collection site is a long ways away, take an ice chest with the layer of ice on the bottom covered by a common bath towel folded to a couple of thicknesses for the return trip home (to keep the ice from freezing the plant). Take a supply of trash bags. I mostly used the 7 and 15 gallon kitchen size in opaque white as they store easily and you can see what plant is in them without opening them. Also a supply of paper towel and a squirt bottle filled with clean water. When you gather the cuttings cut the stem with an oblique cut at a length that will fit in the bags unfolded, stack them all together, put them in the trash bags and spray the entire "batch" with the spray bottle. Pour any excess water out, twist or tie the ends and lay them in your ice box until your batches fill it to the top. The paper toweling is in case you have a long trip home. In that case fold and wrap pieces of toweling around the cut end of the bracnhes and soak them with the spray bottle before you put them in the bag and before the final spraying. When I got them home I unpacked and thoroughly washed the cuttings to get any contaminants, pests or predators off them, either in a large sink full of cool water or outside with a garden hose, shook the excess water off and repacked them in trash bags for keeping on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator. If some will be longer term storage wrap their ends with paper towel before spraying. If you make several small "batches" up, and use just one at a time, they others will stay fresh as the day cut with maybe an occasional light spraying every few days. Plant can desiccate or mold in a refrigerator, so the regulation of moisture is important (lean towards less rather than more and just check them more often). In use only pull out enough plant at a time for one change in your cages (I always gave my cats fresh plant at least once a day, more often if they ate it sooner). Close and put the rest of the batch back in cool storage. If the cutting is too long for the cage, cut them in half and use both halves (always putting the down end down). And strip the bottom leaves so only the bottom inch or two is in water. Once you have a feel for what your cats need you can give them only as much plant as they'll consume say 75% of in a day, and that will stretch your cuttings as far as possible before you have to make another trip for plant. Some species of plant hold up better than others, and usually current growth holds up better than old growth. BTW, the wet paper towel trick works very well for small cuttings just laid in containers too, say for early instar larva not yet ready to go to a larger rearing container. Keeps the cutting fresh all day and adds more than enough humidity for the cats. Obviously if you can get your cuttings on your own property they can be gathered, washed and processed daily, but it's still easier to make up a batch all at once to work from until it's used up."
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I'll add that for storage I always wrapped cut stems with strips of paper towel and soaked the towel before putting the cuttings in the bag and lightly spraying them for cold storage, even those in my small "batches" that I fed daily from. Takes little effort and adds great benefit in helping the cuttings hold up longer, especially those with woody stems. If you need to hold the plant for many weeks/months, it's a good idea to take all of your plants out, wash them again and repack in new bags every few weeks. My method worked so well that I often held fresh plant well into the deep snow winter months for species that I was rearing successive generations of. I could even hold some plants (like Populus fremontii water sprouts) all winter this way.

Larry


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Larry, thanks. This is exactly what I had in mind.

So if I'm following: The cuttings do better when wrapped in wet paper towel, than when stuck in water.

I'll experiment and see how it goes.

Thanks,
Jeff


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Jeff,
"So if I'm following: The cuttings do better when wrapped in wet paper towel, than when stuck in water."

Like night and day better. They will last much, much longer as viable LFP's. But they also have to be kept in plastic bags per the above method in the bottom of your refrigerator (or wherever the farthest from the freezer is).

Putting cut flowers in water may be fine for floral arrangements that only last a few days, but doing so with LFP plant cuttings breaks them down much faster. I don't know about you, but my goal was to devise a method that kept the plants as fresh as possible for the longest period of time. Some plant species may tolerate being in water longer than others, but the best habit to get into for rearing leps is to treat all LFP species about the same for long term storage. In my case many where a days drive or more away one way to get more.

No need to experiment unless you just like to do so. Many years of doing this with many thousands of cuttings from many dozens to hundreds of plant species has proved to me that my method works very well for almost any plant species, and much better than just sticking them in water. When I figured out a system that worked so well for me I never felt there was a good reason to try to fix what wasn't broke.
I even had colleagues use this method to ship plant species not obtainable in or with no viable alternates in NA to me from around the world. When I received them I washed and repacked them as above and had plenty of fresh LFP to easily see the broods of foreign lep species through to pupation.

Larry


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Thanks so much Larry for the info. I would be collecting plants from my own yard pretty much, but it's hard to keep a lot of the plants in decent condition for even a day or two. Those early instar guys don't eat as much. I have decided that I really love my Passionvine. It holds up so well after cutting. Wish all of the butterflies used it for host!


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Larry's method works well. I am essentially lazy and couldn't make it to the sweetgum trees I use as often as I would like. So, I just throw some in a gallon plastic baggie after rinsing them really well. I have some that have been in my fridge for over a month and are still very fresh. I didn't even wrap the stems or anything. Like I said, I am lazy :).

Cheers,
Elisabeth


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Wow. Thanks Elisabeth! I can't wait to try this! I even have an extra fridge in my garage, and it's empty on bottom. Lots o room there.


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Bumping this up because it's great info and also I tried this method today can't believe how fresh the cuttings are staying in the fridge.

I've collected about 75 Monarch eggs over the past week and have about 30 hatchlings. I went out this morning and collected a bunch of tender milkweed tips for them, rinsed, and placed the extras inside a plastic bag lined with a damp paper towel, and put in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

Now I can just reach for cuttings from the fridge and don't have to keep running out to the garden, sometimes in the middle of the night!

I want to try this with some Sassafras, it is so hard to keep fresh and I have to walk to the woodland across the street to collect it. Plus it's hard to predict when those pokey cats are going to feel like eating, and when they don't have fresh food they go AWOL! :)


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Skipping the paper towel wrapping on the stem ends may work OK for short term storage, but not nearly as well for long term storage as wrapping them does. With my method many times I continuously brooded some species all through the long deep snow winters when LFP wasn't available for as long as 6-7 months. The cuttings wouldn't have lasted that long without the wrapping and periodic rewashing and repacking. You get what you put into leps... to me they were worth the small extra effort. The wrapping is especially important with some species of plants... they'll dry out without it. Just tossing a wet paper towel in the plastic bag with the cuttings promotes mildew, mold and/or fungus to grow, so I'd suggest you keep a close eye out AND rewash and repack your cuttings often in new plastic bags. If you take good care of your cuttings, your larvae will stay healthier to ward off disease, produce more robust pupa and bigger adults. FWIW
Larry


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RE: How to keep plants fresh in late season?

Hi Larry! These little tender cuttings are going to be used quickly. I've got eggs hatching like crazy at the moment! I'm a little overwhelmed by the number this year, and trying to create some efficiencies. But I will skip the damp paper towel in the plastic bag.

I was definitely planning to wrap the cut stems with wet paper towel with the Sassafras - right now I keep extra branches in a vase, and as you point out, they quickly wilt and become useless. Plus I have to hike a good 20 minutes to a grove that has some really tender fresh stuff. The woodland across the street has a sizeable grove, but the trees are on a slope that dries out quickly and there aren't many leaves that are fresh and tender.

In a week or so, I will likely have to foray out to the field for some wild Asclepias syriaca to supplement the feeding of 70 4th-5th instars, and plan to cut larger stalks and wrap those stems too.


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