Passalong plants are a Southern favorite

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Passalong plants are known to every Southern gardener. They are an important part of our Southern heritage. A passalong plant is one that can be easily propagated and given away. And of course, we all know that you never say “Thank you” for a plant. You just take it home and plant it. If you thank someone for a passalong plant it will not grow. Most of these are very old plants dating from the time when there were no nurseries and most people got their plants from friends or neighbors. The question is just when and how do you acquire a passalong plant.

Fall is a good time for acquiring passalong plants, with divisions, seeds, and cuttings as the usual methods of propagation. Here are some tips for each.

Divisions: The rule of thumb in plant divisions is that the plant should be divided opposite the season when it blooms. Thus plants that bloom in spring and summer can be divided now. Cannas, coreopsis, dianthus, gladiolas, daylilies, iris, and phlox all fall into that category. My experience has been, however, that a canna can be divided any time. That is not what the experts say, but I have never had a canna die.

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Seeds: Seeds can be collected and saved for spring planting or for starting early indoors or in a greenhouse. There are many seeds available for old favorites such as coral vine, cypress vine, zinnias, hyacinth bean, butterfly weed, coreopsis, purple coneflower, gaillardia, salvia, and many others. It is usually not a good idea to put seeds into a zip lock bag until you are sure they are well dried.

Cuttings: For plants that are not winter hardy, you can make cuttings to carry over indoors or in a greenhouse, for setting out next spring.

I have many passalong plants in my yard. The shrub lantana out by my mailbox came from my grandmother’s yard. The Dutch iris on one corner of the house came from my mother. She told me that you have to threaten them every spring, or they do not bloom. I have found that to be true. I have ginger lilies and Mexican petunias from my sister and cardinal vine from a friend. My callas came from several friends. The beauty of these plants is that each time you see them bloom, you will remember the friend or family member who gave them to you.