Roots and Shoots: Reader Questions

Sex ed and blueberries; fairy rings in the yard

By Pamela Doan

blueberryThis week, I respond to reader questions about propagation and what causes a “fairy ring” in the lawn. Send your questions to [email protected] or leave it in the comments and I’ll do my best to get information for you.

I have half a dozen old highbush blueberry plants and would like more. Is it possible to propagate them? How do I get started? 

It is possible to propagate blueberry bushes, but it takes a significant commitment of time and resources. You can’t just stick a branch in a glass of water and wait for roots to appear or collect seeds from a berry and pop them in the ground.

Blueberries require following a specific set of steps for growth. Blueberries are challenging to propagate under any conditions and most gardening resources recommend buying two to three-year-old stock, instead. After two to three years of growth, these bushes have the best chance of success for transplanting. Even one-year-old root stocks are tricky.

There are two methods of propagation for woody and herbaceous plants, asexual and sexual. In general, asexual propagation starts with cuttings from canes, branches, roots or leaves and sexual propagation uses seeds. There are very small seeds in every blueberry that could potentially be harvested and planted, but it isn’t guaranteed to match the host plant. If you’re after the same cultivar, you need to use a cutting from the hardwood, not a soft shoot, of the bush.

Cuttings should be taken from any woody plant while it is dormant. For blueberries in our area, this usually means February into early March, the same period when old growth can also be pruned. Make sure to only take a cutting from a healthy plant. If the plant has any diseases, you’re propagating those qualities, too.

Blueberry cuttings need specific light, temperature and humidity levels, as well as a special growing medium. If you’ve got a greenhouse, then it would be less difficult to create this environment. Without a greenhouse or a special room, a trip to the local nursery will be your best bet. There are ways to improvise with flowerpots covered in plastic, but check out these resources for information and understand what you’re getting into before you get started.

information for commercial growers that can be adapted by home gardeners

resources for growing all types of fruit in our climate

I read your column about mushrooms in house plants and was wondering why I have a  “fairy ring,” a circle of mushrooms in my yard with dark green grass in the center?

Watch out! Folklore says that these are places where fairies, elves and pixies gather to practice magic and disturbing a fairy ring can bring on terrible consequences. Science says that what we refer to as a “fairy ring” is the sign of evenly balanced soil in the substrate and appear when nitrogen is released. Mycelium, the fibers of fungus that produce mushrooms, live in the soil and when conditions are right, like the rich, balanced soil we strive to produce for our lawns, a fairy ring can develop.

The grass in the middle of the ring can be brown and dead looking or a lush, green that is darker and taller than the surrounding lawn. Neither is a sign of disease, though. It’s more of a nuisance if you’re concerned about the aesthetics of your lawn.

I found a warning on Cornell’s lawn resource guide that the mushrooms in fairy rings can be poisonous, though. So if children are playing in the area, removing the mushrooms with a rake is good practice. Here are a couple of resources for more information about fairy rings:

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