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How To Propagate Plants Asexually: Part I – Basic Horticulture
Plant propagation can be an incredibly rewarding activity. You can take great pleasure in knowing that you had a hand in a beautiful plant from start to finish. Plants can be propagated sexually or asexually. But to grow and develop a plant efficiently you need to have at least basic knowledge of horticulture.
Plants are divided into two basic loose categories: angiosperms and gymnosperms. The first of these, the angiosperms, are plants that have flowers and leaves that are either dicots or monocots. Dicot leaves are found on many plants such as roses, oak trees or tomatoes. The veins on dicots are furrowed and their seeds have two cotyledons which are embryonic seed leaves (already present in the seed) but not true leaves which develop later. Monocot leaves have veins that run parallel to each other along the length of the leaf and have only one cotyledon. You see these leaves on grasses, irises or cannas etc. Monocots and dicots also differ in their basic structure.
Gymnosperms have cones instead of flowers and simple needle-like leaves like those of pine or cypress trees.
Additionally, plants can be classified according to their growing season, i.e., how long does it take for a plant to go through its entire life cycle? The growing season is usually the period during which you can grow plants. Factors that affect your growing season include climate, elevation, daylight hours, rainfall, and temperature. The entire life cycle of a plant is from germination of seeds to production of new seeds and then the death of the plant. Remember that a life cycle is not equal to a calendar year. There are three life cycle categories: annual, biennial, and perennial.
Annuals go through their life cycle in one growing season. Here in Central Texas I put my tomatoes outside in the spring and by the time the summer heat hits and we hit triple digits they will have gone to seed (they don’t like temperatures above 95 degrees) so I pull them out. Then I put new seeds in July and with our weather they can last until November. So I can get two growing seasons in one year. Those of you with cooler climates will only get one without a greenhouse but your spring plantings can last well into the summer. Stimulates after the last frost and lasts until the next frost.
Biennials start from seed and last two seasons. During their first season they will form vegetative structures and food storage organs. Using Texas’ famous biennial, bluebonnets, for example, seeds are sown in October and in winter (first season) you’ll see an evergreen cluster of leaves or a rosette close to the ground. They flower in the spring (second season) and after a few weeks they go to seed and die. The next fall/winter the seeds from those trees will start the cycle again.
The mission of annuals and biennials is to reproduce itself so that once it goes to seed, it knows its life cycle is over. You can pick the fruit to extend the life cycle a bit longer, or cut off the flower heads to keep the plant producing. A phenomenon known as bolting occurs when a biennial goes through both of its growing seasons in the same season due to changes in weather conditions, drought, or temperature. Lettuce is a good example. It needs cool temperatures but will bolt if it is unseasonably hot.
A third life cycle classification is perennial. These plants live for more than 2 years and produce flowers and seeds when the plant is fully mature. Fruit trees can be planted one year but depending on the age of the plant and the species of tree, it may take several years before they bear fruit. Herbaceous perennials grow and produce flowers and fruit in spring and summer but die back to their roots each winter. It returns each spring with new growth from the original stock of the previous year’s growth. Perennial plants such as trees and shrubs persist year-round, losing their leaves in winter.
Depending on your specific growing conditions and climate, a plant that is a perennial in one area may be considered an annual in another. So, if you move from a warmer southern climate to a cooler northern climate, or vice versa, don’t expect plants you once thought of as perennials to grow the same way. Here in Central Texas we can grow tropical plumerias in pots outside for winter indoors, but on the Gulf Coast they can be grown in the ground year-round. So you can see that you don’t have to go far for a completely different hike.
Plant propagation is the process of producing more plants either sexually or asexually. Sexual reproduction involves the sexual parts of plants which are flowers, fruits, flower buds and seeds. Asexual propagation uses the asexual parts of the plant. These are plant parts such as roots, stems, buds and leaves and are used to reproduce plants by cuttings, grafting and other methods.
Here, I will focus on the asexual reproduction of the plant. Let’s look at the vegetative parts of a plant used for asexual reproduction.
Let’s start with the roots. First, what is the purpose of roots? A plant’s root provides an anchor for the plant. Some roots are shallow while others go deep. They absorb and store water and nutrients for use by plants. They can be used for plant propagation, they adapt to different soils and some of the roots are edible. The health and vigor of a plant depends on the health of its roots. If you plant a new tree or shrub and after a few weeks the root ball remains in the ball, you may notice that your plant is stunted or already dead. Roots must be able to spread to do their job.
There are several types of roots: primary, tapir, fibrous, lateral and secondary. A primary root is the first root you will see on a plant. It grows from the base of the embryonic seed and can form either a tapir or a fibrous root system.
Fibrous roots are the roots you see on plant seedlings you buy for your garden. The primary root did not grow into a taproot, but many lateral roots did.
A taproot is formed from a primary root that grows deep into the soil and is the central part of the root system and has very few branches or fibrous roots. Many plants have tapers that make replanting difficult unless the soil is very deep. Growers can cut tapirs early in plant development, allowing the plant to develop a fibrous root system that makes transplanting later more successful. Carrots are edible taproots that must be grown from seed because they cannot be transplanted.
Lateral and secondary roots are those that grow from primary or other fibrous roots and are usually very short.
Both humans and plants have similar vascular systems. A plant’s vascular system transports water and nutrients to the rest of the plant and can grow above or in the soil. They have three major components: xylem, phloem and cambium.
Xylem transports water and minerals while phloem carries food to the plant. The arrangement of these elements determines whether the plant is a monocot or a dicot. Cambium is located on the dicot between the xylem and phloem and is responsible for the girth of the stem. On dicots, as in tree rings, phloem is the outermost ring, near the stem and xylem is the innermost ring. On a monocot, xylem and phloem form small bundle pairs throughout the stem. Dicots have a continuous system while monocots have a discontinuous system. Knowing which system a plant has is important because herbicides are specific to one or the other.
Stems must have buds or leaves. The point on the stem at which a flower or leaf develops is called a node. The space between nodes is called internode. Internode length can be affected by factors such as fertility, light, season, competition and vigor.
There are many types of stems such as crowns, spurs, stolons, rhizomes, tubers, corms and bulbs. The crowns are slender stems like dandelions or African violets. Spurs are the little things on the branches of fruit trees through which they develop fruit. Stolons grow on the ground like on strawberries, and are also called runners. Rhizomes are similar to stolons but grow underground like Bermuda grass and Johnson grass making them very difficult to get rid of. Cutting the rhizome produces more stems. Tubers are potatoes, and potato eyes are actually nodes. Sweet potato, on the other hand, is a tuberous root that has an underground storage organ. Corms like gladiolus can look like bulbs but do not have fleshy scales like onions or tulips which are bulbs.
The next asexual part of the plant used for propagation is the buds. Buds are the things you see on a branch that have not yet developed into a leaf (leaf bud) or flower (flower bud). A terminal (apical) bud is the bud at the top or tip of the stem. Lateral buds are on the side of the stem. Auxin is a plant growth hormone that can dominate the apical bud preventing the development of lateral buds. By cutting off the top bud, you can bush the plant for a more lush, more compact plant. There are also adventure buds that may pop up in other areas for some reason. If you’ve ever eaten lettuce, brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cabbage, you’ve probably eaten sprouts.
The last asexual parts we are going to cover are the leaves. Everyone knows that leaves are important for photosynthesis. The petiole is the short stem that connects the leaf to the stem. The base connecting the petiole to the stem is the node. A bud formed at the angle formed by the petiole and stem is an axillary bud. Leaves are a major way to identify a plant but leaves come in countless shapes, margins, arrangements and blade shapes too many to mention here.
Some of the important parts of leaves you should know about is the cuticle, which forms a waxy layer on the epidermis called cutin. It protects the plant from dehydration and some diseases. Plants grown in shade have less cutin than plants grown in sunlight. So when you move a plant from shade to a sunny area, do so slowly to allow cutin to build up on the leaves or the plant will die from exposure to sunlight or rapid water loss.
If you come home at the end of the day and notice that your plant’s leaves are wilted, you’re tempted to water them. Don’t do it! If you do this you are probably overwatering. At the end of the day, the reason for leaf fall is the guard cells. These cells have the ability to open and close and their function is to protect the interior of the leaf and regulate water, oxygen and carbon dioxide. If the day is hot, the guard cells will close to conserve water and keep it in the root system, for the same reason the vascular system slows down and all this causes the leaves to drop. By the morning when it cools down, you will see that the leaves are back to normal. If not, then water. Watering at night should not be done as it can cause problems like fungus in your plants.
Part II of this article will talk about ways you can promote at home with little or no money. What is the best way to do anything if you can.
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