Masterful Gardening: Combat winter doldrums with window sill gardening


Tom Crandall has started multiple plants on his window sill this winter. On the left are wax begonia cuttings. In the middle is a sweet potato that has
Tom Crandall has started multiple plants on his window sill this winter. On the left are wax begonia cuttings. In the middle is a sweet potato that has sprouted. And on the right is an African violet cutting which has just begun to sprout baby plants above the roots. Courtesy of Tom Crandall

By Tom Crandall

My joy of gardening is watching plants grow.

While the fall season is enjoyable with all the beautiful foliage, I begin to have withdrawal symptoms as temperatures plummet and the annuals and perennials wither and die.

To combat the upcoming winter doldrums, I begin to focus on plants that will continue to flourish in the house.

I could go to a garden center and load up on expensive house plants, but I prefer to have fun with plants I propagate myself.

Following are some fun projects I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Wax begonias

These easy-to-grow plants are a great favorite of many gardeners. They also are one of the easiest flowers to propagate.

Take four-inch cuttings from your garden or ask a neighbor for cuttings.

I’ve even begged a cutting or two from the garden center where I am a regular customer. Use only healthy mature stems.

Make a 45-degree cut on the end of each stem, and place three or four cuttings in a juice glass full of water.

Place the glass on a sunny window sill, and almost within days the cuttings will develop roots.

Once the roots are about 1 inch long, it’s time to plant them in soil. I like to plant three or four cuttings in a 6-inch pot.

Cut off the top of each cutting, eliminating any flowers to promote sprouting for a bushier plant.

Use a high-quality potting soil.

Place the pot in a sunny location and enjoy. In spring, the plant can be transferred to the garden.

Sweet potato

This is a fun project I was introduced to in grade school many years ago.

Obtain a small sweet potato. If possible, use one straight from the garden.

When buying from the grocery store, be sure to get one that has been grown organically, as others might have been treated to inhibit sprouting of roots.

Look for a sweet potato with eyes (buds from which new sprout will form).

Determine, if possible, the top end of the sweet potato where it was attached to the above-ground vine.

Cut off the lower one-third of the sweet potato and discard.

Stick three tooth picks evenly spaced around the middle of the remaining sweet potato to support it in a vessel of water. I use a pickle jar.

Fill the jar with water, and place in a sunny location. Replace the water weekly and rinse the sweet potato.

In a week or two, the eyes will swell, and small leaves and roots will appear.

The sprouts will grow rapidly into a lush sweet potato vine that will drape over and down around the jar.

This is mainly a “just for fun” project, but I suppose the vine could be transferred to the garden if it survives the winter. I’d trim the vines back to a manageable length before planting.

African violets

African violets are one of the easiest of all to propagate and share with friends.

They can be propagated directly in soil, but I prefer to propagate them in water and observe the roots and baby plants develop.

Ask a friend or relative for a leaf from their favorite African violet, take one from a plant you have or purchase an inexpensive plant next time you go grocery shopping and snip off a leaf.

Cut the end of the stem at a 45 degree angle. This will encourage root development.

Place the stem in a small glass, and fill with water. Aluminum foil can be placed on the top of the glass and a hole punched for insertion of the stem if necessary for support.

Small, fine, hairy roots will emerge from the stem end within two or three weeks.

Soon, you will see small green sprouts start to emerge at the point where the roots meet the original leaf stem.

These sprouts will grow into several miniature African violet plants. When the spouts are about 1 inch high, it’s time to plant them in soil.

Carefully pull or cut the sprouts apart into individual plants.

Save the sprouts that have some roots, and discard the others. Plant the baby African violets in a good-quality potting soil.

Watering techniques for African violets are critical.

Let the top soil become dry before applying water, and then apply water only at the soil surface.

Do not get water on the leaves. Over-watering kills more African violets than anything else.

Oak tree acorns

Have you noticed the abundance of acorns this year?

Some are so large they can actually dent your automobile.

Gather a few for a fun winter project.

Collect a dozen or so acorns; the dark brown ones are best.

Make sure there are no blemishes or worm holes. Place them in a bucket of water, and discard any that float to the surface.

Place the good acorns in a zipper-type plastic bag with moist sawdust.

Put the bag in the back of your refrigerator for a month to “winter” (stratify) them.

This is necessary for the acorns to sprout.

After a month, periodically check the acorns, and when roots crack through the end, it is time to plant them.

Plant in a good potting mix, place in a sunny location, and watch your oak tree grow. Next spring, plant some in your yard or share with friends.

Masterful Gardening, a column written by master gardeners with the Penn State York County Cooperative Extension, appears Sundays in Home Source. Tom Crandall be reached at 717-840-7408 or

Source: Business


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