Dallas horticulturist Leslie Halleck recently published her second book on gardening called "Plant Parenting." Photos courtesy of Leslie Halleck.
June 18, 2019
Houseplants are back, vegetable gardening is still trending and the demand for hard-to-find native plants is on the rise.
Dallas-based horticulturalist Leslie Halleck says plant propagating enhances all these gardening niches - and her new book will show you how to become a successful "plant parent."
Aimed at both novices and advanced growers, Plant Parenting: Easy Ways to Make More Houseplants, Vegetables, and Flowers is Halleck’s visually rich, step-by-step presentation on how to multiply your existing plants at little or no cost. Released this month by Timber Press, the new book covers a range of topics from basic plant information to propagation materials and tools you’ll need, how to start transplants and what to do to take your seedlings and cuttings to the next stage.
“Houseplants are enjoying a big resurgence in popularity, and outdoor gardening enthusiasts want to become savvier about sustainable methods,” says Halleck. “As urban dwellers become greener and want to bring more nature indoors, they’ve started collecting more houseplants, or trying their hand at balcony and patio gardening. Avid outdoor gardeners want to grow more edibles, pollinator-friendly and native plants. I’ve made sure to cover topics and provide techniques for enthusiasts who run the gamut from total beginner to experienced gardener looking to broaden their skills.”
The 256-page title departs from the typical style of books on the topic by offering a more photograph-based approach suitable for anyone who’s just getting started. Yet, Halleck says, those with green thumbs - even professionals - will find techniques and tools they’ve never used, or solutions to struggles they’ve had in previous propagation attempts.
“Most plant propagation books are technical and dry - often written for the professional industry market. I wanted to create a visually stimulating book that was less textbook and more photo-intensive, “ Halleck says. “For Plant Parenting, I photographed many projects in a detailed step-by-step manner, so that you can follow along with the photos as you work on your propagation projects and see the results you should expect.”
Halleck says the plants covered in the book run the gamut of popular varieties of indoor tropicals, outdoor perennials and garden variety fruits and vegetables.
“Chinese money plant is one very popular plant that is fun and easy to propagate. Varieties of philodendron are also very popular, as well as succulents, cactus, orchids and citrus. I use all these plants to demonstrate a wide variety of propagation techniques that can then be used on many other plants even bulbs. When it comes to seeds, I provide specific information for a wide cross section of popular plants, including vegetables, fruits, wildflowers, succulents, and perennials,” she says.
The book begins the propagation presentation with making your own transplants from seed - one of the quickest ways to jump into plant propagation - and moves on to water rooting, division and vegetative propagation. Pests and disease solutions are covered too, and the final chapter details what to do with the new plants you’ve started, Halleck says.
“The most basic techniques I cover in the book are water-rooting and simple division. While they are not techniques that can be used for all plants, there are many tropicals and perennials that can be easily propagated in such ways. The more involved methods I cover include air-layering, certain types of cuttings - and then of course starting seeds of certain plants can be more difficult than others. I provide specific tips and techniques for the more stubborn plants,” Halleck says.
She added that there are no plants or techniques covered in the book that can only be achieved by advanced growers.
“The point of Plant Parenting is to make many forms of plant propagation simplified and accessible to beginners - as well experienced plant keepers and gardeners who want to try new methods. That said, no one should expect to be successful with every technique every time. Propagation takes practice so don’t worry if you kill things the first few times. Green thumbs are earned, not born.”
Halleck added that the most advanced technique she covers is air-layering for plants such as citrus and large tropicals, which is a technique that will probably take beginner a few times to get right. And seed-starting - while it sounds easy - can always present distinct challenges, she said.
“I mention grafting and tissue culture in the book, but I chose not to cover them in any detail - specifically because they are techniques better undertaken by more experienced growers and this book is meant to cover more fundamental techniques.”
Halleck says there are several reasons you might want to learn to multiply plants yourself instead of solely relying on your local nursery. For one thing, propagating your own houseplants and starting vegetable and flower seedlings yourself costs far less than buying mature potted plants and transplants.
Halleck says she also show readers specific examples of how they can recycle materials and use more sustainable methods when they are propagating new plants.
“There are a lot of things you already have in your home you can use to grow your own plants.”
Also, doing your own propagation reduces your eco footprint by eliminating the inputs and transportation needs of plants produced by a nursery. And, you’ll develop a greater sense of what plants need while you learn to be a better grower, Halleck adds. Still, she says you’ll have plenty of reason to browse your local garden center and pick up new varieties.
“I do tons of both,” Halleck says. “Propagating my own plants never stops me from wanting to shop new plants at the garden center or online. Often, you can’t find the variety of tomato or flower you want at the garden center. The only way you can grow that heirloom variety is by starting seeds - or taking cuttings of your existing plants. You might have a variety of orchid, succulent, or citrus that you can’t currently find on the market, and you want another one. Or, you may have a special plant that has been in your family for many years. Propagating new babies is a wonderful way to keep memories alive. You might have plants in the garden that have gotten too big for their britches - or have stopped flowering. Dividing them is the solution.”
Halleck says the art makes for beautiful and meaningful gifts for gift-giving occasions as well.
“I think that giving plants, seeds and flowers as gifts is an Earth-friendly tradition I’d like to encourage. When you’ve propagated and grown those plants or seeds yourself, it gives them a lot of meaning. I’ve made a commitment to replace a lot of material gifts with live gifts, as a part of creating this book.”
The new title is a follow-up to her 2018 release, Gardening Under Lights, which explored the topic of growing everything from houseplants to garden vegetables indoors under grow lights. Halleck says the previous work only touched on plant propagation, which is why she felt that a broader look at the topic was warranted.
“I wrote Plant Parenting to be a simpler companion to Gardening Under Lights. I do include a propagation chapter in that book, but I felt that growing indoors with lighting goes hand in hand with doing your own plant propagation, and I wanted to expand that information,” Halleck says. “Some readers might start with my grow lighting book, then realize they want to dig deeper into propagation. Some might start with Plant Parenting, and as their plant addiction grows, realize they need to expand into indoor grow lights.”
Halleck earned her master’s degree in horticulture at Michigan State University and has worked in the greenery industry for 25 years. She’a certified professional horticulturist with the American Society of Horticultural Science. Her career has taken her from retail garden center management and her own gardening business to a position at the Dallas Arboretum along with a joint appointment with Texas A & M University. She launched Halleck Horticultural in 2000 through which she provides consultation to the green industry and has written hundreds of articles for a variety of local and national publications.
Halleck says she’s always got plenty of plants in various stages of propagation but that starting seeds and creating transplants forms the bulk of the activities she’s involved in.
“I’m a big vegetable gardener so I always grow a wide variety of edibles from seed indoors over the winter, for spring planting outdoors. I also collect a lot of vegetable and flower seeds from my garden for the next season. Alpine strawberries from seed are a favorite of mine. I have a 35-year-old Meyer lemon tree that I want to make sure I preserve, so I take cuttings from it regularly. I absolutely adore starting cactus seedlings. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they germinate and turn into tiny versions of their adult form. I’m particularly obsessed with starting living stones from seed. I’m constantly taking cuttings from my tropical houseplants, succulents and orchids. Basically, my house and entire garage are just my big plant lab,” Halleck says.
Nevertheless, there are some plants and propagation methods that can test the mettle of even the most skilled professional, Halleck admits.
“As a professional horticulturist I’ve killed a lot of plants - way more than most people,” she says. “I can’t say I have one nemesis plant, but woody plant cuttings can sometimes vex me because they can take a long time to root, and I’m not always as patient or attentive as I should be with them. I’ve taken a lot of rose plant cuttings that I’ve totally forgotten about. I’m also stingy when it comes to watering - so plants in my house must be tough. I’ve taken many cuttings to root in water, only to let the vessel completely dry out.”
Published by Timber Press and retailing for $24.95, Plant Parenting is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online and local booksellers. North Haven Gardens is also hosting a plant talk and swap with Halleck on June 22 and July 20. See details below.
Plant Parenting Swap & Sip
About: Meet Dallas horticulturist and author Leslie Halleck, who will give a short overview of her new book Plant Parenting; Easy Ways to Make More Houseplants, Vegetables, and Flowers, demonstrate a plant propagation technique or two and spend some time answering questions about plant propagation and plant care. The plant swap will follow the demo and Q&A.
Where: North Haven Gardens, 7700 Northaven Rd, Dallas
When: June 22 and July 20 at 3 p.m.