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Jade and arrow plants may be harmonious together

Q: My mother gave me a vase with several stems of jade and a little bit of arrow plant that were pieces off her plants. The stems must have been in the vase for a while because they had some roots established. After I brought it home, I left everything in the vase because it looks like a spring bouquet. The light-colored arrow plant leaves compliment the deep green of the jade.

However, I wasn't planning to keep them in water forever. In skimming through your responses to e-mails, it sounds like you recommend starting the stems or leaves in soil rather than water. You mentioned that the transition is difficult, which has me concerned.

How small of a pot should I start with and what is the best way to make this transformation go as gently as possible? This is my first jade plant, so your help is greatly appreciated.

A: First, a compliment to you for being able to keep the jade stems alive for so long! You are among the blessed of jade plant lovers. I'm sure they want you to succeed in your propagation efforts.

Not knowing the size of the stems, I suggest using a 4-inch clay or plastic pot. Purchase pasteurized potting soil. It would be better to use African violet potting soil if you can locate it.

Open the bag and wet it down completely. Allow it to drain overnight. Check the following morning for any dry spots and rewater if needed. Carefully move one or two rooted cuttings into the container (depending on the size, you might get away with three cuttings, but don't overcrowd) and set them into the soil deeply enough for self-support, but not too deeply. Water it with distilled water to secure the damp soil around the roots. The next week to 10 days is the critical period because you need to wean the roots gradually from being in a continual water environment to one of dampness and then occasional dryness. This is something that takes skill and luck.

If you play it right, you will succeed. If not, you will see the result. You might want to build a little greenhouse over the transplants using clear plastic bags to keep the humidity up and lower the transpiration pull on the plant's vascular system. Gradually uncover the plants as the days pass into a week and then two weeks. Good luck! I'm pulling for you.

Q: I recently put in a boulder retaining wall on the south side of my house. The problem I have is that soil is washing out in the small cracks between the rocks. Is there something I can plant that will help with this problem? I have several small planting beds with creeping phlox and verbenum, but I can't get my hands in those tight spots. I am considering transplanting some moss from the north side of another building into these small areas. Will that work?

A: I have a couple of questions. Was any provision made for drainage behind the wall? This is going back to the old days for me when I used to do this for a living. While the boulders are the big deal here, an even bigger deal, but not as conspicuous, is the drain-age arrangement that goes into place before the boulders are plopped in.

The drainage usually is designed to run parallel to the face of the wall and exiting somewhere inconspicuous or through several weep holes along the face of the wall. How high is this boulder wall? The greater the height, the more pressure will be exerted on the components within the wall. I hope you had a contractor who knew about all of this stuff and considered this when constructing the wall.

Vest-pocket plantings will help retain and prevent some of the soil being washed through the openings. Moss might work, as well as sedum. In some instances, if the situation is just a little weeping coming through, you might be able to block that with a little concrete punched into place.

To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail