Propagating Plants

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Plant propagation is a budget friendly way to increase your plant stocks to fill gaps in your garden or gift to friends. Propagation can be done through several methods, but all involve salvaging parts of your precious plants that would otherwise be tossed into the compost bin. Nurture your inner plant spirit and do something good for the earth by increasing the green around you with new plant babies!

There are Three Types of Cuttings for Propagation

If you’ve got a garden, you probably do at least some yard work to maintain its beauty, so if you're not familiar with when to prune shrubs and trees, we've got some info to get you started. Once you're ready to grab the pruning shears, there are three types of cuttings you can use for propagation: stem, root, and basal.

Stem Cuttings

stick of rosemary plant growing new roots

These can be taken at different growth stages. Hardwood cuttings are exactly like they sound: cuttings taken when the branch or stems are fully matured--or 'hard.' These are generally taken during winter when the trees are bare and dormant.

Herbaceous cuttings refer to the soft, leafy new spring growth, which soon become softwood as the season progresses and the new growth has started to toughen up.

Semi-ripe or semi-hardwood cuttings are still pliable at the ends, but hard at the base, and are generally taken in summer. Each method has its own set advantages and disadvantages and your choice will depend on your preference, but some plants will root better based on the type of cutting taken.

cutting rubber plant for propagation

Root Cuttings

Take root cuttings in late fall or early spring, when growth has either slowed down or is just beginning. An advantage to this method is you get to keep the original plant in its same spot without having to disturb its location. Some plants are fussy and don't appreciate it when you mess with their roots, so choose this for plants that aren't so easily upset. Use a sharp spade to dig near the host plant to ensure you’ve got the correct roots and not one of a nearby shrub. Choose long roots that are plump and about pencil thick.

Make a straight cut with sharp pruners at the end closest to the plant and a slanted cut at the end away from the mother plant. Trim these into lengths of about three to six inches. Woody root cuttings can be tied together, then buried vertically in the garden with the straight cut at the top. Tying them together makes it easier to find them when you’re ready to check the root growth. Perennial root cuttings don't require bundling, and can be planted on their sides since sprouts can grow at any node along the cutting.

Basal Cuttings

Basal cuttings involve separating new shoots growing around the base of the mother plant. Cut with a sharp knife and plant the separated pup in gritty compost to encourage rooting.

plants growing roots in water

Divide Clumps and Bulbs

Divisions are best done on perennials like daylilies, calla lilies, and hostas in the fall after foliage has died back, or in the spring when new growth begins. Dig the clump and lift it up from its location. With a sharp knife, cut the clump into smaller, manageable sections. This method works wonders at rejuvenating languishing perennials since roots no longer have to compete for water and nutrients.

You'll be rewarded with renewed vigor after dividing bulbs or corms like daffodils, tulips, or lilies that have lost their flower power. These offsets are often much smaller than the mother, so may take a few years to flower, but with proper care, will soon add the color and vibrancy they once had.

Layering

There are several ways this can be accomplished, but all involve encouraging stem contact with a rooting medium. Layer the tips by bending the branches low enough to bury the tips in the soil. Once a root systems develops, you'll see new growth from the buried section. These can be separated and planted elsewhere in the garden.

plant growing new roots in clay pellets

Another way of layering is by bending long, pliable stems and anchoring a section of it in soil, leaving the tip end exposed above ground. Rooting will occur where the stem has been buried.

Air layering is similar to the previous methods, but is usually done for indoor plants or for plants with thick stems that can’t be bent enough to anchor to the ground. It involves making a slice in the stem and sliding a toothpick into the wound to keep it slightly open. Surround the wounded stem with sphagnum moss and wrap with plastic wrap, tying it in place to keep the moss contained within. Keep the moss ball moist and once new roots grow into the wrapped section, cut the stem below the new root ball and pot it up.

Save Your Seeds

It's easy enough to pick up seed packets from the store or order them through a catalog, but there's something so satisfying about being able to save seeds from the fruits and vegetables you've eaten and enjoyed. That same satisfaction can be had from annuals like marigolds, calendulas, hollyhocks, and cosmos, which have seeds that are easily harvested, ensuring you have fresh seeds for the upcoming season. Food crops like squash, papaya, and cilantro are equally as simple to gather and preserve for next year, costing you less at planting time, with more reward at harvest.

Rejuvenate your garden and gift your friends and neighbors with some of your most treasured plants by propagating and sharing the fruits of your green thumb.