2006-04-27 / News

Propagating plants at home

By Roger Marshall

There are three ways to propagate plants. The easiest is by spreading seeds, the next is to take cuttings, and the third way is to divide up roots. Each way has different techniques depending on the particular plant.

We all know how to spread seeds. We've discussed it often enough in the gardening column, but certain plants require more specific techniques. For example, some plants, especially trees, require stratification before they will germinate.

To stratify seed, simply place it in a plastic bag with a little moist potting soil or vermiculite, and put it in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks. Then take it out and let the seeds warm up. If they don't break dormancy do it again. Some deciduous trees will germinate immediately after you warm them up, others such as firs, need only three to four weeks in the fridge.

Then there are the seeds that require lots of light. Primulas, impatiens, and some others need 15 to 18 hours of light to germinate. To get them to break dormancy, sprinkle them on top of potting soil and keep them under a grow light for the required amount of time.

Taking cuttings is also a relatively easy way to increase your stock of plants. All you need to do is cut or break a piece of the plant off and plant it. Unfortunately, some plants are easier to propagate than others. For example, I have a huge jade plant in the living room. To propagate it is simple. A cutting is snapped off, planted in suitable soil and it grows provided it is watered and kept warm. Similarly, a Christmas cactus can be propagated by snapping off a section of the "leaf" and pushing it into potting soil. In most cases, it will root and you'll have a new plant. Like most succulents, these plants are easy to propagate.

Propagating woody green plants such as fuschias, needs a slightly different technique. Take a cutting with one or two leaves, dip the stem in rooting hormone powder, and push it into your special potting soil. Keep the cuttings moist, and you'll find that in three to six weeks they will have sprouted roots. This method works well with most woody stemmed plants, but to get the best results, the cuttings need to be taken from the green part of the stem when the plant is actively growing.

Another method of taking cuttings is to peel a small twig off the main stem where it branches to get the heel. Again, dip it in rooting hormone and plant. I use a mixture of potting soil mixed half and half with builders sand or vermiculite to give an easy draining cutting mixture.

But some gardeners like to use all sand while others prefer all

potting soil. Experiment with the mixture that suits the cuttings you want to grow.

If you have plants like rhodendrons, forsythia, privet, or other plants that you want to propagate because you like the color or the style of bush, you'll need a slightly different technique. In this method, the cutting is not snipped off the branch immediately but pinned to the ground and buried under a mound of soil. Some gardeners advocate making a slight cut in the soon to be rooted cutting, but I have grown them with and without a slight nick in the stem. Once the uncut cutting has taken root it can be cut away from the parent and transplanted.

The last method of increasing your stock of plants is to divide roots. Dahlias, for example, have large tubers and when you dig them at the end of each season you should store them in a frostfree location.

In spring, pull out your tubers and divide them so that each clump has one or two eyes. These eyes will form new plants. Plant your tubers, and at the end of next year, you will have doubled or tripled your stock. You can divide the roots of rhubarb, daisies, hostas, and many other plants to get a ton of plants, and while you are making lots more plants, bring on a few extra for the garden club's annual spring plant sale.

Return to top