A Beginners Guide to Plant Propagation
Plant propagation refers to the creation of new plants from materials gained from existing plants such as bulbs, seeds and cuttings. There are many ways to do this but all use one of two different methods and they are sexual propagation and asexual propagation.
Sexual propagation is when you use a seed and asexual propagation, also known as vegetative propagation, is when you use any other part of the plant, such as stems, roots or leaves, to create a new plant.
Seed sowing is a straightforward process and many plants and vegetables can be produced in this way. If you are sowing outside, the soil should be warm and moist. The soil should be prepared by being dug over and then raked to level it out and give a crumbly texture. You then use a small stick or cane to create a small hole in the soil, known as a straight drill. How far down this hole goes should be dictated by the type and size of the seed. When you have made a row of drills, water over them.
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You are now ready to scatter your seeds into the drills making sure you don’t use too many seeds as they are going to need room to grow. Now, gently rake over the drills which will fill them back in with soil. Then cover the area with a piece of fleece to protect your newly-sown seeds and you are done!
Until you start seeing some sign of germination there isn’t much more to do apart from watering them when the weather is dry.
Take note, sowing seeds indoors is more complicated so not as easy for beginners.
There are a number of different methods using vegetative propagation. Some of these methods include cutting, layering, division and grafting. Let’s take a quick look at them and see what each one involves.
A cutting is a small piece removed from a plant which with proper treatment can be induced to form roots and then grow into a specimen identical to the parent plant.
Not all plants will grow from cuttings so perhaps use a gardening guide book or website to check which plants will work.
Choosing a reasonable new growth from the plant, take a pair of pruners and cut at a 30 degree angle to leave a point. How much you have to but will again be dictated by the plant. You then need to strip the lower half of the cutting of leaves and any flower buds as these will take up energy the plant needs to grow roots. If you can cut just under a leaf axil as roots grow around and under these areas.
Although not always essential, many people treat cuttings with a rooting hormone to help stimulate growth. All you do is dip the cut end into water and then into the rooting hormone powder (liquid rooting solution is available) making sure you don’t use too much.
Once all this is done you need to choose a rooting medium (compost). Again, different plants work better in different mediums.
You can use sand, soil or even water. If using water make it a dilute fertilizer mixture and keep out of direct sunlight. One great advantage of water being your rooting medium as that you can see what is going on and do not have to guess if the roots have developed.
If using sand or soil, use a pencil to create evenly spaced holes for your cuttings and make sure soil is moist and well prepared.
You now need to keep your cutting moist but not too wet so try a spray bottle. Covering the cutting over loosely with a plastic bag can help retain moisture.
Once you begin to think you may have roots give the cutting a GENTLE tug. If you feel resistance it means roots have begun to grow. All you need to do now is carefully transport the cutting to where you want it to grow and plant it.
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The Royal Horticultural Society says layering is one of the simplest methods of plant propagation as layered shoots are encouraged to form roots while still attached to the parent plant₁.
Layering consists of bending a low branch or shoots to soil level, wounding it and then covering with soil. All wounding means is making a slanting cut that goes half way through the stem. You should then dig a small trench to place the stem in. Place it in the hole and peg it down into the soil with a forked twig or bent wire. After covering it over with potting compost push a cane into the ground near the free end of the stem. Bend the stem upwards and tie it to the cane. Then water the layered area and keep moist. Now just wait for your cutting to grow!
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Normally used for the propagation (production) of herbaceous (perennial) plants.
Division is really easy and has a high success rate. As the name suggests, all you do is dig up an established plant and divide it into several pieces with roots attached and replant. It really is a simple as that.
You can only propagate by division with multi-stemmed plants so for instance, any with single stems like trees and shrubs it will not be suitable in most cases.
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Grafting is the process of splicing a piece of one plant onto another.
Better Homes and Gardens describe it as the mad-scientist way of propagating your plants₂.
There are too many different grafting methods to get into here but they include approach, bark, cleft and bridge grafting.
The part you want to graft is known as the scion and the plant you want to graft to as the rootstock.
Although all methods differ the basic premise is to cut your desired scion, make a wound in the rootstock where you want it to grow and secure the scion in place using grafting tape to let the two fuse together.
Remember this is just a general guide and the method to use will be dictated by the type of plant so always do your research before you begin. There are loads of great books and websites out there to help you make the right choice.
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Although it takes a little time and effort there are many benefits to propagating your own plants. One big advantage is the money you save on shop-bought plants.
If you collect seeds from your existing plants you can sow them to make new plants every year.
Also, you could buy a plant and then use cutting, layering or grafting to make it go that much further.
There is the scientific element where through seed sowing and taking cuttings (cutting taken from rogue shoot) you may well create a whole new plant variety!
In my opinion, the biggest advantage of plant propagation is the sheer pleasure you get from doing it and the sense of achievement when you see the fully-formed plant you nurtured from just a small cutting or seed.