THE ART OF PLANT PROPAGATION

August 10, 2006

By Victoria County Master Gardener Diana Maley

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
PHOTO BY:  DIANA MALEY, VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Plant propagation not only can be rewarding, but also can mean big savings to you for your landscape.   A variety of plants can be propagated as shown here with bulbine, red maple hibiscus and waffle plant (background left to right) and orchid tree siblings in the foreground. These plants and various others should be available for the Master Gardener Plant Sale this fall on October 28, 2006.
Propagation simply means growing new plants.   The technical definition is the production of increased numbers of plants, by seeds, cuttings, layering, or other methods. I will try to break it down and make it simple. I personally enjoy propagating. And, yes, it can be tricky, and even possibly a hit or miss endeavor. But don't let that deter you from trying it.  When it works there is such a rewarding feeling.   I will start with the most common, and usually the easiest method.

PROPAGATION FROM SEEDS


Almost all of you have tried at one time or another to grow plants from seeds.  In fact I am pretty sure that most of you have.  Remember back to your childhood. How many of you have planted beans in a cup and watched with expectation for them to grow? If you produced a plant, then you accomplished one type of propagation.  Congratulations. See, you thought it would be hard to do - but it wasn't.

The easiest way seed propagation happens is by Mother Nature, when our plants go to seed after blooming and drop them or they are carried away by the wind.  Then of course there is always the help we receive from our fine-feathered friends that so generously and indiscriminately deposit the seeds in our beds.  Hence the name "volunteer plants".
 
There are some rules to follow to have a good return for your hard work. Start with fresh quality seeds.  Always check the date on your seed packets; it is usually stamped on the back.  Buy from a supplier that keeps a fresh inventory, or order from seed catalogs. 
Seeds can be collected from plants also.  Make sure they are dry before packaging and storing. Most seeds can be stored in an airtight container in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for a short while until you are ready to plant them.  Follow the directions on the seed package.  If you buy unpackaged seeds, ask the supplier how to plant them.  If they cannot tell you how, there are web sites and books that can provide information.  My first choice is to ask another gardener who has had success growing them or even a call to the Extension office or one of the Master Gardeners. Plant seeds in loose soil or seed growing mix and keep moist.  Nature will take over from there.

PROPAGATION BY LAYERING


This is an easy way to grow new shrubs with almost no work and can be done most any time of the year.  Gently bend low hanging branches and lay on the soil.  Remove the leaves from the area that touches the soil. Place a brick or large rock over the branch to keep it in place.  Or use "pins" to hold it in place.  I use wire clothes hangers. Cut a 10-12 inch length, bend into a U shape and put over the limb careful not to pierce the branch.

You may have to put in several to hold it securely. Some branches need the use of both pins and bricks.  Now just sit back and wait.  In a matter of time roots will begin to grow from the area that is touching the ground.  How long will it take?  Every plant is different - I layer mine in the summer and forget about it until the next spring.

Some plants will root quickly, so if you get impatient, carefully remove the brick or pins and peek to see if there are roots beginning to grow.  Take care not to pull new roots from the soil.  After the allotted time that the plants need to grow a good root system, cut the branch off of the mother plant about an inch from the roots.  Carefully dig up the root ball, keeping roots intact trying to keep some soil around them.  You now have a new plant ready to transplant. Water the new plant to keep the roots moist until it is established.

PROPAGATION BY CUTTINGS


Propagation by cuttings is the best way to grow numbers of a favorite plant. Many types of plants can be propagated from cuttings. This type of propagation is what I previously referred to as hit and miss endeavors.  To begin, use a sharp knife, razor blade or clippers. Dip the tool in rubbing alcohol and dry to prevent transmitting diseases from one plant to another.  Take a 6" cutting from the plant, remove flowers and buds.  Also remove all but the top 3-4 leaves. Dip the cutting into a rooting hormone.  There are both liquid and powder forms on the market, and can be purchased at most garden centers.  To plant the cutting, use a moist, sterile growing mix (soil-less).

Make a hole in the middle of the potting mix 3 inches down, and big enough not to knock the rooting hormone off when planting. I generally use a pencil or something of that sort to make the hole.

Carefully but firmly press potting soil around the cutting.  Place the pot in indirect light and keep moist using a spray bottle and mist several times daily. Do not let the soil dry out.  When you see new leaves this is the sign that new roots are growing also. Keep in mind that all plants have a different time frame to root.  Have patience and you will be rewarded.  Leave the cutting in the pot until you have a good number of new leaves and/or stems.

When the plant reaches this stage you can transplant it to a larger pot or into the garden.

PROPAGATED PLANTS FOR FALL PLANT SALE


Using these methods the Master Gardener greenhouse committee has been propagating plants such as orchid tree, pinecone ginger, ornamental pepper, redbird cactus, pride of Barbados and dianthus. These along with bulbine, waffle plant and red maple hibiscus shown in the accompanying photograph and others will be ready for the upcoming Fall Plant Sale on October 28, 2006.  Mark your calendars, and plan on stopping by. But in the meantime donít be afraid to try propagating.  You will soon have the routine down to an art.