Plant Propagation

So lets pretend that the growing season is just about done. The leaves are turning, frost will be here any minute, and the smell of winter is in the air. Your perennials have been cut back and all of your vegetable greenery and annual refuse has been minced into compost. Your container soil has been restored for next year and top-dressed with that marvelous compost. You feel pretty darn good about what you have accomplished. Your journal has been kept meticulously. You have a record now on what you enjoyed, where you succeeded, what could have been done better, what varieties you loved, and those which you never want to grow again. In other words, you are already well on your way to becoming an expert. You know in your heart that when the new catalogs come out you will be able to make some savvy choices for next year. Now is the time to learn some new things. Lets start with an overview of plant propagation. You have already learned a lot about this because you have started seeds under lights and maybe directly sown some as well.


If you have discovered that gardening, on a small scale or large, has established a wonderful place in your life I recommend that you invest in a solid garden guide. I constantly return to American Horticultural Society’s “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants”. It doesn’t cover vegetables but does a fabulous job exploring over a thousand species of flowers, herbs, and trees. And yes each entry has gorgeous photos. This volume contains in depth studies on botany, cultivation, pruning, and propagation, and countless other subjects with regard to gardening.


All hardy perennial seeds respond well to a process called stratification. This simply means putting sown bio-sponges in the freezer for a month. This method helps to break dormancy quickly. Some seed needs darkness to germinate such as coriander, parsley, fenugreek, and the verbena family, to name a few. When I start some of these I just pick off a fragment of bio-sponge with tweezers and poke it in on top of the seed. Trying your hand at more and more species from seed requires another book in order to unlock the mystery. Seed Savers’ Exchange has a good selection of books about plant propagation including one called Starting From Seed edited by Karen Davis Cutler.


 Taking cuttings is another way to increase your plant collection. There are a number of rooting mediums such as damp sand or equal parts of vermiculite and peat. Potting soil isn’t recommended but I have found that it works just fine with easy things such as sedum, wormwood, and mint. Those bio-domes that I don’t like for seed are terrific for cuttings. Like seed propagation there is a science to taking cuttings, the “what, where, and how” associated with all aspects of gardening. But let me say that a vast majority are easy and require nothing more than a four inch stem cutting tucked into the rooting medium then placed under a dome or in a plastic bag to keep everything moist and humid for a while. Rooting hormone is a non-organic option that stimulates root growth but it is toxic and must be handled with care.


 In a few weeks the stems will root. You should advance the rooted cutting to a larger pot and allow it to make up with some protection before moving your new plant to its final destination. I advance them several times into larger and larger containers, the last of which is a gallon pot. Once root-bound its ready.


 Every spring you will notice that your plants are bigger. This is because they are forming colonies of new plants. The new plants can be carefully separated from the parents and planted elsewhere. They are called divisions. Bulbs form colonies too. They can be dug up in the fall, divided, and replanted where a new show might be desired.

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Responses to “Plant Propagation”

  1. Rooting cuttings is such a great hobby! Until you do it for the first time and see the results, it is a little hard to believe that you can increase your number of plants just by taking a cutting and rooting it.

    A plastic bag over a pot with cuttings works well too. Just make sure the bag doesn’t touch the cutting.