Propagation 101

How to grow more of your plant babies

Written by Natalie Anstey

Many think that propagating plants is too difficult to do and should be left to experts or horticulturalists, but nothing could be further from the truth! It is a simple process and the best thing about it…all those new and FREE plants to fill your home or garden which you could even give to friends and family! Once you take that first cutting or separate your first rhizome you will never look back and wonder why you have never done it before! There are different ways of propagation depending on the type of plant, all of which can be done easily from home. Read on to learn how to grow your garden! 

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What Are the Different Methods Of Propagation?

There are four main types of propagation for both indoor and outdoor plants:

01.

Growing From Seed 

This is pretty self explanatory and generally applies to outdoor plants. The trick here is to not dig up any plants or vegetables that have flowered or stopped producing and leave them to dry and go to seed. At the end of the season once your plants have stopped flowering, leave them right where they are. The first reason is birds love to pick up any excess seeds from the flower heads and the second reason is that the flowers can dry out and it is much easier to collect the seeds. You can tell when the seeds are ready to pick as the seed pods will have gone brown and dry. Always pick the seed pods on a dry day as this will bring the best results. Give the seed pod or the flower head a little crunch in between your fingers and give it a little shake and the seeds will pop out. Store your seeds in brown paper and label for the winter keeping them somewhere cool and dry. In late spring start your seeds off in seed trays and transplant outside when the risk of frost is over.

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Never store seeds in plastic bags as it will form condensation and in turn the seeds will go moldy over the winter.

02.

Cuttings - Outdoor Plants

For outdoor plants, timing is everything. Cuttings should ideally be taken in spring but anytime that the plant looks green and luscious would be fine also. Take a cutting of about 6 inches, just below a node or a leaf bud making sure to cut at an angle as this will allow water to be taken up more easily and will improve your chances of taking a successful cutting. There is even a school of thought that taking a cutting early in the morning gives your cutting the best possible start as the cutting will be full of water and won’t dry out as quickly.

Prepare a light and free draining planting medium of compost and vermiculite/perlite and dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone (this again is helpful to do but if you do not have any rooting hormone it can be done without). Use a pencil or stick and make a hole in the planting medium and carefully drop the cutting in. You can remove some of the lower leaves to leave the strong leaves at the top, fill around with soil and give a good water. Place your pot somewhere light and sunny (not direct sunlight though) and keep well watered. If you have a propagation station or greenhouse even better! Keep an eye on your cuttings and once you feel it is strong enough, plant it outdoors (once the risk of frost is over).

If the cutting is put in a spot that is too warm it can look as though it is doing well and can really start growing quickly. This is all well and good but the root structure is the crucial part to ensuring success. Sometimes it is better to allow the plant to grow slowly in a less sunny spot but allow it to put roots down. Remember, the stronger the roots, the better the plant will grow.

Rule of (Green) Thumb: When handling a cutting, always handle it using a leaf rather than the stem as the slightest of squeezes could damage it. If there is any accidental damage, it is much better that a leaf be damaged which can be removed rather than the stem which cannot!

03.

Cuttings - Indoor Plants 

Taking cuttings from houseplants is even easier and can be done at nearly any time of the year! Find a good healthy stem and carefully cut it off about half an inch underneath a node. A node is a little bump on the stem where new shoots and leaves grow from and these are very prominent on houseplants and so are easy to find. Simply pop in some water at room temperature making sure the node is under the water and place in a bright spot but not in direct sunlight. To create a more humid/greenhouse environment you can also place a clear bag over the top. Change the water every 2-3 days or longer if the water remains clear and in two weeks to a month enough roots should be visible to now pot in soil suitable for houseplants and that’s it! No rooting hormones needed!

Rule of (Green) Thumb: If you are dividing tender plants, such as Dahlias, then wait until the risk of frost has passed before planting outside

04.

Division 

Another form of propagation that can be used for both indoor and outdoor plants is division! If you notice that a plant is growing amazingly and needs a larger spot to grow/be potted into then this is the best time to do it! The division method can be applied to both plants with roots or plants that grow from tubers, bulbs or rhizomes. The best time to do this is once the plant has flowered (if it flowers) or just going into dormancy.

For rooted plants simply lift the plant or take your plant out of the pot, shake off the soil and carefully tease and separate it apart making sure each section has good root growth. Once this has been done, repot your plants with fresh compost and water.

For tubers, bulbs, or rhizomes, division is best done once the plant has gone into dormancy. Remove the tubers, bulbs, or mass of rhizomes from the pot/ground and shake off any soil and take off the foliage. Divide them, throwing away any that look weak and shriveled, only keeping ones that have an “eye”, as this is where the new plant will grow from. For bulbs you can replant them straight away but for tubers and rhizomes it is probably best to keep them somewhere dark and dry until the division wound has healed over and then pot up/plant outside and give a good water. Always make sure to replant with eye/bud poking upwards as this will be where your new plant will grow from! It’s very easy to replant upside down!

Propagation Problems:

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, taking cuttings or propagating new plants can run into problems. Here are some top tips to ensure you give your new plants the best start!

01.

 

Always use light and free draining compost. The last thing your new plant needs is to be sat in clumpy boggy soil. Make sure the compost is good quality and drains freely!

02.

 

Lack of light/too much light. A good root structure is vital! If you find your plant is becoming leggy or cannot hold itself up, check the lighting. If too sunny and warm, put somewhere more sheltered and the opposite if cold and dark. 

03.

 

Too much water over winter. Many plants that go into dormancy in the winter and don’t really require water. Too much water can lead to the bulb/tuber/rhizome rotting away so in this instance less really is more!

Rule of (Green) Thumb: If you are dividing tender plants, such as Dahlias, then wait until the risk of frost has passed before planting outside

Download the Flora App to keep track of your propagations!