Propagation, part 2 (cuttings)

Following from my initial tutorial on plant propagation, here’s the second installment, on growing plants from cuttings. I meant to publish this ages ago. Sorry about that.

Propagation from cuttings is easier, I find, than from seed (at least, it was before I tried winter sowing). Lots of plants root easily from cuttings. Here’s how you do it.

1. Remove a section of stem, perhaps 4-6 inches long, from your plant of choice. Here, I have taken cuttings of some unknown variety of pink chrysanthemum. Cut off the flower, if there is one.

strip lower leaves

2. Strip the lower leaves off the cutting, leaving about 2 inches of bare stem.

rooting hormone

3. (Optional) Dip the end of the cutting into a small bit of rooting hormone. Rooting hormone is easily found at garden centers, and comes in powder and gel form. Don’t dip the cutting directly into the container; doing so will contaminate the rest of the rooting hormone. But it’s not absolutely necessary to use rooting hormone. Some plants will root just fine without it.

poking holes 2

4. Fill a squeaky-clean pot with your choice of potting medium (potting mix, coir, perlite, etc.) Moisten the mix thoroughly. Using a pencil, chopstick, or your finger, make a hole in the dampened growing medium in your pot.


5. Insert your new cutting gently into the hole, taking care not to remove much rooting hormone in the process. Use the pencil or chopstick to gently firm the soil around the cutting.

6. When your pot is full, water the cuttings either from the top or bottom. Personally, I prefer bottom-watering, wherein you place the pot in a shallow bowl of water and let the water wick up through the drainage holes. Don’t leave it too long–just until the pot feels a bit heavy; maybe 15 minutes.

7. To elevate the humidity levels around the plant (important while the cuttings are forming roots), you can cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap, a plastic bag, or (my favorite), a cheap shower cap from the dollar store (they come in multi-packs and you can rinse and reuse them). Poke a few drinking straws into the pot to prop up the plastic; you don’t want it touching the surface of the leaves. Cut a couple of slits in the plastic to allow a bit of air to circulate; this will stanch mold development (alas, you won’t be able to use the shower cap for its original purpose). Or, you can leave it untented, but you must be more vigilant about watching the pot’s moisture level.

8. Keep the potting medium just moist, not wet. The classic comparison is that the soil should feel as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Check it regularly until you get a sense for how rapidly moisture evaporates from your medium.

9. Make sure the pot has adequate light. You can grow the cuttings under fluorescent lamps, or if you’re lazy like me, you can stick the pot outside and let the cuttings work with the elements. In the winter, this approach won’t work with tender cuttings, like those of houseplants or summer annuals, but hardier plants do just fine. These chrysanthemums spent the winter outdoors with no shelter at all.

10. You’ll know when the cuttings have rooted when they resist a gentle tug. Please don’t check them too often, or you will defeat the process. Patience is essential. Give them a solid 3 weeks, at least, or if you take cuttings of hardy plants in the fall, let them sit around all winter. I’ve propagated chrysanthemums, lavender, rosemary, Carolina jessamine, and Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ using the leave-it-to-the-elements method.

At the end of this document is a list of plants that reproduce easily from cuttings. Give them a try!

Winter sowing continues

I hope you had a wonderful and relaxing holiday. Mine was pleasant if not always relaxing!

I love January and the promise the new year always holds. I’m not the type to make formal resolutions, but I love planning and anticipating and trying always to improve myself and my surroundings. It’s a long haul, of course, but we make the road by walking, right?

This winter sowing business is addicting. So easy! I keep my container of coir potting mix handy, and when I’ve got a spare half-hour I cut open a few milk cartons and plop in some seeds. I am a  little nervous about what will happen in spring when (with any luck) I’ve  got more plants than I have time to install them all (ah, anticipation!).

seed pans early onChristmas Eve I planted another handful: an unidentified variety of red hollyhock, amethyst flower (Browallia americana), feverfew ‘Flore Pleno’ (Chrysanthemum parthenium ‘Flore Pleno’), and something that is either horehound or German red strawberry tomato. The envelope came labeled on both sides, and not knowing what horehound seed looks like (and now having sown all of it), I will have fun guessing until the seedlings pop up.

Propagation, part 1

With the weather being rather miserable last week, I decided it was time to bring the garden indoors. As things naturally slow down this time of year, and we return to school and work routines, my head clears a bit and it’s easier for me to realize that I’ve got to begin planning for those inevitable bursts of gardening drive that hit me in late February (or maybe sooner, weather permitting).

I have had fairly good luck with propagating plants from cuttings. Some plants work better than others, but it’s the easiest and cheapest way I’ve found to get loads of plants quickly. I also have had moderate success growing plants from seed. So I’m starting the process now, hoping to keep myself and my budget out of trouble later.

I begin by scrounging whatever pots and containers I can find in the shed (self-watering are the best option for lazy gardeners like myself), and giving them a good sanitizing with a solution of bleach and water. Scrub vigorously and rinse well. A little baking soda helps get the encrusted grime off.

My starting medium of choice these days is coir, which comes in compressed bricks from various sources (I got mine at Gardener’s Supply Company). These are easier to deal with and far lighter than sacks of potting soil, and using them alleviates eco-guilt over peat bog destruction. Plus, when it’s all done, it goes in the compost and won’t set up like brick when it gets mixed into the sticky clay of my garden beds.

I unwrap the brick and drop it into a bucket, and cover it with about 4 quarts of warm water. It blows up as it absorbs the water and becomes the lovely fluffy stuff you see here.

I found a slug in one of my pots. Eeeaauugh. Pass the salt.

A sparkling, shiny container ready to go.

These are seeds and seedpods from Iris tectorum, Japanese roof iris. Okay, these aren’t cuttings. But I am going to give them a try.

I fill the container with the coir, water thoroughly, sprinkle the seeds over it and add a little more coir over top (just enough to cover). Water again, and stick it outside in the cold frame.

My theory here is that if they scatter their seeds this way in nature, and they’re open to the elements, and they’ve managed to reproduce themselves for who knows how long, then surely I can use the same minimal approach in my garden and expect at least some similar measure of results. Who knows. I imagine it’s perhaps easier with Iris tectorum to divide the clumps, but if I’m lucky with this approach I will be able to have a lovely river of purple-blue blooms next year or year after, whereas with the dividing approach I will have merely a puddle.

Next up: actual cuttings.