PLANT PROPAGATION might sound like a bit of a technical task best left to the experts, but it’s really not difficult at all, essentially. In fact, many of you have probably done it as kids and didn’t realise (your teachers didn’t use words like propagationon you).
Remember growing pea seeds in cotton wool in an old egg carton? That’s plant propagation 101! As is taking a cutting from a plant, sticking it in a pot or garden bed and watching it grow.
Many of you as children might have done that too, perhaps experimenting with parents or grandparents, using succulents or things in the veggie garden. Or with verandah variety and indoor plants. We certainly did! It is often those early, seminal experiences which engender a life-long passion for gardening in young people, from one generation to the next. It can be a really enjoyable and satisfying project for budding and mature human beings alike. Let’s take a closer look at growing plants from scratch, and discover more about plant propagation for beginners.
TYPES OF PLANT PROPAGATION
As mentioned above, many of us have probably been exposed to this in primary school; germinating seeds is a very simple enterprise which could be an excellent lock-down activity, come to think of it. If your kids haven’t done this at school yet, why not do it together and bond over some buds? If you don’t have kids, read on anyway, as this explains the fundamentals of propagating seeds and is a solid segue into some more adventurous ventures, as described later:
There’s a bunch of different ways to do this. As we said, you may recall using an old egg carton or jam jar as a platform for your seed scheme and headquarters of your miniature greenhouse when you were a kid. It works, but isn’t the prettiest looking set-up. Why not try one of The Plantrunner’skits which have everything you need – seeds, equipment, instructions and smart looking germination tray?
Typical seeds to use are various types of peas, cress, mung beans, alfa-alfa, cress etc. Also, the rather more interesting herbaceous fellows such as basil, parsley, coriander, thyme, chives and friends might be more your speed. These are potentially more useful in the kitchen of course, so you can take it to that next level when these have grown and are ready to contribute to your cuisine.
If you are sticking to old school (junior school) cotton wool and cardboard to start with, all you do is this:
- Place the cotton wool in the receptacle you have chosen, and loosen up the fibres a little bit to make a nice comfy bed.
- Water the cotton wool and let it sit for a little while. Don’t saturate it. Spraying it is the best way, with a sprayer or mister.
- Plant your seeds; place them a couple of centimetres apart
- Create greenhouse-like conditions. This may involve placing clear plastic over your incubator. Be sure there’s a few centimetres clearance between the plastic and the cotton wool bunk.
- Position in a spot with good indirect sunlight and not too much variation in temperature, ideally. Your seeds need exposure to both day and night (light and dark) to sprout.
- Observe! Keep checking them. You don’t want the cotton wool crib to get too wet or too dry. It should take a few days and you will start noticing tiny sprouts.
- At this point, the sprouts need air, so lose the plastic, give them some more water (not too much).
- You can now take the next step - which is to move them to a more permanent dwelling - soil! You need to be sure that the seedlings have developed as far as roots, stems and little leaves – firstly there will be tiny leaves known as seed leaves, closely followed by a pair of true leaves which appear above those. The sprouts are ready for soil once their true leaves have sprung.
Whether you use materials destined for the yellow bin or a clever kit, the process is basically the same, as described above.
This initial stage of plant propagation is quite simple obviously, and becomes slightly more involved with the move to soil. This part of the operation will need to be handled with a little bit more finesse.
You can plant each seedling separately in its own small pot, or plant a handful of seedlings in a group in a larger pot. Or, you can put them in the ground outside.
There are two schools of thought about what to do with the cotton wool at this stage. Some people reckon you should plant the seedlings with their cotton wool; others say remove it, or remove as much as you can without damaging the tiny fragile roots. If you decide to remove the cotton wool, you can leave a little bit clinging to the roots if it appears that separating it completely may damage them.
- If you are using pots, make sure they have good drainage (holes in the bottom), and use good quality, appropriate potting mix.
- Fill the pots with your top shelf mix and make sure it’s nice and damp.
- Tip: try to do the transplanting fairly swiftly, you don’t want the seedlings sitting around drying up.
- Make a hole using a pencil or your little finger.
- Plant the seedling in the hole; make sure to completely cover the baby roots, but the stem and leaves should be above the soil. If you’ve left the cotton wool, or part of it attached to the roots, make sure this is covered too.
- Push the soil/potting mix so that it nicely encompasses and secures the little fellow in its new home.
- Initially they need a good deal of bright light.
- Spray them with a mist of water regularly, make sure the soil stays moist.
From this point it’s basically watch and care for your infant flora; they need extra attention at this age!
PROPAGATION USING CUTTINGS
The other main way to propagate plants is to use cuttings. This means taking a part of an existing, mature plant and cloning it. This doesn’t work for all plants. With some it can be done, but is difficult; others lend themselves to the task readily. You need to suss out first whether the plant you’re seeking to clone will happily do so – check with a knowledgeable source. You may have tried this when you were a human seedling too – perhaps with a succulent or cactus? Or maybe rosemary or even a hydrangea?? These guys do like to produce a mini-me.
Propagating using a cutting can be done in soil or in water.
Plants that propagate well just in water are the Aroidssuch as Philodendrons, Monsteras, and Pothos.Also, this works really well with herbs such as mint, basiland sage.
Growing plants in a jar of water is another particularly fun one to do with kids. It’s even easier than propagating seeds as discussed above, and it really does seem rather a magical metamorphosis.
All you’ll need is an old jar half filled with tap water and some good scissors or secateurs, then choose the dude you wish to duplicate. Alternatively, you could do this in an attractive glass vessel.
- On one the plant’s vine or stems, look for the small brownish coloured root node. These bumps are important for propagating in water. You need at least one, ideally two in the cutting – these are where the new roots will spring from - and you should snip it off with a few centimetres of good stem before the lowest node.
- Take off leaves which are in the vicinity of the node; you don’t want these being submerged in the water.
- Put the cutting in your glass jar or ornate piece and place it in decent light.
- Watch and check! It’s a good idea to replace the water every few days.
- When (if) you want to transplant this into soil/potting mix, you need to wait until the root is at least 3 centimetres long. This may take around a month or so.
For more substantial plant propagation - for pot to pot or pot to ground or ground to ground – with more robust or woody indoor plants, and with vegetables for instance, you need to know a bit more about stem cuttings.
When you are taking a stem cutting, make sure that the ‘mother’ plant is very healthy and that removing a stem will not harm it.
- Make a cut at 45 degrees to maximise the area from which the cutting will spread its roots. You want the cutting to be about 10 centimetres long ideally, with 2-3 sets of leaves.
- Take off the lowest sets of leaves. It’s an option here to dip the end in rooting gel. This helps seal the cut and subsequently aids in new root growth. This is optional.
- Plant the cutting in a pot with good potting mix. More specialised potting mixes include variations such as vermiculiteand perlite.
- Keep in good light and well watered – you may do well to put plastic around the pot initially.
- Nurture your bambinos as discussed above, until they are large enough for serious pots and a soil/potting mix bed. This is probably after around 6 weeks. At this stage it may be wise to add fertiliser such as seaweed or kelp based.
- You now have a fully fledged propagated plant, well done!
There are variations on these methods of propagating using leaf cuttings, root cuttings, bulbs and corms. And techniques called layeringand division – but we stray into territory for the more accomplished propagator with these, so maybe for another time.
Plant propagation for beginners is an activity which can be both a fun and educational way of getting to know the basics about how plants germinate and grow, for kids and adults alike. It’s a simple way to get your green thumb on. The Plantrunnerhas a number of specially designed kits for different types of propagating, which come with everything you’ll need and a nifty look. And of course, we are always here to back it up with any advice or service you may need. May your propagations prosper!