Your parents probably tried to instill the virtues of sharing when you were in your formative years. The reasoning is that it’s a nice way to treat your peers and it teaches you to be unselfish and thoughtful. When it comes to gardening, sharing plants through propagation isn’t just a friendly gesture but is actually beneficial to your plants and an economical way to expand your collection. Propagation forces you to take a few minutes and give some individual care to a plant that may have been neglected otherwise. It also involves cutting back a plant that may have become unruly, or digging up a plant that may be too big for its current space. Economically, it provides you with a number of plants you didn’t have a few minutes before, which you can then use to expand your garden or trade with friends for new plants. There are many different ways to propagate new plants from your own plants. The following are a few simple methods to get you started.
Some plants will literally do the work for you by producing little plantlets or offsets from the base or the stem of the “mother” plant. For instance succulents and cacti will often produce miniature versions of the parent plant around the base, which can be removed and planted in a new container of soil, or moved to a new place in the garden. Spider plants (Clorophytum) and strawberry plants will send off shoots containing small plantlets that can be pinned down to some moist soil, where they will grow their own roots. You can fashion a pin by bending a paper clip into a “u” shape. [see instructions on side]. Once the plantlet has produced its own roots, the shoot attaching the plantlet to the mother plant (an umbilical cord of sorts) can be cut, leaving you with a new plant that can be given away.
Division involves pulling up large, overgrown plants and breaking them apart at the roots to produce several plants. Spring is the best time to divide indoor plants. Since it is the beginning of the growing season plants will just be coming out of a rest period into a huge growth spurt and could use the extra space in their pots. The best way to prepare for division is to water the plant the day before so that the soil is compact and easy to extract from the container. The following day, carefully remove the plant from the pot onto a surface covered with newspaper or sheeting. Smaller plants can be pulled apart by holding the plant in both hands and gently separating the stems and roots that have become entangled in one another. If the plant will not divide through gentle tugging it is better to use a knife or pruning shears to get the job done. Torn stems and roots can introduce diseases into the plant and prevent a quick recovery. Remember that propagation is similar to a delicate surgical operation. Open wounds can invite all sorts of diseases and pathogens into a plant that has just undergone a sensitive procedure.
Mid summer is the right time of year to divide garden plants such as irises after they have finished blooming, or spring flowering bulbs with exhausted foliage. Fall is the best time to divide most other garden plants. Perennial plants have had a full growing season to expand and become too large for their space, and the cool fall air is a relief from the scorching summer sun. The procedure for dividing outdoor plants is similar to indoor plants with the exception that you will need to dig the plant out of the soil instead of simply tilting a pot. Be sure to dig around the plant, taking care to avoid cutting off roots and hurting the plant. If a plant is really large, use a shovel to cut through and divide the roots instead of a pair of shears. Once you are through dividing the plant, put one piece back into the original hole and plant the rest elsewhere or put into pots to give to friends. Fertilize and liberally water the new plants to ensure that the plant settles in with strong root growth before the cold weather sets in.
Making new plants by rooting small pieces of larger plants is a lot easier then it seems. As a technique, it works on quite a lot of plants such as geraniums, fuchsia, hydrangea, and wisteria to name a few. There are a variety of ways to go about this task. It can be as simple as placing some stems of basil or mint from the grocery store into a container of water. Remove the lower leaves and snip the ends off with a sharp pair of pruning shears for a clean cut before you put the stems in water. After a time the stems will root and you can easily plant them in some soil indoors or out. This method can also be used to root stems taken from catnip or other plants growing wild in fields or abandoned lots.
Although most gardeners have rooted cuttings from the more popular plants such as geraniums, pinks or coleus, few experiment with bushes, vines, or larger perennials. Early to mid summer is a great time to propagate new plants from stem cuttings. Choose shoots that are semi-mature with a hard, woody base that is still soft enough to cut through with a pair of shears, and which has a soft tip with new growth. Cut ½ inch or so below a node, on an angle. The cutting from base to tip should be about 4 inches long. Remove the lower leaves to create a stem. Dip the fresh cut end into a dish of rooting hormone. Rooting hormone is a product that promotes root growth, and often contains fungicides that discourage the stem from rotting before it has the opportunity to produce roots. It can be purchased in powder or gel form. If powdered hormone isn’t coating the stem end properly, lightly moisten the end of the cutting. Fill a small container with some potting soil. Make a hole in the soil with a dibber, a pencil, a stick or even your finger. Place the cutting in the hole, being sure to avoid removing the rooting hormone. Gently press the soil down around the cutting and water thoroughly.