Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
November, 2008
Regional Report

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The duranta plant in the black container was tip layered into the small orange pot beside it. Note the roots emerging from the orange pot of the daughter plant.

Plant Propagation the Easy Way

If you are a gardener sooner or later you're going to try your hand at plant propagation. I'm talking about making more plants from those you already have, or perhaps from those of a friend or neighbor. You may have avoided trying to propagate plants in the past because you though it too difficult or maybe because an early attempt at rooting some cuttings failed.

Well, take heart! While I enjoy rooting cuttings and even like to dabble in budding and grafting plants there are some easy ways to propagate plants that are almost foolproof. I recommend that every reader who is "propagaphobic" give one or more of these techniques a try this fall. You'll be pleased with the results.

Here are three techniques that are easy and effective even for gardeners plagued with slightly brown thumbs!

Seed Saving
Many types of flowers and vegetables will set seed that can be collected and planted to create more plants, if you allow them time for the blooms to fade and the seeds to mature. You want to make sure that you collect seed from plants that are not hybrid varieties as seeds from hybrids do not produce plants true to the form of the parent plant.

I grow several types of flower and vegetables for seed harvesting each year. If you become a seed collector you may soon dabble a little in crossing plants such as squash or certain flowers to create your own new types, but that is for another article!

Collect the seed when the pods are just about dry and then allow them to dry in a well ventilated area. Be aware that some seed capsules are made to disperse their seeds some distance as the pods dry. These types should be placed in a paper bag to capture the seeds lest they fly about the room as they dry.

After drying the seeds for a couple of weeks place them in a paper envelope (I like to use the small tan coin envelopes) and label the front with the species, variety, and date collected. Then place the envelopes in a tightly sealed glass jar and put it in the freezer for long-term storage.

Tip Layering
Layering is the technique of rooting new plants while still attached to the original or "mother" plant. Because the new plant remains connected to the flow of water and nutrients from the mother plant during the rooting process, layering usually provides a very high percentage of success. Tip layering is an easy type of layering, effective on many types of plants.

Lower the end of a stem or vine down to the soil. Then bend it about 8 to 12 inches from the end until it cracks but does not break in two. Remove a scoop of soil and pin the bent section into place in the bottom of the hole with a section of coat hanger bent into a U shape. Cover the section with soil and water it in well. In a few weeks the cracked tissues will form callous tissues from which roots will grow. In two or three months the plant will be well-rooted and ready to move. Cut the stem connecting it to the mother plant and carefully dig and transplant it into a pot or its new location in the garden. We often use tip layering in fall to propagate our old garden roses, arching shrubs, vining ground covers, blackberries, grapes, and other woody vines.

Air Layering
Air layer is similar to tip layering, but rather that rooting in the soil, a soilless mix is placed around the stem and wrapped with plastic. First remove a half-inch ring of the outer bark on the stem or wound the stem with several small vertical cuts in a one-inch-wide area. Place a double handful of moist sphagnum moss or a coarse lightweight potting mix around the stem and wrap with a section of clear plastic wrap or bread wrapper. Tie the wrapper above and below the rooting media to hold it in place. Make sure the media is moistened before sealing up the plastic. Finally, wrap a piece of aluminum foil around the plastic to keep out light and prevent excessive heat buildup if the sun shines on the clear plastic.

In a few weeks remove the foil to check for roots appearing beneath the clear plastic. It may be necessary to remoisten the mix periodically, especially as roots begin to appear. When roots begin to fill the rooting media it is time to cut the new plant off just below the rooted section and pot it up. Give it another month or so in a bright location out of the brunt of the afternoon sun to become better established before planting it into the landscape. We use air layering for larger upright houseplants, fig trees, and many outdoor ornamental shrubs.

Give one or more of these easy propagation techniques a try this fall. You'll find that they are a great way to produce more plants and stretch your gardening dollar. Plus, you can make your own gardening gifts from heirloom plants in your landscape.

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