How often have you taken the dog for a walk and admired the gorgeous succulent or perennial in a neighbor's garden? You have probably found yourself wishing you could have one just like it. Did you know that all it will take for you to enjoy a new and beautiful specimen in your garden is to ask your neighbor for a cutting?
Plant propagation is the fancy term for growing a new plant from an existing plant. There are two basic types; sexual propagation refers to the reproduction of plants from seeds, while asexual propagation uses a part of the plant itself. Here is a quick list of all the ways gardeners can propagate their favorite plants.
- Seeding (sexual propagation)
- Root division
We'll discuss each one in a little more detail, how to go about it, and the pros and cons related to each method, depending on your goals.
As we mentioned previously, seeds are the result of sexual propagation. A plant seed will contain characteristics from both of its parents, which may not be desirable if one plant has traits you would rather avoid.
Some gardeners like to experiment with seeds to mix and match characteristics from the parent plants in an attempt to get the best from each specimen into the new plant. An excellent example of this is in gardeners who are always trying to create unique and exotic colors with their roses. So far, they have managed to create every color except blue using genetic experimentation.
Most seeds will germinate when given the proper environment with optimal water, light, temperature, and oxygen. The big problem with seeds is you never know the quality of the plant until you have gone to the trouble of growing it. You stand a good chance of producing an excellent specimen if you use seeds from your own crop. Otherwise, it’s best to find a reputable supplier you can trust.
How to Propagate with Seeds
- You will need to know the optimum conditions to start a plant from a seed
- Use a container with drainage holes and at least 4 inches deep
- Moisten some potting mix that you know is suitable for the type of plant you are trying to
grow. Do not use soil directly from your garden
- Fill the container with the potting mix and pack it firmly
- Plant the seeds at the optimum depth, place them in an area that receives good lighting, and
- When you notice your seedlings popping their heads out, it's time to move them outdoors
- Gradually transition them from a partly shady position to a sunnier position as they continue
You may get faster results if you cover the seeds with plastic food wrap. Propagating plants from seed is the most popular method, but it does take a bit more time. Plus, you never know what you're going to get, which can be exciting for some.
Root division is a propagation method that separates a parent plant into smaller versions of itself that you can grow into new plants. The technique won't work with every plant, but any plants with multiple stems coming up from the ground are suitable candidates. Deer grass or Muhlenbergia rigens is a favorite ornamental grass in Arizona that is perfect for the dry conditions and, once grown, can be propagated using root division.
How to Propagate Using Root Division
- Start by gently loosening the root structure. You will notice that the plant has a lot of little
stems still connected to the root
- Use a sharp spade to separate the different stems
- Plant each section as quickly as possible
- Mulch well to conserve moisture
- You can now return the ;donor plant' to its original location while ensuring the soil is at the
same level as before
- Water the new plants
Propagating Plants Through Runners
A runner is a stem-like growth that grows out from the mother plant. The runner is kind of like an exploratory root that grows out new roots through a node. Plants that expand through runners are able to take over large areas quickly and are perfect for propagation.
How to Propagate Using Runners
- Choose the healthiest looking sample to take from the parent plant
- Use a sharp cutting tool to snip the runner from its nodes
- Plant the runner into potting soil
- Regularly water the new plant for 2 or 3 weeks
- After about six weeks, you should see fresh roots growing out of the new plant
Propagating Through Cuttings
Most experienced gardeners know of or have tried growing plants from cuttings because it's among the simpler propagation methods. A cutting is a small section of the mother plant, such as a leaf, stem, or root. In Arizona, plants that are commonly cultivated through cuttings include chrysanthemums, ivy, philodendron, and pothos, but it's also a useful technique for extending your collection of herbs and houseplants.
- Use the healthiest plant you have for the cutting
- Cut stems off at 2mm below the lowest node with a length between 10 to 20 inches
- Cuttings should have at least 2 - 4 leaves on the top, and 1 to 3 nodes between the leaves
- Cut each stem into 3-inch sections
- Dip the bottom of each cutting into water
- Use a clean seedling tray filled with river sand to plant the cuttings
- Water thoroughly
- Find a brightly lit position for the tray that is out of direct sunlight
- Water every other day
Propagation Using Offsets
An offset is a short lateral shoot with a cluster of leaves at the tip that can take root on its own when separated from the mother plant. Succulents are a popular target for offset propagation, which is useful for dry Arizona conditions. You will also hear offsets from succulents referred to as chicks or pups because they grow under mum's cooling shadow.
Without human intervention, a succulent chick will naturally fall to the ground but will remain connected to the mother plant. From this protected position, it will take root to form a new plant.
How to Propagate Using Offsets
- Use a sharp, sterile knife to separate the offset from the mother plant
- Don't plant the offsets immediately as bacteria or viruses could infect the fresh wounds and
- Place the offsets in a cool, dry location, and leave them for at least four days
Before you separate an offset from the mother plant, you should wait until it's a suitable size. In general, the stalk should be long enough to support a few dozen leaves. Small plants may rot or burn from the heat of the Arizona sunshine.
You will also have trouble separating a pup that is too small because they most often break too high and fall apart tol eave you with a pile of useless leaves. Many gardeners also recommend dusting the separation wounds with sulfur to prevent infection.
Propagation Through Rhizomes
Rhizomes, also known as rootstocks or creeping root stalks, are the stem of a plant that grows underground. Roots and stem shoots grow out of nodes along the rhizome. When you cut a rhizome into separate pieces, each one can produce a new plant through the process of vegetative reproduction.
Quite a few plants clone themselves through rhizomes, including asparagus, bamboo, ginger, hops, and even the Venus flytrap! There are quite a few rhizome plants that are so prolific they can become a nuisance and spread into areas where they are not wanted.
Stolons are often confused with rhizomes. They are similar but have some significant differences. A stolon features much wider internodal spacing, sprouts from the existing plant stem, and only generates new shoots at its terminating end.
How to Propagate Using Rhizomes
- Plan where you are going to divide the plant
- Carefully dig the rhizomes out of the ground by marking the soil one shovel head's length out
from the rootball
- Pry the plant out of the earth by digging down with the shovel and using it as a lever
- Once you have the rootball, split the crown in half, and repeat until you have enough
- Replant your separated pieces at the same depth as the mother plant and let them grow
- Remove the root from the ground and cut each rhizome into 2 to 4 pieces. Each should
contain bulbs and roots
- Check for healthy rhizomes and discard the rest
- a 1-inch rhizome should be planted about half-an-inch deep
As you can see, there are many ways you can populate your garden using a variety of propagation techniques. It's far more economical than buying new plants every season and will help create a healthy, bountiful and sustainable garden that's perfectly adapted to the climate in your area.
Arizona is a place of heat and sunshine, which some plant species love, but the dry conditions and hot daytime temperatures make it tough for desert gardeners. Southwest soils are often too sandy for many plants, and the lack of reliable rainfall limits plant selection for avid gardeners.
A lot of people think gardening is something they will do when they retire and finally have time to while away in the garden. However, especially if there are young children in the family, you shouldn’t wait until your twilight years before you get out the gardening tools. Research says there are plenty of reasons you should be developing a child’s green thumb at an early age.
My raised-bed garden in the southwest journey has taken me on quite a learning path. In the beginning, I was interested in growing things but never got the hang of it. Trying to produce items in small pots on your western exposure patio during a blazing Phoenix summer is enough to get anyone discouraged.