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What is Plant Propagation and Why is it Important?

Written by Nicola Wallis

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Posted on 13 February 2022

Propagation is the process of increasing the population or number of plants. The difference between propagation and cultivation is that cultivation is the means of improving agricultural land or for agricultural purposes.

What are the four main types of propagation?

 The major methods of propagation are:

  • Cuttings: This involves rooting a piece of the parent tree.
  • Layering: There are a number of layering techniques yet the easiest is known as Simple Layering. This is done by bending a stem until the middle touches the soil. It then develops a new and independent system of roots which are then cut and potted on as a new plant.
  • Budding and grafting: Is a process which combines and joins two different parts of plants from different varieties and merging them.

What are the benefits of propagation?

Rather than spending lots of money on plants and seeds at your local garden nursery, propagation is a cost-effective way of increasing the population of plants in your garden. Propagating a new plant via cuttings ensures the new plant will be identical to the parent. It is also a great way to create new varieties with unique characteristics resistant to disease. Although this is a bit advanced for home gardeners, creating new hybrids and cultivars can produce plants with unique characteristics that may also be disease resistant.

Propagation is important today as it enables the continuation of particular plant species that may be in danger of extinction for several reasons such as an invasion of species or climate change. For home gardeners it is a way of ensuring that you will always have your favourite flowers or plants growing in your garden.

What is the most common and easiest method of propagation?

Cuttings are the most common and easiest method of propagation. It is a process whereby a vegetative part of a plant is cut off the parent plant and rooted. The rooted plant part then regrows and develops into an entirely new plant. The cutting method is a process that is considerably easier than propagating by seed which, requires more work and takes a lot longer to establish. Cuttings flower and mature faster than seed propagation. To learn more about seed germination read our earlier blog Tips and Tips: Seed Germination the basics.
 
 

How to Take Cuttings

There are four main types of cutting propagation and these include:

  • Leaf cuttings: This process depends upon which type of plant you’re trying to propagate. There are a few different methods, but a leaf stalk is usually removed from a stem and planted straight into a rooting medium.
  • Stem cuttings: These are used for plants such as roses or azaleas which have with woody stems. It is a process whereby a section of a plant stem is cut off and placed into a rooting medium such as perlite, peat moss or a mixture of coarse sand, vermiculite soil and water. These materials drain well whilst retaining moisture whilst providing oxygen in a clean environment.
  • Root cuttings: This is similar to stem cutting only a portion of a plants’ root is cut for propagation and placed into a rooting medium.
  • Single node cuttings: These are often used for plants such as hydrangeas. A node is a part of a tree where buds, leaves and shoots are located. The section above a node is cut and placed in clean water and position in good light until roots grow.

How do I grow a plant from a cutting?

Almost anything can be grown from a cutting. Cuttings are an easy and economical way to obtain more plants and is an excellent way to keep your half-hardy perennials year after year.

With cuttings, good preparation is essential and the seed tray, compost mix and the moisture are vital. We recommend Rootrainers for this process as are the perfect start for nearly all plants, and especially those that are sensitive to disturbance and require deep root runs. Ideal for growing on seeds, seedlings, plugs and cuttings.

The Rootrainer system is made up of deep seed trays, divided into separate segments known as ‘books’. They are unique because they open up like a book, for easy inspection and easy transplanting.

In late summer, take a few cuttings from your container plants, hanging basket plants and half-hardy border plants and root them in the greenhouse. Take the cuttings when the plants stems are full of water this usually at the start of the day. When taking a cutting choose a strong root approximately 10cm long and remove all the leaves form the lower half.

Make the compost mix: (This mix is sufficient for two trays of the 3”/8cm Rootrainer seed trays - typically an ideal pot size for cuttings) Using a 12cm pot, mix:

  • 8 pots of multi-purpose compost
  • 3 pots of perlite or vermiculite
  • ½ pot of grit or sand (for free drainage)

Mix all the components together well. Fill the trays as you would for seed sowing, making sure the compost comes level with the top of each cell. Most cuttings will prefer the 8cm Rapid (Shrub) size Rootrainer, it is ideal for geraniums, fuchsias, marguerites, chrysanthemums, lavenders and shrubs. They can be grown in the

longer 12cm Deep (Sherwood) size, but it is generally desirable to get the air-pruning in earlier to encourage new root growth at the first opportunity, and this will occur more quickly in the 8cm size. It should also be noted if you are going to place your cutting later in a house pot or a hanging basket, it may not be desirable to have a longer root system. The 12cm Deep (Sherwood) size is excellent for hardwood cuttings, soft-fruits, clematis nodal cuttings or oriental poppy root cuttings and similar plants. The longer cell is excellent for retaining semi-standards grown from fuchsia cuttings etc, where they can be held in a Rootrainers for well over a year. Many cuttings can be placed in either size according to individual preferences and circumstances, but in all instances success with cuttings will be easier, difficulties fewer, handling will be less, compost and space will be saved, and the plants will be stronger if you use Rootrainers.

Before planting your cuttings give the seed trays a good soaking using a watering can. Dip the bottom of the cutting in root powder and fill your Rootrainer with your compost mix.
  1. Using a Bamboo Dibber make a hole in the centre of the compost.
  2. Once all cuttings have been potted label them with Bamboo Plant Markers. Hardy cuttings need to be placed in a sheltered position away from full sun – ideally in a cold frame. Put them somewhere handy so that they can be looked at daily. If the leaves of the cuttings look a little wilted then, using a water sprayer, you can give them a light spray. With Rootrainers, it is easy to check moisture levels and how the roots are doing. Just open the ‘book’, check and re-close. But - a little hint! Don’t open them until the plant is reasonably established and the roots have hit the side; otherwise you may just be pulling the soil away from the roots and weakening the strength of the plug. Rootrainers packs come with a clear plastic propagating-lid. The lid sits on top of the tray and retains the moisture and warmth. This can be easily removed and replaced for watering and provides the ideal growing environment for most cuttings. However, do not use the lid for geraniums and other plants that do not like humidity. When plants have developed sufficiently, the lid can be placed under the tray for capillary watering if desired, and for clean handling – ideal if you are keeping or over-wintering plants indoors.
  3. When the cuttings are ready for potting on, opt for plastic free and compostable Bamboo Pot, they're available in several sizes, last five years or more and can be composted after use.

What is plant layering?

There are several different types of layering methods for propagating plants. One

of them is known as Simple Layering, which is a super easy way to clone your favourite plant, yet it is far less common than saving seeds of taking cuttings.  It is achieved by growing roots along a stem of the plant you would like to clone. Once a new root system has grown this can be cut from the parent tree and potted as an entirely new plant? 

What is the method  for simple plant layering?         

  •  Select flexible young shoots on the outside of the plant which can be bent down to ground level.
  • When the middle of the stem touches the soil push the centre of the stem underground.
  • Mark the point where the shoot touches the ground with a bamboo 
  • Peg the section of stem into place with garden pin.
  • Cover with soil, firm in and water.
  • Water regularly and use a garden cane to support if required.
  • When a good root system has formed sever the layer (new plant) from its parent and pot on or transplant to its' permanent location.

What is budding and grafting?

Grafting and budding is a more complex form of propagation which is usually used by experienced plant nurseries as it  is a labour-intensive process which requires great skill. The technique involves joining the roots (rootstock) and a young shoot  (scion) from a different plant together. The scion grows into the plant it came from, yet the rootstock gives the plants certain beneficial characteristics such as superior growth, hardiness and resistance to disease. It is often a process used for growing fruit trees as seedlings can take 8-10 years to establish, however, when grafted onto an established rootstock they mature and produce fruit far sooner. Not all fruit trees are self-pollinating so by grafting scion from a male plant to a rootstock of a female plant ensures that pollination can occur.

If you want to grow more free plants check out our previous blog Growing from Kitchen Scraps. You don’t need a garden to be able to grow from scraps and many vegetables and herbs from the supermarket or grocery shop will regrow easily in water or in soil. It’s both fun and rewarding to watch scraps continue to sprout time after time and is an ideal experiment to do as a family!

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