Propagating Your Own Garden Plants

Robert Mugaas
University of Minnesota Extension Educator, Environmental Horticulture

Come springtime, gardeners of both the diligent and the lackadaisical sort can be found with their hands in the dirt. Whether their hands are a half-inch or a half-foot into the soil depends on whether they began their garden through seed propagation or plant cuttings. For many gardeners, securing both interesting and unusual plants by cultivating them from a tiny seed is the epitome of gardening fun and personal satisfaction. For others, utilizing cuttings to increase their favorite garden plants is very economical and rewarding. Listed below are some tips to help you on your way to a beautiful garden, either way you choose to propagate.

Success with Seeds – Indoors to Outdoors

  • To be successful, it is imperative that you begin with fresh, high quality, clean seed.
  • Generally it is best to use a commercially prepared seed starting mix. These mixes are very light and airy, and free of disease or insect pests. Typical garden soil holds too much water and often contains disease organisms just waiting to attack your tiny seedlings.
  • Small flats and pots for seed starting are commonly available at many retail garden outlets. You can also make your own with various household items such as old butter tubs, bottoms of milk cartons, recycled plastic salad trays, etc. Whatever you use, make sure that each container has been thoroughly cleaned and has drainage holes.
  • Purchased seed starting mixes are usually quite dry. Therefore, it is a good idea to lightly moisten the mix before placing it into your containers. To do this, put the mix into a large, clean container and add warm water until the soil mix is just damp to the touch.
  • Once pre-moistened, fill seeding containers to the top. Lightly pat the soil mix firm until it is about 1 inch below the container top. You are now ready to begin planting seeds.
  • Carefully follow seed package directions to determine how deep to plant the seeds, whether or not they should be covered, and how long they should be sown before planting outside.
  • Place seeded containers inside a plastic bag and place in a bright location, out of direct sunlight. When a majority of the seeds have germinated, remove them from the plastic bag to provide them with good air circulation.
  • Once seedlings have produced two or three sets of true leaves (i.e., those that look typical for that plant), the seedlings are ready to be transplanted.
  • To transplant, gently lift beneath the seedling with your finger or a small utensil (such as a plant label), while lightly pulling up on the plant by holding onto one of its leaves. (Grasping the stem and pulling straight up increases the chance you may injure the seedling.)
  • Make a hole in the soil of your pot deep enough to easily accommodate the seedling’s complete root system. Gently, firm the soil around the seedling, being careful not to damage the seedling roots or stem. Lightly but thoroughly water the soil, and place the pot in bright but indirect sunlight.
  • When you are 10 to 14 days from planting outside, gradually move plants outdoors where they can acclimate to the changing weather conditions. Each day, gradually increase their exposure to sunlight and be sure to protect them even when temperatures are close to – but just above-freezing.

Propagation with Cuttings

  • Plants like coleus, impatiens, Swedish ivy or pothos are easily propagated by a method know as stem cuttings. One advantage to using cuttings is that it preserves the exact genetic make-up of the plant, which is often not possible to do through seed propagation.
  • Stem cuttings are usually four to six inches in length with at least two buds (or nodes) present. The first node should be about 1/4 inch above the bottom stem cut. This will help insure an active area for root formation to occur. Push the stem about 1 to 1-1/2 inches into the rooting medium. There should be at least one to two nodes above the first one. It is better if the leaves are left attached to the stem, with the exception of the first node at the bottom.
  • As with seed propagation, use only clean, well-drained containers for rooting stem cuttings. This allows for good aeration within the medium, resulting in rapid root-development.
  • Likewise, the rooting medium should be light and airy (i.e. a mixture of peat moss and perlite, or peat moss and vermiculite). The medium should also provide physical support for the stem cutting and be free of any pathogens. It should always be kept damp but never soggy. A clear plastic bag loosely placed over the container and the cuttings will help provide nearly ideal rooting conditions. In some instances, stem cuttings can be rooted directly in a container of water.
  • Depending on the plant species, three to six weeks or longer are required for enough roots to form to allow successful transplanting. When removing the rooted cutting, handle it carefully to avoid crushing the stem or damaging the roots.

With a little practice and experience, plant propagation can be a very interesting and rewarding part of your gardening hobby.

What You Can Do

Being successful with seed propagation isn’t difficult! Three important things to keep in mind:

1. Always start with fresh, high-quality seed.

2. Be careful to follow seeding and sowing directions carefully so that seeds are not planted too deeply or too shallowly.

3. Make sure that the planting medium is porous, has good drainage and never dries out during the germination process.

See Also: Arts: Seeds

Propagating Garden Plants

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