Propagate Your Own Decorative Plants and Shrubs

My first exposure to the propagation of living plants came at age eight when I watched my young mother, who claimed to have two Green Thumbs, pick up a three-foot long branch that had been broken from a willow tree, strip several of the lower, smaller branches, and stick it into the moist ground.

She explained to me that if we… Read more

My first exposure to the propagation of living plants came at age eight when I watched my young mother, who claimed to have two Green Thumbs, pick up a three-foot long branch that had been broken from a willow tree, strip several of the lower, smaller branches, and stick it into the moist ground.

She explained to me that if we were to be patient and if we kept this branch watered every day the branch would live, rather than die and one day would turn into a magnificent tree. Completely and totally excited by this possibility I watered the little branch religiously and was thrilled when after 3 or 4 days the wilted leaves began to show new life as they now stood firm and turned an increasingly darker shade of green.

Within two months the branch began to grow in height. My mother smiled and said this was an indication that the branch now had roots and was producing more energy than it needed just to survive it was putting this energy into growth. How right she was. Within ten years the little willow branch had grown into a beautiful, graceful, willow tree twenty feet tall.

As a result of that experience I have been ‘hooked’ on the fun art of plant propagation for my entire life. Through trial and error I have learned that some plants are very easy to propagate, while others are difficult and some will not propagate at all. In the course of experimentation and learning I have enjoyed creating hundreds new plants including flowering azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, photinia, coleus, geraniums, impatients, boxwoods, forsythia and acubas, which I have used in the landscaping of the various yards and gardens of houses, in which we have lived.

Propagation is not only easy, it is fun and satisfying as you watch your individual plant creations grow into beautiful plantings which you and others will enjoy for years to come.

I would like to share with you my method for propagation of plants.

First, understand there are varying methods required for the thousands of different plant species available. No one propagation method works for all plants. Some plant cuttings will root in water while others require a specific soil mixture and rooting compounds. In the limited space available here we cannot discuss all of the different techniques required. For that reason I will discuss propagation techniques for one hardwood and one softwood plant. Most candidates for propagation will fall into one of these categories.

Materials needed:

  • 1 – 25 lb. bag of enriched potting soil containing perlite.
  • 1 – jar of rooting hormone Shultz’s Take Root (can be purchased at any garden supply store)
  • 1 – quart sized, clear glass jar for every dozen softwood cuttings to be rooted.
  • 1 – 10 inch plastic pot for every dozen cuttings taken.
  • A collection of 4-inch plastic pots equivalent to the number of cuttings taken.
  • 1 – box of clear plastic bags – 4-gallon size

Propagating Softwood Shrubs and Plants:

My definition of softwood as used here includes the non-woody shrubs which have no bark and have soft, watery stems which can often be pinched into or easily broken. This would plants such as hydrangeas, impatients, geraniums, acubas, coleus, and many others.

These plants are the most easily propagated and can usually be rooted in plain water.

As new, but mature plant growth propagates best I prefer to take seasoned cuttings from the previous year’s growth in late summer or early fall.

Step 1 – Eight inch long cuttings should be taken from a mature plant by selecting firm branches from the previous years growth. Typically these will be about 3/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter.

Note: The number of cuttings will depend on the number of plants you wish to produce. You should typically take 50% more than you need, as not all will root successfully.

Step 2 – Cut away any small branches on the lower 4 inches of the cutting and discard. The bottom 4 inches should now be clear of any growth or stubs.

Step 3 – Of the remaining branches on the cutting stem remove (cut away) all but the most vigorous (green and healthy) three or four top stems/branches.

Step 4 – Fill a clean, clear glass jar (one quart size works well) with clean water to within one inch of the brim.

It is important that the jar be of clear glass and is clean.

Step 5 – Insert 12 cuttings into each water filled jar.

Step 6 – Locate the jars and cuttings in a partially shaded location (out of direct sunlight).

Step 7 – Observe cuttings over the next several weeks, replenishing water in jar as necessary. Remove immediately and discard any cuttings on which the leaves or stems turn black. (Not all will root).

Step 8 – After 3-4 weeks closely observe the lower portion of the stems through the side of the jar. Look for thin, white whiskers appearing on the lower stem. The presence of these is the beginning of a root structure.

Step 9 – Continue to observe root formation until thin white roots appear to be about the size of lead in a wooden pencil. These immature roots will vary in length from ½ to 4 inches over time.

Step 10 – When roots reach the stage described in step 9 above remove the cutting and place in small pot filled with potting soil. Water pot.

Step 11 – Age the cutting in soil until leaf growth is vigorous and leaves are a healthy green or new leaves appear. (About 3-4 months). This allows mature roots to form. Keep soil wet.

Step 12 – Select location in landscape and plant new plants.

Note: Depending on location around the country new cuttings may have to be protected from early frost. If frost is likely prior to potting the cuttings you should locate the rooting containers in sunlit window inside the house.

Propagating Hardwood plants and shrubs

My definition of hardwood plants as used here includes all woody shrubs and plants, which include a bark protective layer. Hardwood plants are more brittle and stems cannot be pinched to sever them from the plant. They must be pruned by cutting with shears or a sharp knife (Breaking hardwood branches results in a ragged cut with a bark tailing overlapping the cut).

Hardwood plants include camellias, photinas, azaleas, forsythia and boxwood among many others.

Steps 1 – 3 – These are the same as described for softwood shrubs and plants above and in the interest of space will not be repeated.

One additional note: When taking hardwood cuttings use a sharp knife or cutting shears, as clean cuts are important. Cuts made just below a bud on the stem taken increase the probability of rooting.

Step 4 – To improve the cutting’s exposure to the rooting medium make a clean, diagonal cut across the bottom end of the cutting.

Step 5 – For every dozen cuttings taken fill one 10-inch flowerpot with potting soil to within 1 inch of the top. Using a wooden pencil or equivalent sized dowel punch 12 evenly spaced holes, 3 inches deep in the soil.

Step 6 – Dip individual cuttings 3 inches into the rooting hormone and slowly turn to coat with powder.

Step 7 – Insert individual cuttings into one of the holes punched in the potting soil taking care to avoid making contact with the sides of the hole (to maintain as much powder on the stem as possible)

Step 8 – Using fingers press dirt firmly against each cutting until cutting stands firm and erect in the soil.

Step 9 – After 12 cuttings have been inserted and compacted in each 10 inch flower pot gently water with water from a sprinkling watering can. Water well, soaking leaves and soil.

Step 10 – Place each 10-inch flowerpot into 4-gallon clear plastic bag and seal bag with twist tie. (This provides a high humidity greenhouse environment for the cuttings.)

Step 11 – Place each bagged pot in a shaded (partial sun) area.

Step 12 – Observe cuttings (without opening bag) weekly. If leaves on any cuttings turn black remove and discard immediately. (Some cuttings will fail to root)

Step 13 – During watch period (6-8 weeks) ensure that moisture droplets form on inside surface of the plastic bag for each pot. If no moisture is present, re-water the cuttings using sprinkler can. Moisture and high humidity are a constant requirement for successful rooting.

Step 14 – After 6-8 rooted cuttings will appear healthy and show dark green leaves. It is best to leave cuttings in the potting soil, and protected environment for several more weeks until the outside soil is warm at which point they can be transplanted to their permanent location.

Step 15 – Plant individual rooted cuttings in desired permanent location by digging a hole 16 inches wide and 16 inches deep. Fill hoe with same potting soil in which the plants are rooted and set and deeply water the plant.

Within a year you will have an abundance of hearty, healthy and beautiful plants of which you are the proud parent.

Good luck & I’m sure you’ll have fun!

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