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Right Tools, Right Time to Make More Plants

Techniques for easy propagation.

We’ve waited patiently. Now that summer may finally be here for many months to come, success in the garden can’t be far behind. 

Oh yes, success will be yours.

Tomatoes, beans and basil are planted. While anticipating their fruits, many gardeners are preparing for tomorrow’s lull with today’s chores.  Even if you don’t want one more stalk of rosemary, there will come a time when sister could use a few for her parkway. Or may be having a plant swap. Or you’ll finally commit to building that succulent wreath.

Luckily, today is a fine day for propagating. Why? Because the temperatures are not oven hot.  Soils must be 45 to 55 degrees for successful propagation. Air temperature should be 70-80 degreees.

Spring growth is peaking now, the right time for softwood and herbaceous propagating. This fresh, new growth is pliable, water filled, and leaves are bright green. Plants are not stressed by pulling water from roots through leaves to photosynthesize and to stay cool. Add flowering and fruit production to the To Do list and most plants have way too much going on to be summertime donors, too.

Propagating Tricks of the Trade

Jesus Ramirez, a horticulture professor at Mt. SAC in Walnut, teaches nursery propagation techniques.  A trick of the trade Ramirez shared: nursery propagators ask the trimming detail to save cuttings for them. Efficient!

More notes from Ramirez: certain plants must be cut and placed into growing medium quickly.  Ficus benjamina, for example, must be stuck in growing medium within 45 minutes of being cut.  Many plants can wait in the shade for hours, some in the refrigerator for weeks.  Many plants can be rooted in frequently changed, clean water. Softwood cuttings of jasmines take about a month to root.  Easy herbaceous plants for propagating include geraniums, coleus, pelargonium and penstemon.

The Tools You'll Need

When you’re both the trimmer and the propagator remember to bring along the right tools: curved secaturs, which do the least amount of damage to the plant, a spray bottle of weak bleach solution, 10 parts water to 1 part bleach, a clean cloth for wiping the secaturs between cuts, and a black plastic bag for holding your cuttings.  Catch the cuttings before they hit the ground. Sanitary cuts and specimens have the best chance of warding off disease and infection as they concentrate on forming roots. 

Take cuttings early in the morning, from healthy stems.  Remove the meristem tips, or the top of the plant. The meristem tips, on both branches and roots, are the location of new lengthening growth. Take uniform cuttings, usually at least 3” in length. 

Be sure to include at least two nodes on each section for rooting; cut just above a node and just below another node. Keep as many leaves on each section as possible, but remove the lowest leaves. About one inch of bare stem needs to be submerged in the soil. 

Pot cuttings, right side up. Dormant buds or leaf growth should be curving or pointing up.  Use moist, well-draining planting mix. 80% perlite and 20% peat is a good propagation blend. Mix this yourself in a large bin, clean trash can or wheel barrow.  Fill a container with planting medium, water well, tamp down till firm. Poke holes with a pencil or chopstick, and place one cutting in each hole. 

Close the soil around the cutting and create a mini greenhouse by covering the container with a clear plastic bag. Place out of direct sun while rooting. Check the plant every day for water, although you probably won’t have to water more than twice a week. Soils should remain moist but not wet.

Remember, water plants early, the day before collecting cuttings. There is no better specimen than a water-plumped plant. Its leaves and branches are more supple and forgiving than the drought stressed specimen, already grappling with deprivation. Besides making a better donor, the parent plant will recover from cutting wounds quicker if it has available water to send through vacuoles and cells.

Be Patient!

Rooting should occur in 7 to 30 days. Tug gently on the stem after a week. If the plant resists your pull, and has kept its leaves, high five! You’ve got roots! Keep the baggy in place until roots have formed. Handle by the stem only, taking care not to damage those tender roots.

By the time you have pass-along plants to share, your tomatoes will be ready, too.  Now count your blessings and pass me one!

Danielle Corona June 30, 2011 at 05:18 AM
Pictures, describing/illustrating things like meristem tips and nodes would be helpful!
Danielle Corona June 30, 2011 at 05:19 AM
I hit enter too quickly... these are great tips, thank you!

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