Do You Have The Right Stuff to Propagate Plants?

Plant propagation sounds like something very complicated.  A lot of gardeners are intimidated by the idea of getting something to root.  It looks challenging but in reality there are a great number of plants that are very easy to propagate.  That's not to say that a cutting will grow roots each and every time.  In fact I've lost many cuttings in my plant propagation experiences.  Sometimes it was something I did or didn't do right, but other times it just happened.  Not every cutting will take root and grow but by providing the right conditions you can increase the number of successes!
propagating oak leaf hydrangea through cuttings
Oak Leaf Hydrangea Cutting

The Right Equipment for Rooting Plants

When I say the word equipment the next thing in your head might be "Oh great, how much is this going to cost?"  You might be surprised at how little propagating plants actually does cost. There is always stuff you can buy like books, rooting hormone, fancy pruners, grafting tools, and a host of various types of plant propagation devices but you don't have to go for all that stuff.  In many cases a simple set of pruners, a rooting medium, and a way to provide the right environment for rooting is all you need.

Keeping the equipment clean is very important to prevent diseases from contaminating your cuttings.  A 10% bleach and water solution is a good way to keep your equipment clean.  For rooting medium you can use combinations of peat/sand, peat/vermiculite, peat/perlite, or any of those mediums alone.  Different plants respond differently to the rooting medium so some experimentation or tweaking may be necessary.  For the beginner I recommend just using sand.  Sand is cheap, easy to find, and works great.

There are many resources available for learning how to propagate plants but once you learn the basics you can do a lot of experimentation on your own. This post has some general information that may help you learn the basics of cuttings.  Start with easy to root plants like coleus or sedums.  Those easy to root plants will help you get a feel for how the rooting process works. If you would like a good book as a reference I highly recommend American Horticultural Society Plant Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual of Practical Techniques from the American Horticultural Society (link to Amazon).

The Right Plant

rooted caryopteris cutting
Picking the right plant to propagate is the easy part.  Your choice depends on a few factors:
  1. How difficult is the plant to root?  Perennials and annuals are generally very easy but trees can take more time and more care to get rooted.
  2. Do you want or need more of that plant? Are you trying to fill in areas of your garden? Make another plant to give to a friend?
  3. Do you have the right growing conditions for the plant?
  4. Is your plant worth propagating?  Is it prone to disease? If so you don't want more of it.  Does it have a unique feature that you want to replicate in your garden?  
  5. Is it protected by a plant patent?

The Right Environment for Rooting Plants

Humidity is important for rooting plants.  Too little humidity will cause the cuttings to dry out and die.  The amount of humidity in the air can be controlled by adding a plastic covering.  Something as simple as a plastic back with a couple sticks to hold it up works great.  Other gardeners will use aquariums or misting systems to create a humid environment.  These aren't necessary for beginnings but can be a great aid as you expand your plant propagation obsession (and yes it will become an obsession!)

Lighting needs to be kept minimal.  The cuttings need light but don't need to be overwhelmed.  Sunny locations will cause the cuttings to dry out too fast or if you have them in plastic it could cook them.  Find a shady spot that gets a little dappled light during the day.

Plant propagation isn't complicated but can be tricky at times. Don't give up and get discouraged too quickly when something doesn't go right because you will lose cuttings.

If you pay attention to the right stuff your successes will outnumber your loses!