“Propagation” is a big word to the amateur gardener, but it’s actually a simple concept, and once you understand the basics, experimenting with different propagation techniques can become a hobby in itself!
The small plant on the left is a rooted cutting from the butterflybush on the right.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
If okra is left on the plant through fall, the “fruit” dries out. The pod eventually splits, and the gardener can gather the seed for next year’s crop.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
In simple terms, “propagate” means to take some part of a “parent” plant to produce new “baby” plants. There are two primary forms of propagation: sexual and asexual. (Don’t worry, we’ll keep this G-rated.)
Sexual propagation generally refers to generating more plants by seed, which is naturally produced by the “parent” plant. In the case of most fruits and vegetables, the seed is found inside the fleshy fruit – think of watermelons, cucumbers, tomatoes and oranges. But you may not have considered that nuts and grains are seeds, too. Peanuts, almonds, oats and wheat are seeds that contain all the genetic information required to become a plant. If you dry the seed and plant it the following year, you should be able to grow a plant similar to the original. Propagating by seed is probably the most familiar form of plant propagation.
Asexual propagation is also referred to as “vegetative propagation.” Where the seed is actually part of the plant’s reproductive system, vegetative propagation uses plant parts that aren’t typically part of the reproductive system – like the leaves, stems and roots. Vegetative propagation produces a clone of the parent plant, and it consists of several techniques using the various plant parts. (And different plants respond well to different techniques.)
For example, Hosta can be propagated by a technique known as “division.” This means one plant can be physically divided into two plants, so long as each new plant has stem and root intact.
Many vines can be propagated by “layering.” In this technique, the stem remains connected to the parent plant, but the stem is bent to the ground, and some part of it is buried. When the buried section produces roots, the “new” plant – meaning the end of the branch and its new roots – can be cut from the parent plant and moved to a new location, either to a container or to a new place in the landscape.
“Tip cuttings” are another common method of vegetative propagation. A 2- to 3-inch section on the tip of a branch is cut from the parent plant and placed in some type of rooting media (possibly soil). Given adequate air, light and moisture, the base of the cutting sprouts roots, and there you have it: A new plant is born!
In the plant world, propagation represents the miracle of life. The propagator essentially nurtures the plant from its infancy. In the case of vegetative propagation, the gardener even chooses the path of development. Give it a try; you’ll be amazed at how simple – and rewarding – it can be!