Ever wonder how your local greenhouse seems to have endless rows of succulents? Or how your green-thumb garden guru neighbour never seems to run out of garlic? There are a lot of plants that do take the tender care of growing from seed to seedling but you may be startled by the number of everyday house and garden plants that take no time at all to grow as they're already well on their way.
There are two methods of plant procreation, also known as propagation; sowing seeds and taking cuttings. We are going to explore the latter, taking cuttings, which is an asexual form of reproduction. What does that mean? It means if you have a plant you love you get to keep all the awesome traits of that parent plant by making a new one from just a piece of it. No seeds required! Does it work for all plants? Not all of them, but I will cover a selection of common garden and household plants to you can get your hands dirty and explore from there. Your local library or garden centre are also great resources.
Stem cuttings are the most popular method of propagation and can be used for a wide variety of plants including herbs, perennials, trees, and even some fruits. Using a sharp knife or razor the stem is removed from the parent plant right below the node or “leaf joint.” The cutting is then left to take root in water, soil, or another medium that may require rooting hormones depending on the plant.
Let’s take hops for example. Hops is well known for its use in beer but can also be used to make ‘sleepy time’ teas. It has a lovely flower, is an excellent climber for along railings or lattices, and most importantly the root system can survive a Fernie winter with a little leaf cover. For hops the node is the distinct lump along the stem. This part of the plant contains the hormones involved in rooting. Cut the hops below the node making sure you leave at least three nodes above from where you cut to allow the plant enough vital energy to create roots and continue growing. If you have a long section of hops you can can continue cutting down the vine in groups of three-four nodes. Make sure you keep track of which side is up and which side is down; they won’t grow if you pant them upside down! Then plant the cuttings in a pot of soil, placing the bottom node about two inches deep; you can plant them quite close and then separate them later once they develop some root structure. Keep them well watered and watch those babies grow!
This classic method is done by cutting or separating the roots of a plant in order to propagate it. Examples of common plants multiplied using root division include garlic, day lilies, and potatoes. Ever forget a potato in the corner of your cupboard to find it growing funny little sprouts (eyes)? This is the perfect opportunity to try your new-found propagation skills! Take a sharp, clean knife and cut the potatoes into chunks about the size of a golf ball. Make sure each segment has at least one ‘eye.’ Place these chunks into soil about two to four inches in the ground, cover with mulch, water, and it’s just patience from there on. As the plant grows you can mound up more soil against the stem; where the soil comes in contact with the stem more roots will grow and therefore more potatoes! Countertop potatoes are great to experiment with but if you want a potato crop I would recommend starting with some ‘seed’ potatoes (potato varieties selected for their quality and performance).
Layering is my go-to strategy for berries. Blackberries, raspberries, boysenberry berries, currents, and many more can all be propagated using this method. In this method a branch, stem, or bow is partially buried. Like the potato, where the soil comes in contact with the plant it will being to develop new roots. Therefore, if your bend a raspberry cane over, bury the tips, then allow for root growth you can then come back and where the tips have taken root you can clip the cane above each rooted section. Each rooted section is now a new, independent plant! This particular method is of layering is called ‘tip layering.’
There are many other method of asexual plant propagation and YouTube is your best friend for visual guides. So play around! What’s the worst that can happen? Probably a house full of baby spider and aloe plants!