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Propagation 101: Everything You Need to Create New Plants

Learn how to create new plants from existing ones using a process that is both easy and fun.
Plant propagation: A thorough guide

Plant propagation can be a wonderful key to expanding your garden. Why? Because you can preserve the traits of your favorite plants! So, why not embark on a journey of discovery and delve into the diverse methods of creating new botanical wonders? 

Whether you’re a seasoned green thumb or just beginning your journey into the realm of plants, this guide is your passport to understanding the art and science of nurturing life from existing green wonders.

So, let’s unravel the mysteries of various propagation techniques, exploring the beauty of seed germination and the intricacies of cloning plants through different vegetative methods. Are you ready?

What is Plant Propagation?

Plant propagation is the process of creating new plants from existing ones. This can be achieved through various methods, each tailored to suit different types of plants and environmental conditions.

Plant propagation is commonly used in gardening, horticulture, and agriculture to reproduce desirable plants with specific traits. There are two main types of plant propagation: sexual (from seeds) and asexual (from vegetative parts). So, let’s start by looking at them in a little more detail.

The Differences Between Seed and Vegetative Propagation

Seed Propagation involves growing new plants from seeds produced by the parent plant through pollination. This method introduces genetic diversity, and it’s common for flowering plants, vegetables, and many trees. Seeds can be collected from fruits, flowers, or seed pods, and then planted in suitable soil or growing mediums.

Vegetative Propagation, on the other hand, involves reproducing plants without the involvement of seeds. This method allows for the preservation of specific genetic characteristics of the parent plant.

There are several techniques for asexual or vegetative propagation. For example:

  • Cuttings: Portions of stems or roots are cut from the parent plant and encouraged to develop roots or shoots in a new growing medium.
  • Layering: Involves encouraging a stem to produce roots while it is still attached to the parent plant. Once roots have developed, the new plant can be separated.
  • Division: Suitable for plants with clumping or spreading growth habits. The parent plant is divided into sections, each with its roots, to create multiple new plants.
  • Grafting and Budding: Involves joining a part of one plant (scion) with another (rootstock) in a way that they grow together as one. This is commonly used in fruit tree propagation.

Don’t worry, though. We will go over each of these in more detail below and show you how you can try each yourself.

The Advantages of Plant Propagation

Plant propagation is a valuable skill in the world of gardening and agriculture. For one, it enables you to propagate or reproduce your favorite plants, preserve unique characteristics, and contribute to the cultivation of diverse and healthy plant populations.

We can, in fact, sum up the advantages of propagation as the following:

  1. You can preserve desirable traits:
    Plant propagation allows gardeners and horticulturists to preserve and replicate desirable traits such as specific flower colors, fruit quality, disease resistance, or other unique characteristics of the parent plant.
  2. You can have a faster reproduction rate:
    Asexual propagation methods, such as cuttings or layering, can lead to faster reproduction compared to growing plants from seeds. This is particularly beneficial when trying to establish a large number of plants quickly.
  3. You get more genetic uniformity:
    Asexual propagation methods result in genetically identical plants, creating a uniform population with consistent traits. This is important in industries where specific plant characteristics are desired.
  4. You can also propagate seedless varieties:
    Many seedless fruit varieties, such as seedless grapes or watermelons, can only be reproduced through asexual methods like grafting or cutting, as they do not produce viable seeds.
  5. You control the genetic diversity: Sexual propagation introduces genetic diversity, allowing for the creation of new plant varieties. This is crucial in breeding programs where introducing specific traits or developing hybrids is a goal.
Growing Avocado From Seed
A picture of an avocado seed inside a glass with water. This is a perfect way to germinate a new plant!
An electric plant propagator.
An electric plant propagator filled with seedlings and sitting in front of window.

How to Do Seed Propagation

When you see how life unfolds from the heart of a tiny seed, you can truly appreciate the process that has captivated the imagination of gardeners and cultivators for thousands of years. This is the miracle of botanical birth; a natural ballet full of potential. I know, I know. I’m getting too poetic, but there’s so much potential in gardening! Anyway, let’s talk about seed propagation in more technical terms.

Seeds are nature’s capsules of life, holding the genetic blueprint of their parent plants. So, the simplest way to propagate a plant is to plant a seed. Water, warmth and the right conditions coax the seed to break its slumber, sending a delicate shoot toward the surface.

As seedlings emerge, they require tender care and a nurturing environment. Adequate light, proper watering, and nutrient-rich soil are all essential. So, some people choose to sow seeds directly in the ground or to first nurture them in seed trays. 

Here’s a short step-by-step guide on how to execute seed propagation with precision and care.

  1. Selecting Quality Seeds: Choose fresh, high-quality seeds suited to your climate and growing conditions. Ensure you read seed packets for essential information such as planting depth and germination time.

  2. Preparing the Growing Medium: Use a well-draining seed starting mix or create your own blend. This mix provides the ideal environment for seed germination and early seedling growth.

  3. Planting Seeds: Plant seeds at the recommended depth in trays or pots. Create organized rows or grids, leaving enough space between seeds for proper development.

  4. Providing Optimal Conditions: Maintain consistent moisture by watering gently and place trays in a warm location. Cover with clear plastic or humidity domes to create a greenhouse effect during germination.

  5. Transplanting and Care: Once seedlings emerge, remove covers and place trays in a well-lit location. Thin seedlings as needed and transplant them into larger containers if required. Gradually expose seedlings to outdoor conditions before transplanting them into the garden.

Vegetative Plant Propagation: Cuttings

Vegetative plant propagation, specifically through cuttings, is a time-honored and effective method for creating new plants that faithfully replicate the characteristics of their parent.

In short, the technique involves carefully selecting a healthy portion of the parent plant—typically a stem, root, or leaf—and encouraging it to root and grow into a new, independent entity. When a cutting is taken, it retains the same traits, whether they be the vibrant hue of a flower, the flavor profile of a herb, or the growth habit of a shrub. 

From there, the cutting is prepared, often with a clean, angled cut just below a node to stimulate root development. For example, rooting hormones can be applied to encourage the formation of roots, and the cutting is then placed in a suitable growing medium.

A collection of cuttings from a Devil's Ivy
A collection of propagated cuttings from a Devil's Ivy plant.

Vegetative Plant Propagation: Layering

Layering presents a unique opportunity for gardeners to create genetically identical offspring with minimal intervention.

Unlike seed propagation, where genetic diversity is the norm, layering preserves the exact traits of the parent plant, providing a reliable method for reproducing specific characteristics such as flower color, fruit quality, or growth habit.

This process of layering involves encouraging a flexible and pliable portion of a plant, often a low-hanging branch or stem, to make contact with the soil. Once in contact, the plant undergoes a captivating metamorphosis. Hormonal changes prompt the development of roots at the point of contact with the soil, creating a self-sufficient, independently rooted offspring while still attached to the parent.

Simple layering involves bending a branch to the ground, covering a portion with soil, and allowing it to root over time. Air layering, a more intricate technique, involves removing a section of bark from a branch, covering the exposed area with rooting medium, and wrapping it in plastic to encourage root development.

Layering propagation. Image courtesy of Oklahoma State University.

Vegetative Plant Propagation: Division

Vegetative plant propagation through division is a gardening technique that mirrors nature’s rhythm, allowing individuals to multiply and rejuvenate through a process of careful separation. This method is particularly well-suited for perennials, grasses, and certain ornamental plants, offering an effective way to create new, healthy individuals while revitalizing the existing ones.

As plants grow and mature, they often form clumps or clusters, with numerous stems arising from a central point. Division involves carefully dissecting these clumps into separate sections, each with its own set of roots and shoots, ready to embark on an independent journey.

One of the key advantages of division is its simplicity. It requires minimal tools and intervention, making it accessible to gardeners of all skill levels. The process typically involves digging up the mature plant, identifying natural divisions or creating them by gently pulling sections apart, and replanting the divided segments in new locations.

Propagating plants by dividing them into two or more.
Propagating plants by dividing them into two or more.

Vegetative Plant Propagation: Grafting and Budding

The method of grafting involves connecting a scion, or a segment of a desired plant with specific traits, to the rootstock or understock of a different plant. The result is a hybrid that combines the strengths of both, often showcasing the desirable characteristics of the scion while benefiting from the robust root system of the understock.

Grafting is a precise endeavor, so you will require a keen eye for compatibility between scion and rootstock. The artistry lies in the successful fusion of vascular tissues, ensuring a seamless flow of nutrients between scion and rootstock. This technique is commonly employed in fruit tree cultivation, allowing orchardists to produce trees that bear multiple fruit varieties on a single plant.

Budding is a more focused form of grafting, where a single bud, or a bud with a small piece of bark attached, is carefully integrated into the understock. This method is particularly useful when propagating plants with desirable traits that are concentrated in specific buds.

Budding offers a level of precision that allows gardeners to replicate exact genetic characteristics from one plant to another. 

Grafting of apple tree, 2nd year, Jaroměř, east Bohemia.

Propagation Products to Get Started Today

A curated selection of propagation products designed to help you get started on your green-thumb adventures today. From specialized rooting hormones to propagation trays and cutting tools, these essential items will be your companions in nurturing new life and expanding your garden.

Propagation FAQs

1. How long does it take for seeds to germinate during plant propagation?

Germination times vary depending on the plant species and environmental conditions. Typically, seeds may take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to germinate. Refer to seed packets or gardening resources for specific information on each plant’s germination timeline.

2. Can I use seeds from store-bought fruits and vegetables for plant propagation?

While it’s possible to use seeds from store-bought produce, the success of propagation may vary. Some commercially available fruits and vegetables are hybrids, and their seeds may not produce plants true to the parent. For reliable results, consider using heirloom or open-pollinated varieties for seed-saving and propagation.

3. What is the difference between asexual and sexual plant propagation?

Asexual propagation involves reproducing plants without seeds, using vegetative parts like cuttings, layering, or division. This method maintains the genetic characteristics of the parent plant. Sexual propagation, on the other hand, involves growing plants from seeds, introducing genetic diversity and leading to the creation of new varieties through pollination.