Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68,  LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068   Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Plant Propagation - Easy and Economical

Most avid gardeners are constantly seeking economical ways to increase their collection of plants.  One method is by plant propagation. The term propagation simply means reproducing plants or obtaining new plants from old.  Although the term propagation may sound technical, there are several methods of propagating plants, all of them relatively simple.  Many different plant parts, including seeds, leaves, stems bulbs, and roots can be used to multiply plants.  There are two basic methods of plant propagation: sexual by use of seeds and by asexual or vegetative means involving some vegetative part, such as a stem, leaf or root.

A number of ornamental plants do not normally produce seed and must be propagated by other means. Others may produce seed but may not breed true to type when grown from seed.  Some are simply easier to reproduce by other vegetative means.   The most common and satisfactory method of propagating many ornamental plants is by cuttings.  A cutting is a portion of a plant taken from a parent plant. Cuttings can be made from stems, roots,  leaves, or combinations of plant parts such as stems with leaves.  Cuttings should be taken from healthy plants with desirable characteristics, and placed in a warm humid environment to encourage root development and to prevent them from drying out.

The rooting medium for cuttings should have good drainage yet hold moisture and be free of diseases and weed seeds.  A medium composed of equal volumes of peat moss and perlite is suitable for rooting most cuttings.  Mixtures of other materials such as sphagnum moss, vermiculite, course sand, and compost can also be used.  Commercially prepared medium is available at many garden centers.  Homemade mixes should be sterilized by heating moistened medium in a tray in the oven or outside over a fire to 220 degrees for about one hour.  This may produce offensive odors if done inside the house.

Stem cuttings can be taken at different stages of maturity.  Some plants, such as most house plants,  root better from softwood cuttings.  Other plants, including many trees and shrubs, root better from semi hardwood cuttings.  Semiarid wood cuttings should snap when broken.  Cuttings should be taken using a clean sharp knife or pruner.  Stem cuttings of 4-6 inches are satisfactory for most plants.  The leaves should be removed from the bottom 1/3 of the cutting and the cutting inserted in the propagation  medium just deep enough to hold them upright.

Rooting hormones may be used on cuttings to enhance rooting.  These preparations are available in most garden centers and come in various concentrations for easy, medium, or hard to root plants.  Most contain a fungicide to prevent diseases.  The directions on the label should be followed when using rooting hormones.

Rooting can also be assisted by placing a clear plastic bag over the cuttings.  The plastic cover will keep humidity high and help prevent the cuttings from drying out while rooting takes place.  Be careful not to place the container in direct sunlight,  heat from the sunlight will be trapped by the plastic and kill the cuttings.  For larger amounts of cutting, a simple propagating unit may be constructed with a wooden frame and plastic covering.

Some plants can be propagated by leaf cuttings.  Leaf cuttings are of two types: those where the new plants grow from the leaf tissue, such as the bryophyllum, rex begonia and sansevieria or snake plant; and those where the roots and shoots emerge from the base of the petiole, such as African violet and gloxinia. Leaf cuttings should be inserted into the propagating media just deep enough to hold them upright.  It is important with all cuttings that they are keep in their original upright position, inadvertently sticking cuttings upside down will usually result in a failure to root.  Other plants, such as blackberry and wax myrtle can be propagated from root cuttings.

Division is often used to produce more plants from a single large specimen.  Plant division is simply separating a large plant into two or more plants.  Division works well with amaryllis, bananas, bromeliads, ginger and many other plants that produce multiple shoots from a central growing point.  Division can be done by hand or using a knife to split the plant apart.

Air layering is a method to induce plant stems to root while they are still attached to the mother plant.  This is an effective method for the propagation of rubber plants, crotons, oleanders, camellias, azaleas and magnolias.  Select a healthy vigorous main stem or branch for air layering. Remove all the leaves three to four inches above and below  a point 12 -15 inches below the tip of the branch.  The branch is then wounded to induce rooting.  This can be done by girdling the stem by removing a strip of bark ½ - 1 inch wide around the stem, or by making one or two long slanting cuts about 1/4 - ½ way through the stem.  The cuts are kept open by inserting a toothpick into the cut.  A large handful of moist sphagnum moss is placed completely around the wounded area and bound into place with twine and plastic wrap to form a moisture proof package.  This should then be covered with aluminum foil to prevent the entrance of light and over heating.  When a mass of roots has developed in the sphagnum moss (one month to a year depending on the species and conditions), the layered branch can be removed from the parent plant.  It is best to plant the layer in a container to allow further root development before planting the new plant in the landscape.

These are few of the easy and economic methods by which gardeners can increase their stock of plant material.  Successful propagation of new plants can open a new dimension in your gardening experience.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

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