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Plant Propagation

Plant propagation is the process of reproducing or creating a new plant or seedling. Like all living organisms in Nature, plants must reproduce to survive. Nature provides a variety of ways to do this in the plant world. Different species propagate, or reproduce, in different ways. Unlike the animal world, many plants reproduce in multiple ways. Pretty amazing, huh!?!

Plant propagation is an important part of gardening, whether outdoors, or with your indoor houseplants. When you have a great plant, and you want to create a new one "just like it" for yourself or a friend, you need to know about plant propagation. Here are the most common means of plant on!

Seed Production

Seeds are by far the most common means of plant propagation. The vast majority of plants in the world produce seeds. The seeds are produced in the fruit of a plant, or in the flower. In nature, the seeds dry out in autumn, and then spend the winter in or on the ground. They awaken and sprout in the spring as a young seedling.

Seeds are cast about by nature in a variety of ways. Some seeds fall to the ground, and new offspring sprout up right near the location of the mother plant. Other seeds are cast far distances by floating through the air. Good examples of these are dandelions and poplar trees. Other plants use animals to help spread their seeds in a wide area. Berries for example, pass through the digestive system of birds, and are deposited long distances away. Other seeds are contained in burrs that attach themselves to an animals fur. The burrs can be carried for miles, before being cast off by their unsuspecting transportation. The number of seeds produced is usually proportional to the seed’s survival rate. That’s why some plants produce thousands of seeds, as only a few ultimately find a suitable place to germinate.

Seeds are generally easy to collect and store away for next year. In today’s world of mass production, only a few varieties of a species are readily available in seed stores, online, and in catalogs. Heirloom seed sources and keeping your own seeds are a great way of retaining less common varieties that may carry unique features or qualities. Those unique qualities will make your garden stand out to both the casual observer and the garden experts.

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Cuttings and Rooting Plants

This is the second most common form of plant propagation. But, it is sometimes the most difficult. Sure, there are lots of plants you can easily and successfully propagate by cuttings. Then, there are others that are more difficult. For example, roses require a more controlled environment and protection during the "cutting" stage. Remember, cuttings demand more attention.

A good candidate for cuttings, is a healthy plant, with young and soft wooded new growth. Cut the end of a young stem, generally three to four inches long. Look for a stem that does not have a flower or a flower bud. If there are buds, remove them and the bottom leaves. There should be four to six healthy leaves on the cutting.

Some cuttings need to be placed in water, to allow roots to form. Others, are placed in moist soil. Care must be taken to make sure the tender new roots do not dry out. After a healthy new root system is formed, you can then transplant your cutting into a container or into your garden.

Some plants, like African Violets, work well with leaf cuttings. The leaf is either placed in water to root, or placed directly into moist soil. Some leaf cuttings will grow pinned to the surface of the soil. The new plants will root from the veins where they contact the moist soil.

More on propagation from cuttings and rooting

Roots Spread and Separation

Here is another common means of plant propagation. A classic example of this is the grasses in your lawn, especially crabgrass! Another good example in the home garden is asparagus roots. When planting asparagus, you take some roots, spread them out, and cover them with soil. A few years later, you can dig up the roots and separate them again, giving some to friends, or just expanding your patch. Another good example of this is day lilies. When you dig up the root, you can separate it and plant two or more plants next year. Root separation is quick and easy for those plants that reproduce in this manner.


Grafting is not true plant propagation. It is not the recreation of another plant, but is the transplanting of part of an existing plant onto another existing host plant. In this sense it does not create a new plant. Grafting is however, a common practice. Home gardeners who have limited space often use this method for fruit crops. You can for example, graft a number of varieties of apple onto one host plant. Some people have grafted up to seven varieties onto a single tree. For those who try this, you can have a different apple every day of the week from a single tree!


Some plants will send out shoots or runners with tiny little offspring attached. The most well know example of this is spider plants, one of the most popular houseplants. Another good example are strawberries. In outdoor home gardens, the runners can be allowed to root where ever they grow, or trained in a particular directions. For indoor gardening, the tiny baby plant can be cut from the runner and planted in a pot filled with moist, rich potting soil.


A wide variety of flowers grow from bulbs and corms. The original bulb grows smaller bulbs as offshoots. Pull bulbs in the summer after the plant has died back. Separate the smaller bulbs from the mother bulb. Replant the bulbs in the fall with a bulb fertilizer to help your new plant to grow.

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