Lee Valley & Veritas

Gardening Newsletter
  Volume 12, Issue 5 - May 2017  
Propagation 101
Taking a cutting


Propagation is an excellent way to multiply your favorite plants – and an inexpensive one at that. However, many gardeners are intimidated by the propagation process or they've suffered a few failed attempts and decided it's not for them. Don't be intimidated! There are many ways to help your little clippings take root. If you handle them properly, plant them in the right growing medium and keep them comfortable in a propagation nursery, you should experience success!

Propagation Supplies:

Rooting powder or liquid
Plant label and a waterproof marker
Plant pot (if re-using a pot, sterilize it in a 10% bleach solution first)
Growing medium

The optimum growing medium for propagation is a blend of 1:1 perlite and sterile potting mix. Coarse sand, a less expensive option, can give you the same results, but it is heavier and more difficult to manage.

Take semi-ripe cuttings in late spring to early summer. Wait for the time when new growth has hardened enough so that its tip doesn't bend but it will snap if bent over. It's best to collect the cuttings in the early morning when the moisture content in the plant tissues is high.

Collected cuttings can be kept in a plastic bag with some water sprinkled inside until you are ready to "stick" them. If it will be a while before you are able to plant the cuttings, keep the bag in the refrigerator. But a warning: fresh is best. Cuttings will last only a day or two, at most.
Preparing the cutting   Trimming the leaves in half
The prepared cutting
An ideal cutting is approximately four inches long. Cut the stem just below a leaf node and remove all leaves except the top two or three. If the cutting has large leaves, the remaining leaves can be cut in half. This reduces transpiration while the cutting is rooting. Don't forget to record the date and the name of the plant on a plant label.
Dipping the cutting into the rooting hormone
Decant some hormone powder into a small dish and dip the cut end in the rooting hormone. Never dip directly into the hormone powder container or you risk contaminating your entire supply.
Using a pencil to make a hole in the growing medium   Adding a plant marker
  A rooted cutting
A pencil makes an excellent planting tool. Make a hole in the growing medium so that the hormone powder doesn't slough off the stem as you plant the cutting. Firm the cutting in and water gently. Label and place in the propagating chamber/nursery. And wait ...

Check for rooting after about three weeks. (Gently pull on the cutting. If it moves, it hasn't rooted yet, if it's stuck – it's rooted). Alternatively, you can wait until there are little roots poking through the pot's drain holes.

Some cuttings take months to grow roots, and others grow them in as little as two weeks. Hydrangeas (pictured) are easily rooted and are a good starter plant for a novice propagator.

Plant your rooted cutting in potting soil and keep it in a protected spot for a few days to acclimatize. Treat it as you would any potted plant until it's a suitable size to be planted in your garden.
Creating a Nursery

Your propagator can be as simple as putting your potted cuttings into a plastic tote (below) and putting it somewhere shady for a few weeks. Check it often to ensure the planting medium is moist. Mist, if necessary.
Plastic tote nursery
Alternatively … my mother, a gardener extraordinaire, created a little propagation nursery where heat and moisture can be controlled.
Constructed propagation nursery
The base of the nursery is made using two plastic shelving units. Surrounding the shelving units is a four-sided box – three sides and a roof – that is open at the front. A bamboo pole is secured to the front with an translucent shower curtain hanging from it.
Propagated plants in the nursery
The box is built from Coroplast® panels from the hardware store. The translucent shower curtain diffuses the sunlight to prevent the seedlings from overheating. A lattice panel over the top shades the cuttings.
Close up of the misting system
Among the cuttings is a misting system on an automatic timer. The misters go on for 10 seconds every 10 minutes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. This keeps the plant foliage and planting medium evenly moist to aid rooting.
Heating cable
A heating cable under the plant pots provides warmth to the cuttings and promotes faster root growth.
Propagation nursery
Propagation nursery with the curtain closed
This little nursery provides the perfect place for her cuttings to establish roots more quickly and with greater success.

Text and photos by Tara Mihalech

Tara is the writer and flurry of chaos behind Suburble (www.suburble.com), a blog about all things that make a home. Whether it's digging in the dirt, cooking, crafting or hauling a piece of furniture from the curb, she isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, nor have a laugh at her own expense. Her projects and tutorials have been featured in various print and online publications.
Lee Valley Tools on Facebook Lee Valley Tools on Twitter Lee Valley Tools on YouTube Lee Valley Tools on YouTube
Subscriber Services: Subscribe | Privacy Policy | Newsletter Archive