Plant Propagation

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Written by:  Aimee Jarrels, Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer of Pender County

Plants propagating in plastic containers.

The Basics Of Garden Plant Propagation

Plants are truly unique living organisms, built like no other on this earth. They grow by themselves, give fruits and flowers, make their own food, and produce their own seeds. However, when it comes to gardening, plants can get slightly more complicated.

Plant propagation includes the different techniques and methods used to reproduce new seeds and through them seedlings and eventually mature plants. This depends not just on the knowledge a gardener carries of the plant, but also on the different ways to reproduce and experience. While seeds are generally the primary mode of producing new plants, other planting materials like tubers, corms, stolons, fruits, and buds can also be used to create new plants in our backyards. Here are the basics of plant propagation for beginners.

The Simple Approach

In elementary school, all of us are taught the most rudimentary form of propagation- take some seeds and dig a small hole in some soil. Place the seeds inside the depression and cover it up. After several days of sprinkling water over the area, green leaves can be seen sprouting from the ground where the seeds were sown.

Funnily enough, the basic method doesn’t change much from when you’re introduced to it in 1st grade to when you actually decide to grow some tomatoes or chilies in your backyard as a grown-up.

Some additional steps to the most familiar method of propagation include seed treatment before sowing to promote better and quicker growth of the plant and protection from certain diseases and pests. Sometimes, seeds must be scarred intentionally to break dormancy and other times, seeds may need to be chilled before sowing rather than kept warm and moist.

Pre-sowing seed preparations are decided by several factors like the type of crop being sown, the area and overall climate, and the fertility of the soil to name a few. In most cases, this can be found out by some simple university research and trials and errors.

Seeds and What Else?

Some plants, like fruit trees or ornamentals and flowers, propagate by manual asexual methods including grafting, cutting, budding, and layering. Most perennials are produced through these asexual methods rather than the traditional seed sowing practice.

At the core, both sexual (seed propagation) and asexual methods through various planting materials (cuts, tubers, corms, layering, grafting, etc) follow the same principles. The genetic makeup is taken from a parent plant and buried in soil, watered, and given the suitable conditions to develop into an individual mature plant of its own. The difference lies in the planting material carrying the genes of the parents. While seeds are the biological product of fruits that are planted, other parts of a plant can be used to transfer and sow for propagation. In fact, in some cases, propagation through non-seed planting materials often gives better results.

The different asexual propagation approaches depend on the plant, cultivar, availability of resources, and the knowledge and skill level of the propagator. The good news is, with a little practice, the propagation of plants is not that difficult to learn and can be easily carried out by a basic horticultural tool kit.