Garden Propagation Tips

Starting your own plants from seeds, cuttings, divisions, and layering saves money and expands options. But be prepared to give propagation a certain amount of attention. Young plants, like young children or young puppies, need tender loving care to get them off to a good start.

Propagating your own plants is actually quite simple to do if you follow these basic tips.
Propagating your own plants
is actually quite simple to do
if you follow some basic tips.

Many plants grow well from seeds, especially annual flowers, herbs, and vegetables. You can find dozens of new, rare, or old-fashioned varieties in seed catalogues that aren't available in the local nurseries. Seed sowing allows you to grow a few, dozens, or even hundreds of seedlings from a seed packet costing a dollar or two. That's economy!

Certain special plants don't grow from seeds. They need to be cloned (vegetatively propagated). This is done by rooting sections of stems or sprouting chunks of roots. Clump-forming plants can be divided into several pieces, and some stems can be rooted while still attached to the mother plant. The tips included in this article will help make the transition from old plant to new as smooth as possible. We'll start by going over basic tips to assist in all types of propagation.

  • Keep a notebook, calendar, or advance planner to remind you when to plant seeds or take cuttings. For example, seeds such as tomatoes and peppers need to be planted six to eight weeks before the last spring frost, but squash and cucumbers need to be planted only three weeks before the last spring frost. It can be hard to remember everything (and squeeze it into your schedule) unless it's written down.

  • Keep good propagation records to track how successful each operation has been and how the young plants are proceeding through the seasons. These records will guide you about when to plant, divide, start seeds, or collect seeds for future years. Jot down your observations weekly in a notebook. Or keep an index card on each plant you propagate so it's easy to find the next time. Some gardeners may want to computerize their records. Here are some things to note:
    • How long seedlings grew indoors before being transplanted outdoors, and whether that timing allowed enough, too little, or too much time for a great performance outdoors.
    • When you planted seedlings outdoors and how well they responded to the weather conditions at that time.
    • When the first shoots of perennial flowers and herbs emerged in spring and were ready to divide.
    • When you took stem cuttings from roses, lilacs, geraniums, impatiens, chrysanthemums, dahlias, and other plants. Rooting success often depends on the season in which the cuttings were taken.
    • When seed pods matured and were ready to harvest for next year's crop.

  • "Harden off" seedlings and cuttings before they go out into the garden. When growing in the protection of a windowsill, light garden, or greenhouse, young plants are tender and can be easily damaged by strong winds or sun. Toughen them up (a process called hardening off) to make the transition from indoors to outdoors successful.
    • Days 1 and 2: Put well-watered young plants outdoors in a shady location for several hours. Bring them back indoors when the time is up.
    • Days 3 and 4: Increase the length of time seedlings stay outdoors in the shade.
    • Days 5 to 7: When well adjusted to shade, gradually move sun-loving plants into brighter light, starting with an hour of sun the first day.
    • Days 8 and beyond: When seedlings can stay out all day without burning or wilting, they are ready for transplanting.

Check out the next section for suggestions on sowing seeds.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.