By Bodie V. Pennisi
Georgia Extension Service
Saying someone has a green thumb usually means they can make anything grow. But it can also mean they are successful in multiplying their plants.
If you're like me, every time you walk into a garden center, you have a wave of jealousy mingled with pleasure. Plant collecting is my soft spot. But how do I get more plants, different species, even cultivars?
Plant propagation is the answer. It lets me expand my plant collection without threatening my pocketbook.
You can start your own collection of plants. All you need are a few tools and plants and lots of enthusiasm.
Basic propagation tools
The basic tools necessary for propagation are inexpensive and can be found in most garden stores. Start with various sizes of clay or plastic pots with drainage holes.
You'll also need potting mix with good aeration and water- holding capacity. Commercial-grade mixes from garden supply stores are OK. Or you can mix your own with equal parts perlite, vermiculite and milled sphagnum moss, or equal parts sand and peat moss.
Use small river stones to keep the potting mix from coming out of the pot's bottom.
You'll need rooting hormones, too, which are especially important if you're propagating woody plants. And sharp clippers are necessary for taking cuttings or making cuts.
Finally, you'll need plastic bags or plastic wrap, alcohol for disinfecting the clippers, a misting nozzle and labels.
Most garden flowers and vegetables are grown from seed. They need water, warmth and air to germinate. Whether you buy your seeds or collect from your plants in the garden, follow several simple steps.
- Plant them outside in the ground or inside in a container of potting mix.
- Plant larger seeds two to three times as deep as their greatest dimension. Very fine seeds should be barely covered.
- Water carefully, using a misting nozzle, and check every day to make sure the soil doesn't dry out.
- If you're starting seeds inside, keep them in a warm place (65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit) until they germinate. Then move to a cooler place with plenty of light.
If you want to just germinate seeds, spread them on a damp paper towel and leave them in a warm place. If you use mung beans or alfalfa seeds, you can eat the sprouts.
One of the simplest vegetative propagation techniques is to remove plantlets from the mother plant. Plantlets are miniature, but complete plants, which grow by the side, or on the top, of the mother plant. Spider plant, strawberry begonia and some species of kalanchoe can be propagated that way.
Division is one of the surest and easiest methods of plant propagation. It's done almost exclusively to herbaceous plants. It's important to divide plants when they're dormant in spring or fall.
A good rule to follow is to divide early-blooming species in the fall and late-blooming species in spring. Greenhouse and houseplants can be divided in the spring, when their new growth is about to begin.
Propagation from cuttings may be made from tip cuttings, which consist of the apical bud and the first one or two nodes on the stem, or from a stem section containing a single node or several nodes. Simply stick the cutting into moist potting media, cover the pot with plastic and make sure the medium stays moist.
We just grazed the surface of plant propagation. But it's enough to get you started. So sharpen up your clippers and roll up your sleeves, 'cause it's propagation time.
(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)