How To Use Plant Propagation To Grow Better Plants And Expand Your Garden

Plant Propagation
Plant Propagation

Plant propagation is a fascinating topic.  

Some aspects of it are a bit technical.  But don’t worry.  Our team explains each area thoroughly and has made them easy to understand.

We’ll cover the following topics in this article:

We’ll start with the basics then work our way through the more practical and technical stuff.

So, let’s jump in…

What Does Plant Propagation Mean?

Plant Propagation To Multiply Plants
Multiply plants through plant propagation

Plant propagation is the production of more plants from parent plants.  It’s all about the reproduction of more plants.

Without human intervention, plants naturally reproduce like other living organisms.   But plant propagation uses natural and artificial methods to reproduce and multiply plants.   

Two methods enable plant reproduction.  They are sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction.  We’ll explain both methods below.

Sexual Plant Propagation

Sexual Plant Propagation
Sexual plant reproduction requires the fertilization of eggs with pollen.

Sexual plant reproduction takes place when the male and female sex cells combine.   

In this article, we won’t get into all the scientific details of how plants reproduce sexually.  It’s the same principle as other organisms.  With plants, it involves the coming together of an egg (female organ) and pollen (male organ) to produce seeds.  This happens through self-pollination or cross-pollination.

If a plant has both male and female reproductive organs and can self-fertilize, it’s called Self-pollination.

Cross-pollination is a fertilization process that involves two separate plants.  One plant produces the male organs and another plant produces the female reproductive organs.  Fertilization occurs when the male organs come into contact with the female organs.

When plants fertilize (whether by self-pollination or cross-pollination), they produce seeds.

Sexual plant propagation involves the use of plants’ seeds to generate more plants. Sometimes it is referred to as seed propagation.

This is one of the easiest and most familiar methods of propagating plants.

Sexual Plant Propagation Technique

Sexual Plant Propagation Method
Sowing seeds is the primary method of sexual plant propagation

The main method of sexual plant propagation is sowing the plants’ seeds in soil or soilless mix.  This process is commonly referred to as seeding.  

It is very straightforward.

First, you must get mature seeds that are healthy and resilient.  

Cover the seeds in moist soil or soilless mix and after a few days or weeks, they will germinate and produce seedlings.

Depending on the type of plant, seeding can take place indoors or outdoors.  If it is done indoors, seedlings should be transplanted to the outdoor environment, at the right time.

If you want to learn more about growing seedlings indoors, check out our article called “How To Grow Seedlings Indoors”.

A wide range of plants can be propagated sexually.  These include flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, and medicinal herbs.

Asexual Plant Propagation

Asexual Plant Propagation
Produce more resilient plants using asexual propagation methods

With asexual plant propagation, offspring plants are not reproduced through the union of eggs and pollen.  Instead, the vegetative parts of plants are used to reproduce new plants.

Vegetative parts of plants include the stem, leaves, and roots.

There are many techniques used in the asexual propagation of plants.  These include cutting, division, layering, grafting, budding, and tissue culture.  Don’t worry we’ll cover these in some detail below.

One of the main advantages of asexual propagation is that it allows faster plant propagation compared to sexual propagation.  Also, plants produced through asexual propagation have the same genetic profile as the parent plants. 

Asexual Plant Propagation Techniques

Asexual propagation is sometimes referred to as vegetative propagation.  That’s because the vegetative parts of plants (stem, leaves, and roots) are used in this reproduction method.

There are 6 basic asexual plant propagation techniques.   As we mentioned before, these are cutting, division, layering, grafting, budding, and tissue culture.   We’ll describe each of these next.

1. Cutting

Plant Propagation by Cutting
Plant Propagation by Cutting

Cutting is one of the most popular asexual plant propagation techniques.

With this technique, a plant’s stem, leaf, or root is cut or detached from the parent plant and placed in moist soil or water.  Over time, roots are generated and this creates a new plant, independent of the parent plant.

A wide variety of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and other food crops can be propagated by the cutting technique.  

The following are a few examples of some plants that can be propagated from cuttings:

FLOWERS

  • Hydrangea
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Roses
  • African violets
  • Succulents

HERBS

  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Stevia

VEGETABLES

  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Cucumbers
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Carrots

OTHER FOOD CROPS

  • Sugarcane
  • Cassava
  • Pineapples
  • Bananas
  • Pumpkins

These are just a sample of plants that can be propagated by cuttings.  Many more plants can be added to the list.

2. Division

Plant Propagation by Division
Plants that grow in clusters can be propagated by Division

Some plants tend to grow in clusters.  That’s because they produce extra plants or extra vegetative structures.

The extra plants are referred to as suckers.  These are new plants that grow out from a plant’s root system.

Some plants produce extra vegetative structures called:

  • rhizomes (stems that grow underground),
  • stolons (stems that grow along the surface of the ground), or
  • bulbs (underground globe-like structures).

To propagate plants by division, you have to:

  • remove the extra plants from the cluster and plant them separately, or
  • remove the extra vegetative parts of plants, and grow them separately.  

This plant propagation technique is very easy to do.  But you need to exercise care when removing extra plants from clusters, or the extra vegetative parts.  Try not to damage the plants or the rooting system.

Any plant that grows in clusters or produces extra vegetative structures can be propagated by division.  A few examples include:

  • Chives
  • Asparagus
  • Perennial flowers
  • Daisies 
  • Lawn grass

3. Layering

Layering is a plant propagation technique that generates new plants from the stem of the parent plant.  But the stem remains attached to the parent plant.

There are different methods of layering.  These include air layering, simple layering, tip layering, mound layering, trench layering, and compound (serpentine) layering.  We’ll describe each of these below.

Air Layering

Air Layering
Air Layering technique

Air layering is suitable for propagating woody shrubs, such as croton, camellia, rubber plant, and Chinese evergreen.  

You will need a sharp knife, some rooting gel or powder, peat moss, a plastic bag, a paintbrush, and some string or electrical tape.

The process of air layering is as follows:

  1. Moisten the peat moss,  place it in a plastic bag and tie the ends of the bag;
  2. Choose a nice woody stem and make 2 horizontal cuts around the bark of the stem.  The cuts should be about 2 inches apart;
  3. Shave away the bark from the area between the 2 cuts, to expose the surface below the bark;
  4. Apply rooting gel or powder on the exposed area of the stem (i.e. the area where the bark was removed);
  5. Cut the plastic bag that contains the moist peat moss, then wrap it around the exposed area of the stem.  Make sure that the peat moss makes proper contact with the exposed area of the stem;
  6. Tie the bag to the branch with string or electrical tape
  7. After some time roots will begin to develop in the bag containing the peat moss.  Once the roots are properly developed, remove the plastic bag;
  8. Cut off the stem below the roots.  You now have a new plant with its own stem and root system.

Simple Layering

Simple Layering
Simple Layering technique

Simple layering involves bending a low stem (a branch that’s close to the ground) until it reaches the ground.  But the stem should remain attached to the plant.

Use a stake to peg or pin the branch to the ground, about 6 inches from the tip of the stem.

Take some soil and cover the part of the stem that’s pinned to the ground, but leave the tip uncovered.

Bend the tip to point upwards (vertically) and attach it to a stake to prop it up.

After some time, the covered part of the stem will begin to generate roots, creating a new plant.  The rooted stem can then be detached from the parent plant.

The simple layering method is used mainly with shrubs that have low-growing and flexible stems. 

Plants such as wax myrtle, boxwood, jasmine, and climbing roses can be propagated by simple layering.

Tip Layering

Tip Layering
Tip Layering

Tip layering and simple layering use very similar techniques.

In both cases, you have to bend a low, flexible stem to touch the ground.  But the stem remains attached to the parent plant.

Here’s the difference between simple layering and tip layering.  With tip layering, the tip of the stem is covered with soil.  But with simple layering, the tip is left uncovered. 

To propagate plants with tip layering:

  1. Dig a hole in the ground below the stem of the plant you wish to propagate.  The hole should be just a few inches deep (between 2-4 inches).
  2. Bend the tip of the stem and secure it in the hole with a peg
  3. Cover it with some soil

After a while, the tip will begin to generate roots and grow upwards.  It can then be separated from the stem and planted separately. 

Tip layering is suitable for plants with drooping stems.  Trailing blackberries, dewberries, and raspberries can be propagated by tip layering.

Mound Layering

Mound Layering
Mound Layering

Mound layering is also referred to as stool layering.  The concept of mound layering is quite simple.

If a plant has multiple stems growing from the base, mound layering can be used to propagate more plants.

Start by heaping up some soil (mound) around the base of the stems.  After some time, the individual stems will begin to generate roots in the mounded soil.  

Each stem becomes a new plant that can then be detached and planted separately. 

Some plants may not have multiple stems growing from their base, but they can still be propagated by mound layering.

You will have to do the following:

  1. Cut off the top of the plant, leaving a few inches of the stem above the ground;
  2. After some time, new shoots will begin to grow out of the portion of the stem that remains above the ground;
  3. As the shoots begin to grow, cover their bases with a mound of soil;
  4. The base of the shoots will begin to generate roots.  They can then be detached and planted separately.

Mound layering can be used for propagating currants, gooseberries, quince, and apple rootstock.

Trench Layering

Trench Layering
Trench Layering

Trench layering works best for propagating fruit trees with flexible stems.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Plant the parent plant at an angle of approximately 45 degrees.  This makes it easier to pull the branches horizontally down to the ground;
  2. Just below one of the low branches, dig a trench.  It should be approximately 2 inches deep. Its length and width should be enough to fit the branch, horizontally;
  3. Place the branch horizontally into the trench and secure it in place with pegs;
  4. New shoots will begin to grow from the buds along the branch;
  5. Cover the trench and the branch with soil or rooting medium;
  6. Over time, roots will begin to develop under the shoots.
  7. Each shoot with roots can then be detached and planted separately.

Compound (Serpentine) Layering

Compound or Serpentine Layering
Compound or Serpentine Layering

Compound layering (or serpentine layering) is very similar to simple layering (described above).

With simple layering, only one part of the plant’s branch is pegged to the ground.  But with compound layering, multiple parts of the branch are pegged to the ground.

The buds on the branch should not be pegged to the ground.  Only portions of the branch between the buds should be pegged to the ground.  It should look like a wave.  The budded areas bulge upward and the areas between the buds are pinned to the ground.

Cover the pegged portions of the branch with soil but leave the buds uncovered.  Over time, the covered areas will begin to generate roots.

Each bud and the roots below it form a new plant.  They can be separated and planted individually.

This plant propagation method works best for plants with long flexible branches. 

4. Grafting

Grafting
Grafting allows two separate plants to be joined together

Grafting is a method of asexual plant propagation that involves joining the top part of one plant to the bottom part of a different plant. When grafted together, both plants appear as a single plant.

The top portion of a plant used for grafting is known as the scion.  The bottom portion of the other plant that the scion is joined to is called the rootstock.

You will need the following material for grafting:

  • A sharp grafting knife
  • Cleft grafting tool
  • Wax-coated string or twine
  • Grafting tape
  • Grafting wax

There are different grafting techniques but the most popular one is cleft grafting.  

With cleft grafting, the rootstock is usually larger than the scion.  This allows for more than one scion to be grafted into a single rootstock.

Cleft grafting involves the following steps:

  1. Split the rootstock to create a cleft (v-shaped opening);
  2. Take the scion and cut the bottom of it into a sharp wedge;
  3. Place the wedged part of the scion into the cleft of the rootstock;
  4. Bind the rootstock and scion together with the grafting wax, tape, and twine, until the graft heals

The cleft grafting technique uses the superior root system of one plant to boost the growth and development of other plants. This is the main advantage of cleft grafting.

Fruit trees and some types of flowers are mainly used in grafting.

5. Budding

Budding attaches a bud from one plant to the understock or rootstock of another plant

Budding is sometimes referred to as bud grafting.  The principle for grafting and budding is the same.

They both require joining a part of one plant (known as the scion) to the stem of another host plant (understock or rootstock).

(The lower portion of the host plant is normally referred to as the rootstock, and the higher portion is the understock.)

With budding, a single bud is taken from one plant and joined to the understock or rootstock of another.  The most popular method is known as T-budding.

The materials needed are a sharp grafting knife and some grafting tape.

The procedure for budding is as follows:

  1. With a sharp knife, make a vertical cut, about 1 ½ inches long, along the rootstock or understock.  Only cut the bark!
  2. At the top or bottom end of the vertical cut, make a small horizontal cut, to allow the bark to be peeled back. Note: When the horizontal cut is made at the top of the vertical cut, it is called T-budding.  When it is made at the bottom, it is called inverse T-budding.
  3. Peel back the bark to expose the inner layer just below the bark.
  4. Insert a bud from the scion into the exposed area of the understock/ rootstock.  Make sure it fits snugly and there is good contact between the bud and rootstock/ understock
  5. Bind with grafting tape to keep the bud in place, but don’t cover the bud itself.  The tape can be removed once the exposed areas are healed and the bud begins to grow.

Budding is mainly used on fruit trees and ornamental plants.

6. Tissue Culture

Tissue culture or micro-propagation
Tissue culture or micro-propagation helps to generate many plants, usually in a lab.

Of all the plant propagation methods, tissue culture is perhaps the most technical.  It is best left to professional horticulturists.  In this article, we’ll provide a brief, non-technical overview of tissue culture.

Tissue culture is also known as micro-propagation.  It is used to produce clones of a plant, within a controlled environment (a lab).

With tissue culture, a single plant can reproduce hundreds or even thousands of additional plants.

To perform tissue culture, plant materials (tissues, organs, cells) are harvested.  They are then placed into a growth medium or composition.  The growth medium usually contains rooting hormones and other chemicals to help stimulate root production.

Once the shoots and roots become fully developed, the plants go through a hardening-off process to prepare them for the external environment.  (Our article on growing seedlings describes the hardening-off process).

To learn about the technical specifications of plant propagation by tissue culture, please visit The American Phytopathological Society (APS) website [ 1 ].

What’s Next?

Plant propagation can be lots of fun and very rewarding.  We hope that we have whetted your appetite to experiment with some plant propagation techniques.

For more interesting articles, please check out our other Gardening Guides.

AUTHOR

Our team of experienced gardeners has put together this article to help you with your gardening journey. Our goal is to ensure that your gardening experience is enjoyable and rewarding. We are constantly adding and updating articles, so take some time to explore our site.

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