It’s January, and gardeners are browsing seed catalogs, patching up garden gloves, winter watering and sadly, nothing in the dirt. Cheer up! Now might be the right time to take a good look at indoor plants. There will inevitably be a few that would benefit greatly from a bit of nurturing and propagation.
Propagating house plants in the home is enjoyable and inexpensive. Minimal tools are needed, and the results can be delightful. Most house plants can be propagated by seeds, cuttings (tip, stem, whole-leaf, leaf section and leaf bud), division and other methods. The best method to use depends on the plant species.
Before getting started, make sure all tools and containers are clean. They should be thoroughly washed with a 10-percent bleach solution and dried completely before being used. Only use cuttings from healthy plant material. When cutting from more than one species, remember to clean tools before moving on to the next plant.
Choosing a potting and propagation medium can include peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, blood meal, alfalfa meal and compost. Potting mixes should support developing seedlings. Most potting mixes are soilless to avoid soil-borne diseases and provide good drainage. Homemade mixes work well, but if this is not an option, choose a commercial mix that includes the previously mentioned materials.
Cuttings. Cuttings are severed parent plant parts that produce roots and/or stems to form a new and independent plant. Stems, leaves or roots may be used. Equipment needed for rooting cuttings includes a container, rooting medium, sharp knife, a plastic bag, plant material and in some cases a rooting hormone. A rooting hormone is useful for encouraging rooting on cuttings that are difficult to root. Keep in mind that some plants easily root in a cup of plain old tap water.
Care of Cuttings. Cuttings should never be allowed to dry out during the cutting, rooting or establishment phase (with the exception of some succulents and cacti). An option for individual containers includes inserting stakes in the container (away from the cutting) and slipping a plastic bag over the stakes and securely fasten the plastic to the side of the container. This will provide continued humidity in and around the cutting. Avoid placing in direct sunlight, as the heat will rise to temperatures that will kill the cutting.
Making the cut. Make sure cuts are clean and at an angle through the stem, making sure there is at least one node (joint) under the surface of the medium. Push the cuttings down into the medium about 1 inch. The medium should be moist but not soggy. Place in a room at 60° - 70° F.
Types of cuttings. Tip cuttings, which are taken from the tips of plants, are generally 3-5 inches long and are removed from the parent plant just below a leaf (good for the lipstick plant, velvet plant and Christmas cactus). Stem cuttings, which are sections of stems with leaves attached, should have 3-4 leaves for best rooting (good for Swedish ivy, pilea and fittonia). Whole-leaf cuttings are cut leaves with or without their stalks (petioles). Roots and leaves will eventually form at the base of the leaf (good for peperomia and African violets). Leaf Section cuttings are done by cutting leaves into pieces, with the edge of the cuttings closest to the base of the parent plant inserted into the rooting medium (Rex begonia and snake plant).
Division is the quickest way to propagate house plants. To divide a plant, remove it from the container and separate the plant into smaller pieces with a knife or fingers. Each division should contain some roots. Plants can be divided at any time but the dormant rest time is best.
Lastly, the most successful tip for propagation is to sing the “Our Father” all the while. Talk about healthy roots!
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)