Plant Propagation, The Basics

People write to me all the time and ask me; How do I propagate this plant, or how do I propagate that Plant? So in this article I hope to simply the process so folks can achieve a greater level of success with their plant propagation attempts.

Plant propagation comes down to two things. Timing. And technique. The timing is critical, but the techniques are actually fairly simple. Let's see if I can't find a simple way of explaining it all.

First of all, consider the plant that you want to propagate. Is it an evergreen, or is it deciduous? (A deciduous plant loses it's leaves during the winter.)

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When many people think of evergreens, they only think about plants like Pines, Spruce, Taxus, Junipers, and Arborvitae. They don't consider the broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Laurel, and many of the Euonymus varieties.

Any plant that retains it's leaves over the winter is an evergreen, and you have to make sure you put your plants in the right category as you consider which propagation technique to use for each plant.

The next important thing for you to consider is the time of the year are you trying to propagate your plant. The techniques vary from season to season, as does the "wood" of the plant you are trying to propagate.

For the most part, when you are trying to propagate a plant by taking a cutting from the plant, you should be making your cutting from the new growth of the plant, or at least the growth from the current season. In other words from the tips of the branches.

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As you go through this series of articles on plant propagation you are going to see the terms; "hardwood cuttings", "softwood cuttings", and semi-hardwood cuttings". You might be asking; "What in the world do those terms mean?" Let me explain using a deciduous plant as an example. Something like Forsythia.

During the winter months all plants go dormant. The first really hard freeze of the fall or early winter forces the plants into dormancy, and in most cases they take a little rest, or nap for the remainder of the winter. It's their resting period.

When the plants wake up in the spring the do so with a renewed vigor and they start growing like crazy. Some make beautiful flowers, but they all start putting on new growth. This new growth is very pliable. Actually soft and tender. As the growing season progresses this new growth becomes more rigid and woody. By the end of the growing season this new growth is very rigid and quite hard.

You can actually take and root cuttings of many plants at different stages of the cycle I just described. But because the "wood", as it is known to professional growers, changes throughout the cycle, so must your propagation techniques.

Thus the terms, softwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings, and hardwood cuttings. If you are taking cuttings in the late spring you are working with softwood cuttings. The cuttings you take are very soft and pliable. I say late spring because it's really difficult to work with the new growth that is extremely soft in the early spring.

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You really should wait four to six weeks for this new growth to harden off a little before you try and propagate with it. The ideal time to propagate with softwood cuttings is when you can take a cutting and not have it droop over immediately. Like I mentioned earlier, this is usually four to six weeks after the plants start growing in the spring.

Softwood cuttings are actually quite easy to root, but they are also delicate and fail easily.

As the growing season goes on, the new growth becomes more and more rigid, and by mid summer the wood you use for cuttings would be considered semi-hardwood cuttings. Actually this is the time to start doing many of your evergreen cuttings, as they do not do well as softwood cuttings.

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Then by late fall or early winter the wood becomes very hard and woody, and the cuttings you take then would be considered hardwood cuttings. Is this making any sense to you? I hope so, because it really is important to the success of your propagation efforts.

O.K., With all of that said, let's see if I can make this all come together now.

Look at the plant that you are trying to propagate. Is it an evergreen plant, or a deciduous plant? Are you trying to propagate it with softwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings, or hardwood cuttings?

Now all you have to do is read the appropriate article:

Softwood cuttings of deciduous plants. (click here.)

Softwood cuttings of evergreen plants. (click here.)

Hardwood cuttings of deciduous plants. (click here.)

Hardwood cuttings of evergreen plants. (click here.)

Semi-Hardwood cuttings are usually treated the same as softwood cuttings, they are just done a few weeks later. (click here.)

If you would like to grow plants from seeds, (click here.)

Most perennial plants can be propagated by division, (click here.)

If you would like to learn about grafting plants. (click here.)

If you would like to learn about budding plants. (click here.)

If you would like to know what plant propagation technique you can be using today, (click here.)

For a list of plants and the best propagation technique for each plant (click here.)

Questions? I do my best to answer all questions on my blog...