There are probably few things quite so rewarding as being able to produce your own new plants – and at a fraction of the cost of buying new specimens from the garden centre. Propagating is a fascinating hobby in itself and producing new plants either from seeds or by any of the other methods has enormous appeal using techniques which are both straightforward and relatively simple to master.
Sowing seeds is without doubt the most popular way for the amateur gardener to bring on new plants. Most sowing is done between February and May, depending on the varieties involved, with adequate moisture, warmth and air being essential for success. While some seeds, of course, need higher temperatures to germinate than others, the good news is that all the essential information is written on the packet – and most seeds are perfectly happy to be sown in a good quality, standard commercial seed-growing compost. When the seedlings have become large enough to handle, usually once they are on the point of developing their first true leaves, they need to be pricked out and transplanted into more spacious growing conditions, where they can continue their development.
Propagation by cuttings makes use of the natural ability of many plants to regenerate missing parts from pieces – growing an entirely new plant from a section of parent leaf or stem. Cuttings fall into several types – hard-wood, half-ripe, softwood, leaf or root cuttings, leaf bud cuttings and stem cuttings – all of which open up the chance for the gardener to propagate an enormous range of garden and greenhouse plants. Begonias, camellias, carnations, chrysanthemums, dieffenbachias, fuchsias, hydrangeas, pelargoniums and poinsettias are some of the familiar favourites which can be raised in this way.
Hard-wood cuttings use long lengths of the fully mature young stems of deciduous plants – taken between the time when the leaves have fallen and growth begins again in the spring. Half-ripe cuttings are taken somewhere between the middle of summer and autumn, when new growth is slowing up and the shoots are beginning to firm up. By contrast, softwood cuttings are taken from the tips of new shoots, usually in the spring or early summer, when they are nearly fully developed, but still soft. Root cuttings are best taken when the plant is dormant, while leaf cuttings are typically made during the growing season and some plants, such as Camellia japonica, for instance, can be raised from leaf-bud cuttings – a short length of stem, with a single leaf attached.
Fortunately, with such a range of possible approaches, most popular gardening books will tell you how any particular kind of plant should be propagated and which type of cutting taken.
Although strictly speaking, division refers to the separation of one plant into two or more, it also includes splitting plants, corms and bulbs which produce several crowns – otherwise called “offsetting” – and some of the woody shrubs which naturally form underground clumps. Many mature greenhouse plants – especially the likes of arums and ferns – can benefit from simple division, particularly if their vitality and vigour is on the wane. This is a job best suited to the spring, with the separated pieces then being re-potted in good quality compost and allowing them to become re-established and grow on throughout the natural growing season. Splitting off the “false” bulbs of plants such as orchids and separating naturally occurring rooted suckers or runners is also sometimes described as division.
However they have been propagated, once rooted, most young plants will need nursery care to ensure that they develop into healthy strong plants, though given the wide variety of plants which can be produced, it is impossible to give a “one-size-fits-all” approach to aftercare. Some factors – the need for a certain amount of water, light and warmth, for instance – apply across the board, though obviously what the “right” amount is depends on the plants themselves. For many common varieties, this information is readily available from any number of sources, but for others, particularly the more unusual, it may be harder to come by, which of course makes the propagation less certain – but the success all the more of a personal triumph!