We tend to think of plants reproducing sexually and going through the process of flowering, fruiting and producing seeds. However that’s not the only way that they can reproduce themselves.
Anyone who’s had to contend with a bramble patch will know that as the shoots bend over to reach the ground, the little blighters send out a load of roots so that they can effectively form a new plant. Although the exact way in which the plant does this is unclear, this formation of “adventitious” roots can be used to our advantage because we can follow the same process by taking cuttings and encouraging them to strike roots.
Why would we want to do this?
Clone your plants – for free
Well for one thing it’s a cheap way of getting new plants. We of course live in an age in which breeders are always trying to patent things and prevent people from doing this – and if you buy a super new variety of fruit tree in a garden centre, chances are there’ll be an injunction on the label.
However the vast majority of everyday plants are like folk music, they’re out of copyright and nobody owns them – so you can propagate with a will. There are advanced techniques called grafting which I’m not going to go into here but the simplest way to get started is to take a bit of stem tissue and put it into some growing medium. Some plants will just propagate on their own.
Stick a willow twig into the ground for instance and the chances are that it will go off perfectly well on its own. We have a screen of golden willow down the side of our woodshed created from twigs liberated from the brother-in-law’s garden. Probably about 75% rooted without any further activity. This is the technique you use for creating all these new-age leafy bowers in the garden – but I’m going to leave that for another day too.
How to Propagate your Plants
There are two or three fundamental things to bear in mind.
1. Plants have polarity. In scientific language (;) that means they know which way is up. So plant them with the bit that was the base of the stem in the ground – otherwise it will get confused.
2. The “younger” the plant material is the more likely you are to get a result.
3. You might want to give it a little hormonal help using rooting gel or equivalent. These are rich in a plant hormone called auxin (indole acetic acid). Relatively high concentrations of this seem to promote differentiation of the plant into different types of tissue – so for practical purposes they promote root appearance.
4. If you are trying to strike hardwood cuttings it’s best to do it while the tree is dormant. Best results are just after leaf fall or just before the plant quickens at the end of February. It’s important to stop these drying out so they’re usually planted in pots or the earth with just the tip sticking out. In fact if you want a single stem, some authorities recommend burying them entirely. We have a fantastic mulberry tree in our garden here at the nursery and I’m intending to propagate some cuttings from it this spring. I’ll let you know how I get on.
However with most common plants that people would want to propagate, the answer is to get small, one to two inch cuttings and pop them into some growing media having dabbed them with a bit of auxin gel first. Its good to keep them moist and warm and you can carry this out either on the window sill or in the greenhouse.