Isn’t it frustrating when you’ve planned, planted all of your seeds, waited patiently, and then to have some of those seedlings die? Because you didn’t water. Or root rot. Or bugs. Regardless, at least you have a few plants. Now the question is, do you make do with what survived, do you scramble and plant more seeds? One method you can try is propagating through a cutting. To do this, you let those seedlings grow into a plant, then you take a piece of it, and place it in soil to develop roots. If you like metaphors, its like cutting off an arm, putting it in the right environment and having the arm grow into a person.
To explore the advantages and disadvantages of using cuttings versus seed I took a cutting and planted seeds on May 7:
Propagation using cuttings iw especially successful with softer stems, when the cutting is woodier, it is harder to propagate in the method shown here. In some cases, rooting powder or hormones are used to stimulate root growth.
Remember that when you make your cutting you want to cover the cut tip up as soon as possible. Have you ever looked at a plant after you cut it? The stem will ‘bleed.’ This moisture protects the cut plant from having the elements interrupt the nutrients being carried up and down the cut stalk. It’s like getting water into your engine and having it get water locked. I like to consider the cut stalk in a stasis until it is able to form roots and begin life anew. To prolong this stasis you can put the cuttings in a glass of water for a day or two (remember to change the water), before placing it in your chosen growing medium. I have had tomato cuttings start roots after being in a glass of water for about a week, which gave them an extra boost when placed in the potting mix.
Remember when you take a cutting that the soon-to-be-plant is actually having a near death experience, it may loose some leaves, it may look like it’s about to die for a day or two. You can help by making sure the soil is moist but not water logged, only leave a few leaves at the top of your cutting, and cut off the flowers since they require more nutrient up take which is almost impossible when the plant still needs to establish a healthy root system.
Cuttings and seeds were all placed under 24hr light to increase germination and rooting:
The Marigold and seedlings are on the right in the two rows. On the left are some basil and other herbs that are being grown from seed.
Here is a look at the roots from three Marigolds on May 30:
What can be taken from this picture is that when propagating successfully, a cutting can produce twice the amount of roots as a seed in the same time. That said, I find propagating to be most useful when you are able to grow out a couple of plants from seed, then choosing your favorite plant, make some cuttings of it.
The calendula on the other hand doesn’t seem to have fully recovered. This may be because it has more of a hollow stem than the marigold. I will be trying the calendula again with a rooting stimulator to see what happens.
Cutting from May 7, roots as of May 30
Plant propagation in every-day life:
Propagating plants through cuttings is a great way to reuse plant material. If you hate pruning back your favorite plant, take the pruned part and make a miniature clone of your beloved plant, set it out in the yard or give it as a gift.
Do you buy green onions from the store? Keep the bottom root ball and plant it in some soil like you would a seed and you can have your own green onions. Watch the green onions you do this with since by the second or third time of letting them grow up they may get ‘old,’ and taste less strong and flavorful than they should and depending on their age and the conditions, they will flower. When this happens you can let the flower age on the head and then shake or rub the seeds out. The seeds may not grow true to type but unless you are trying to save a favorite variety of green onion, this shouldn’t be an issue. You can use the Green Onion flower in cooking, vinegar, or even in a bouquet of flowers.
If you are saving seed, I would imagine cuttings would not be used to create the seed crop because it would limit genetic diversity of the saved seed which may be fine for the home or hobbyist grower but would be a concern for those growing seed to preserve a particular variety.
What is your experience with propagating plants?