How to Propagate Plants

Here's a beginner's guide to plant propagation

Learning to propagate plants—to make new plants from existing ones in your home and garden—is one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of gardening. Many of the methods are easy, and you don’t need fancy or expensive tools. Propagation is cheaper than buying large numbers of plants, so with a little time and effort you can fill your garden quickly at minimal cost. Propagating new plants will keep your house and garden full of vigorous specimens, and you’ll probably have plenty to give away, too!

You can reproduce most plants by several methods. There are two major types of propagation: sexual and asexual. Sexual propagation involves seeds, which are produced by the fusion of male and female reproductive cells. Asexual propagation methods use the vegetative parts of a plant: roots, stems, buds, and leaves. Division, cuttings, layering, budding, and grafting are all asexual methods. Spores (produced by ferns and mosses) may look like seeds, but they are technically asexual structures, because they have a specialized way of forming new plants.

Select a technique by considering the plant you are working with, the materials you have, the season, and the amount of time you are willing to wait for a new plant.

Growing from seed is an inexpensive way to produce large numbers of plants. Annuals, biennials, and vegetables are almost always reproduced by seed. You can also grow perennials, shrubs, and trees from seed, although the seedlings they produce may not resemble the parent plants. Raising seeds requires few materials: a container, a growing medium, and seeds. The time to sow seedsdepends on the type of plant. For most garden plants, you can sow seeds indoors in late winter or outdoors in spring. Tree, shrub, and many perennial seeds may need a cold period or other treatment before they will germinate. Depending on the type of plant, it could take anywhere from weeks to years to get a garden-sized specimen. For complete information on growing plants from seeds, see the Seed Starting and Seed Saving entry.

Spores are the reproductive structures of ferns and mosses. To produce new plants, sow these dustlike “seeds” on a sterile medium and cover them to maintain humidity and prevent contamination. Clear plastic shoe boxes or cups are ideal containers for propagation. You can collect spores from your own ferns or buy them from specialty catalogs. You can sow spores whenever they are available. The new plants will be ready for the garden after a period of months or years.

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