Propagating Houseplants

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Propagating houseplants can be a fun and easy way to have more plants or share plants with family and fellow gardening friends. Propagating houseplants does not require any special material or equipment and can be done without taking up a lot of space in the house.

Plant propagation is the reproduction of a new plant from an already existing plant. Asexual propagation is often the method used to propagate houseplants. Asexual propagation is the production of new plants from pieces of a parent plant. These new plants will have the same characteristics as the parent plant, where as if you planted a seed from a plant the new plant may be different from the parent plant.

There are many ways that plants can be propagated. One of the quickest and easiest ways to propagate many houseplants is by separating or dividing the parent plant. Houseplants like ferns, prayer plant, snake plant, and African violets can be easily divided. When dividing a plant, simply remove the plant from its container and gently pry apart the roots of the plant so that you have two or more clumps of the plant. Take each clump and re-pot in a new container. You may have to stake some plants until the plant’s roots take hold in the soil.

There are several houseplants, like the spider plant, that produce new plantlets. Simply cut these “baby plants” from the main plant and pot in a container to get a new plant.

Cuttings are another way to propagate houseplants. There are many types of cuttings that can be used. Stem cuttings are commonly used for many houseplants. Cuttings are made from the tender growth of terminal shoots and are usually three to six inches long. The lower one-third of foliage should be removed before inserting the stem into the rooting medium (soil) one to one-half inches deep. Most houseplants root easily enough that you can even skip the soil and put stem cuttings in a cup of water until roots form. Once roots form, you can plant into a soil-filled container.

Leaf cuttings are ones that include only a leaf blade or the leaf blade and petiole (leaf stem). Houseplants like African violets, succulents, peperomia, gloxinia and snake plants can be propagated with leaf cuttings. Since leaf cuttings do not include an axillary bud (which gives rise to a new plant), only houseplants that have the ability of forming adventitious buds, which will give rise to new plants, can be propagated by leaf cuttings.

There are many other types of cuttings that can be used for propagating houseplants but regardless of the type of cutting you use, the way you take the cutting and care for it is the same. Start with taking cuttings from vigorous, healthy shoots. Weak or disease cuttings will seldom root well or will result in a poor quality plant. When taking cuttings use a sharp knife since a blunt knife will crush the plant tissue and restrict water uptake.

Rooting hormones can be used to speed up rooting for some plants, but for houseplants it is usually not necessary. There are various rooting hormone formulations available in many garden supply stores and mail-order seed and nursery companies.

There are many plants that will develop roots by taking a stem cutting and placing the cutting in a glass of water. If you root a stem cutting in water, be sure to remove it as soon as some roots develop and plant in rooting medium or soil to prevent the roots from rotting.

Rooting medium used should be firm enough to hold up cuttings and allow good drainage and aeration. Sand, vermiculite, perlite, and combinations of these materials with peat moss often work well. The rooting medium should be sterile and remain moist while waiting for cuttings to root.

Since the cuttings have no root system, they need high humidity maintained around them at all times. You can have high humidity around the cuttings by putting a plastic bag or glass jar over the container that the cuttings are in. Avoid putting in direct sunlight to prevent bag or jar from getting too hot if the cutting is in direct sunlight. Occasionally take the jar off or poke a few small holes in the bag to allow excess heat to escape.

Check the cuttings occasionally to see when roots develop. The length of time needed for cuttings to form roots differs greatly among plants. Gently tug on the cutting and if there feels that there is some resistance then roots have formed. Do not tug on the cutting too much to the point of disturbing the cutting or accidentally remove it from the soil and have to replant it. When a cutting has roots at least an inch long, transplant it into a separate container in good potting soil. Allow some time for the new plants to become established before applying fertilizer.

Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

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