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Purcell: Create new plants from old

Sunday, November 4, 2012

By VICKY MORRISON - Bulletin Accent Writer

You can get more plants conveniently and inexpensively by propagating them.

Master Gardener Nelda Purcell gave a program Thursday for the Seniors in the Know program at the Spencer-Penn Centre on how to create new plants from pieces of old ones.

Plant propagation is the “process of artificially or naturally distributing or spreading plants,” Purcell said.

Sexual propagation — through seeds — is the most common type of propagation. Asexual refers to all other methods of plant propagation including grafting, cutting, layering and division. Asexual propagation takes pieces of an already existing plant and uses them to make new roots and grow a new plant.

Grafting, layering and division methods were covered briefly, Purcell focused the majority of the lecture on cuttings.

Cuttings can be taken from any part of the plant, she said. Once some part of the root, stem or leaf is placed in favorable conditions, it may grow into a plant.

Using cuttings maintains the characteristics of the original plant, Purcell said. It also is cheaper and easier than grafting. “Cuttings are much more efficient,” she added.

There are six types of cuttings: leaf, root, stem, softwood, semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings.

Using leaf cuttings is effective with house plants and most woody plants, said Purcell. African violets, begonias, jade and pepergomia are common plants that grow well through leaf cuttings. Leaf cuttings require one leaf with the bottom third trimmed off. This cut leaf is placed in a container of dirt.

Hydrangea, geranium and phlox are examples of plants that grow from root cuttings successfully. Root cuttings are much more exacting than leaf cuttings, Purcell said.

If a root cutting is made during the plant’s dormant season (usually December through March), it should be stored at 40 degrees for about three weeks before planting. If the cutting is made during the active growth season, it can be planted right away. Purcell warned that root cuttings can take longer than other methods.

Stem cuttings, which Purcell said she has “done the most of,” have four specific varieties. They are stem, softwood, semi-hardwood and hardwood.

Stem cuttings must form a callus at the base. There should be no flower buds or leaves on the lower part of the cutting.

Stem cuttings often need rooting hormone, according to Purcell. So it won’t get brushed off when the cutting is placed into the soil, a little space should be made.

It also helps to place the container into a plastic tent to aid moisture levels. Indirect light is a necessity, too. Purcell said she puts the plant containers and tents on her front porch.

Herbaceous cuttings are made from non-woody annuals and perennials. They root easily and quickly. Softwood cuttings are taken from first-year branches. They must be cut at a diagonal in the late spring or early summer. They should have multiple nodes and be at least 2 to 5 inches long. These can take much longer to root, from seven days to five weeks for the waiting period.

Semi-hardwood cuttings are taken from broadleaf or needled evergreens and deciduous trees or shrubs. Broadleaf evergreens are cut in mid July to early September. Deciduous plants may be cut throughout summer. Needled evergreens are cut from September throughout winter.

Hardwood cuttings, also cut at a diagonal, must be bundled together and placed in sand, sawdust or soil. They must be kept moist until a root develops. If there is resistance when the plant is gently tugged, roots have begun forming.

Cuttings should come from healthy plants, she said. The medium should provide oxygen and moisture while holding the cutting erect. A good medium is a mixture of peat with pearlite or builder’s sand.

High humidity and indirect light also are important, she said. Heating from below accelerates the grow period. Purcell said she has placed some plants on top of the refrigerator for bottom heat. An audience member suggested using a heating pad.

The plants have to be “forgotten” for a while, said Purcell. Once the propagations are set up, the plants can be allowed to prosper in their natural way as long as the gardner has enough patience to wait.


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