By Delmos Hamilton-Permian Basin Master Gardener
As spring approaches, we all begin planning for obtaining plants—whether from the seed catalogs that come in the mail, remembering that special plant from a neighbor’s garden, or something that you saw in the local nurseryman’s display. Remember that you are not limited to planting seeds. There are multiple ways to reproduce plants. Although the planting of seeds is probably the easiest, division, root cuttings, stem cuttings, and layering are all effective methods. Best results for all these methods can be obtained by creating a microcosm (little world) where the newly developing plants have a totally protected environment with a constant humidity level free of drafts and with a relatively constant temperature. Three easy methods to achieve that environment are:
1) invert the top two-thirds of a capped 2 liter soda bottle over a 4 or 6 inch pot containing your cuttings or seeds in potting soil,
2)place clinging-type plastic wrap tightly over the top of any size pot or plastic container in
which you have planted your seeds or cuttings, or
3) set the pot in an extra large zippered-lock plastic bag expanded with your own breath, then closed tightly.
(Remember that plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, so that our exhaled breath is an ideal atmosphere for them.)
You can use commercial potting soil or make your own. Some gardeners prefer to place their cuttings in 100% coarse vermiculite because it holds moisture so well. An ideal mix that you can prepare at home consists of equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost—all of which are readily available at nurseries. The potting mixture should be moist, not wet. A handy test for the proper moisture content is to squeeze a handful of the mix in your hand. It should be neither crumbly nor “squishy”, but rather form a clump that retains it shape when you release the pressure.
After planting your seeds or cuttings, two or three spritzes of water from a spray bottle will help guarantee the necessary moisture for rooting and growth. Set your mini- greenhouse in a warm area with adequate indirect light. You can see moisture accumulate on the inner surface of your “greenhouse” and in the evenings when temperatures cool somewhat, you can actually see it “rain” on your plants—condensation drips from the roof of your mini-greenhouse. If there is too much moisture, you can leave the cap off the top of the bottle for a few hours, then replace it. Some of the excess moisture will evaporate and leave you with a proper humidity level.
In harvesting the cuttings for your propagation, choose soft wood (this years’ growth)for most plants, make the cuttings 4 to 6 inches long, and plant at least two buds (the nodules from which roots will form) below the surface of the potting mix. Two or more leaves should remain on the tops of your cuttings—above the soil level—so that photosynthesis can take place and the leaves will furnish the necessary energy for the roots to grow.
After two or three weeks, gently tease the soil away from the base of the cuttings to see if roots have developed. If so, the new plant can be transplanted to an individual pot to grow and mature and make ready for planting in your garden area when all danger of frost is past. If the roots are not yet formed or are too short to sustain the plant, replace the pot in your mini-greenhouse and check it again in two or three weeks.
For questions concerning propagation, you can contact the AgriLife office in Odessa at
432-498-4071, or Midland, 432-686-4700.