One of the things I did in my own commercial nursery was grow an incredible number of plants myself from seed, cuttings and division. When it came to plant propagation at the height of the nursery season, I started some 1600 to 1800 varieties of perennial seed and 600-800 varieties of annual seed. I also rooted thousands of cuttings during the average propagation season.
While the plant propagation schedule here is from my nursery days, it’s the same schedule I use now in my own gardens to produce as many free plants for my gardens as I can.
I also use a very inexpensive array of equipment for all my propagation needs and can produce hundreds of plants a year for pennies each. Here’s my equipment list
The Factor That’s Common To Almost All These Techniques
The single most important factor is almost all these plant propagation techniques is to have the soil or rooting medium at the right temperature. Too many gardeners don’t understand this basic plant physiology rule. And if you do nothing else, get yourself a heat mat to keep soil temperatures where they belong.
Another thing that’s quite common is the common fungus gnat that appears whenever there’s too much water on the soil (excessive water creates a food source- algae) Here’s how to deal with fungus gnats.
Beginning in early May, I’d start a few root cuttings of plants and tuck them onto the rooting benches.
June right through to August our propagation heat and mist system were full of cuttings developing roots. We took top cuttings from annual and perennial stock plants to grow on for retail sale. We also took some rose cuttings just for the heck of it.
Rooted cuttings were then put into pots for growing on or out into the growing beds as stock plants. Now, without the commercial level of equipment, I have adapted inexpensive and readily available “things” to accomplish the same thing. You can read the article about how to handle seedlings or cuttings after rooting right here.
Frankly doing our own propagation was the only way we could get the funky varieties we offered to our customers that were unique to our nursery. Frankly, things such as rooting sweet potatoes were easy if you followed a few simple guidelines.
Some folks like to use rooting hormones and here’s some research on two organic rooting hormones that really work
Trees and Shrubs
In the fall, I’d get busy with starting trees – if I was thinking of seed starting – there were really only two ways to start them easily – The other system is by taking hardwood cuttings of some trees and shrubs for rooting over the winter and following spring in our outdoor beds.
Air layering is an old – but good – technique for a lot of woody plants.
I didn’t do a lot of evergreen propagation because we didn’t sell a lot of those – it was easier to buy them (hey, you can’t do everything) :-). Fall was also a busy time for transplanting – either the new plants or established one.
You may read about hardwood stooling as a system for propagating woody plants but it’s really a system for producing a lot of hardwood cuttings.
One of the questions I get asked regularly is when to start your own seeds. Most gardeners (in my experience) start them too early.Here’s a rough schedule of when to start your garden seeds
How much to cover germinating seeds. Too deep and it’s not a germination exercise, it’s a burial
Here are the “growing on” temperatures that are best for individual plants. Some like it cooler than others and if you can provide these temperatures, you’ll get superior performance.
Annual Flower and Vegetable Seeds
Germinating Annual Seeds. Here’s everything you need to know about starting your own annual seeds.
Tomato seed techniques
Basic seed starting techniques for tomatoes haven’t changed much over the years, there are still the same needs for warm soil (70F/19C) temperatures and adequate but no swampy moisture around the seeds. And my basic equipment hasn’t changed very much from the heat mats and individual pots I use for germinating our heirloom vegetables.
Speaking of heirloom vegetables, when Mayo and I decided to live together, she brought something like 600 varieties of heirloom plants with her (she founded and owned Underwood Gardens – one of the first organic, heirloom seed companies) So she handles all our seed saving, from collecting seed to things like tomato seed fermentation so we can store seed and get superior storage and germination the following season.
And equally honestly, the propagation was half the fun of having the nursery. What’s the point of having all those facilities (my propagation greenhouse was 1500 square feet in size and I kept it filled year round as I was the major propagator) if you don’t use them and have fun with them.
Perennial Seed Starting
Here’s the basic technique for starting most perennial seeds. It’s a question of timing and temperature and once you understand this, you can germinate almost any perennial seed you can imagine.
Not convinced yet about how to start perennial seeds? Here are two methods to germinate perennial seeds that are both simple and effective.
Here’s an article on growing seedlings after you’ve managed to start them.
Unfortunately, I no longer have greenhouses so have to grow in our basement. And discover an entirely new way of growing. For example, how do I prevent seedlings from becoming long and spindly was one of the first things I had to learn. When you have a greenhouse, that’s not usually a problem but now it is.
One of the easiest ways to propagate a wide range of plants – from annuals right up to shrubs and some trees is called “layering” and as long as you have a stem that will bend (without crinkling or cracking) to the ground, you can likely propagate the plant.
There are some plants that propagate better when they are divided. While we started doing our own dividing, the economics of doing anything but the really rare plants soon had us buying divisions from specialist propagation nurseries. Now of course, I do all my own perennial plant dividing using the same techniques I used in our nursery (translation: as easily, quickly, simply and effectively as possible.)
The tips here are those I learned or adapted for my own small nursery. I wasn’t big enough to challenge the big boys so I had to figure out how to do it on a limited budget.
When to divide perennial plants? Spring or fall or….
Here’s how to divide water lilies so you’ll have way more than you need.