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|Plant Propagation: From Seed to Ethics|
One of the most interesting and joyous parts of gardening to me is making more plants to share with friends or to increase the numbers of particular plants in my garden through propagation. In this series of columns, I will address methods of propagation, tricks to make your efforts more productive, what you can do with your plants after you propagate them and the ethics involved in propagating certain plants.
In an effort to keep the continuity between parts of this series as coherent as possible, I am writing from a basic outline, detailing each segment with as much information as I can in the space allotted. I may make references to Part 1 from future installments, so keep this issue for future reference or simply research archived columns online.
Plant propagation is both an art and a science. It is the act of multiplying plants through both sexual and asexual methods.
Sexual propagation is defined as the union of male plant cells with female plant cells.
Asexual propagation can be accomplished in many different ways because all of the genes necessary for new plant development are present in each plant cell. That is why a single small leaf cutting from a Streptocarpus, when placed in the right conditions, is capable of making a completely new plant or several new plants from the same cutting. Roots emerge and new baby leaves form.
There are five major factors greatly influencing successful plant propagation. Light, temperature and hydration are the main three. Nutrients and gasses are the other two with ventilation being an important sixth factor.
A sanitary, controlled environment is desired for the best results. A controlled environment can be as small as a plastic medicine bottle or Petri dish to a 2,400-square-foot greenhouse. As long as the area is free of pathogens and insects, and you can control the temperature, water and light, you should be able to propagate anything fitting into the growing area.
Media – Seed germination mixes, rooting media and potting soils
A good germination mix should be light in weight, retain suitable moisture while draining well and fairly fine so it can be dropped into 512 cell plug flats without packing. There are many germination mixes on the market. I recommend trying some of the ones available through your local Quality Co-op or independent retail garden shop in order to figure out what you like best.
Rooting media is generally coarser than potting or germination media. However, it really depends on what you are rooting when determining the makeup of the product desired. For example, I sometimes use coarse sand when rooting hollies (Ilex sp.) from single leaves; whereas, a combination of perlite and pine bark is desired when rooting the Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) from stem cuttings. Other rooting media may include peat, vermiculite, pine nuggets, composted pine bark or a combination of these materials. Water is a common household media for rooting African violets, begonias and some other tropicals, although a solid soilless media is recommended in order to ward off fungi.
Potting soils or soilless media can be made of many materials including sand, peat, bark, decomposed clay, vermiculite, perlite, coir, composted manure, etc. Remember, soil is made up of three components: sand, silt and clay. If it is missing any one of those three, then it’s soilless. Personally, I mix my own potting media. It is made up of three basic components: peat, perlite and composted pine bark soil conditioner. The amounts of each component are adjusted according to what I am potting. For example, woody ornamentals – mostly bark; herbaceous perennials and tenders – richer with peat and more perlite; annuals, soft wood herbs and vegetable plants – even richer with peat and more perlite.
Study the media in the plants you want to propagate. Ask your nursery professional what’s in their pots. If you are buying seeds to start, refer to the seed supplier for recommended germination media.
Hang in there folks because there’s a lot more to come.
Next month: Seeds – Selection, Handling and Storage
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