Stuff You Missed in Botany: Propagation from Cuttings

Stuff You Missed in Botany: Propagation from Cuttings

When the Parsnip was a young preacher just getting started, we would often visit with the older members of our congregation. We would see if they had any physical, environmental or, most pressing in our line of work, spiritual needs.

While living in El Dorado, Arkansas we were always glad when the time would come to visit Henry and Marguerite Hogg. Henry was a strapping man in his early eighties when we met him. He had stories, many stories of how he had been a school teacher (at age 16!), then went on to be the county postmaster at the ripe age of 19. He had been to war, lived through the Depression and raised a strong, loving family.

As interesting as it was to visit with Henry, I always looked forward to my visit with Marguerite. This tiny, 5 foot, soft spoken woman chose her words carefully and didn’t “put on airs”. I liked that and I liked her. But, my favorite thing about visiting with the Hoggs was…the violets.

Marguerite had loads and loads of beautiful African Violets.They covered every inch of every windowpane. Rich burgundy, royal purple, majestic pink, quiet lavender violets, violets, everywhere.

Violet Array

One Thursday morning Curt (the Parsnip) called me and said, “Hey, Henry and Marguerite want us to come over, can you be ready in 20 minutes”? When we got there we had coffee and some treat or other and then Henry took Curt out to his large, beautiful garden to talk man things. Marguerite said, “I want to give you a violet, you always admire mine so”. I was thrilled beyond words. My own violet treasure.

My elation turned to deflation when Marguerite handed me five bud vases (I think they were actually tiny jelly jars) with a single leaf in each. What am I supposed to do with these?

Marguerite told me, “Put them on a south windowpane, make sure they have water 2/3 the way up the stem, water not touching the leaf itself”. Oy, seriously? She said she was giving me violets, I went home with fuzzy pine green tongues. Hmph.

I’m nothing if not obedient. Onto the windowsill the hirsute specimens went. Water was diligently maintained 2/3 up the stem, never on the leaf. Six months came and went. Other than the maintenance, I really didn’t think much one way or another about my five little jelly jar visitors. Almost exactly on the six month mark, Marguerite beckoned us again to her house.

Again when we arrived, coffee, cookies, men outside. Marguerite said, “How are your violets doing”? “Fine I guess”. “Well, they should look like this now”. She showed me her jelly jars looking exactly like mine. A leaf in water, except there were now about a hundred or so threadlike tentacles in the bottom of the jar. She went on to give me five little pots filled with growing medium and also a bottle of fish emulsion (bleck). She told me the rudimentary steps for caring for the violets and sent me on my way once again.

Almost exactly one year to the date of bringing home those five jelly jars I had five real plants in five little pots. I also had violets, one burgundy, one royal purple, one delicate lavender, a brilliant white and my favorite one white with an outline of periwinkle blue.

After six years, hubby got a call for a job south of Houston. For nine hours I rode in the van with my violets around me, my five were now 12 and there was no way I was trusting them to the movers, nice men, but not careful men.

This was my introduction to propagation from cuttings. Since then I’ve had roses, tomatoes, a peach tree and a couple of pear trees all from cuttings. So how does that work?

Basically, it is a brilliant survival technique some species of plants have that allows them to grow roots and make a new plant from a part of itself. If you think of the competition for resources of the basic necessities¬†¬†of life, food, water, sun just in your own garden, where you are weeding, pruning, augmenting water, and tending, and still it’s not enough for some plants. In the “wild”, a plant has to do what a plant has to do to ensure the next generation, even if that means starting over with a leaf that was cut off by a passing animal.

Not all species of plants can do this, but many of them can.

It is a slow process. It takes patience. It is also overwhelmingly satisfying to see the results of all that patience, with the new plant or plants.

The steps of propagation are pretty straight forward.

1. Choose “new” growth stems. Stems that still have a bloom on them or a bloom that has recently faded. For the most part this is going to be a higher leaf or branch. For thick stems, it might be beneficial to “wound” the end of the stem. This is simple using a very sharp knife or razor to make a 1/2 inch slit in the stem at the base, or shaving off the outer skin of the stem base with your razor. The roots will form all along the “wound” (that’s cool). For a leaf propagation the most important thing is to cut with a sharp instrument. Don’t crush the stem, slice it.

2. Moisture. Keep your cuttings in water at all times. Either put them in wet sand, moist dirt or wrap them in soaked moss with a plastic barrier to keep the moisture close to the stem base.

3. Rooting Hormone? Use it, or don’t. That’s really the answer. Generally speaking, you will have increased chance for success rooting you cuttings using a rooting hormone solution. It is not an absolute. It’s possible to root without it and there is not a guarantee your cutting will “take” if you use it. So, use it. Or don’t.

4. Keep your water clean. With violets, it was important to clean out the jars the leaves were in about every two weeks. This keeps fungus and bacteria from being able to attack your fledgling plant. It’s like keeping a cut on your finger clean. You’ve made an opening on the plant, you need to take care to keep invading pathogens out.

5. Indirect sunlight is best. A little goes a long way.

I hope you’ll try this satisfying, practice in patience way of getting new plants at least once.

Some of the best things to start with are roses (the climbing varieties have always been the most successful for me), tomatoes, peppers, pear trees, hydrangea.

Have patience, Have patience, don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember that God is patient too. And think of all the times when others have to wait for you.


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2 Responses »

  1. I tried this once with some cuttings from my neighbor’s gigantic rosemary bush, but it didn’t work very well. :( Maybe I should try again.

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