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Plant Propagation - Asexual Propagation

The Arizona Master Gardener Manual, Arizona Cooperative Extension
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Reprinted with permission.

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Asexual propagation, as mentioned earlier, is the best way to maintain some species, particularly an individual that best represents that species. Clones are groups of plants that are identical to their one parent and that can only be propagated asexually. The Bartlett pear (1770) and the Delicious apple (1870) are two examples of clones that have been asexually propagated for many years.

The major methods of asexual propagation are cuttings, layering, division, and budding grafting. Cuttings involve rooting a severed piece of the parent plant; layering involves rooting a part of the parent and then severing it; and budding and grafting is joining two plant parts from different varieties.

Cuttings

Many types of plants, both woody and herbaceous, are frequently propagated by cuttings. A cutting is a vegetative plant part which is severed from the parent plant in order to regenerate itself, thereby forming a whole new plant.

Take cuttings with a sharp blade to reduce injury to the parent plant. Dip the cutting tool in rubbing alcohol or a mixture of one part bleach : nine parts water to prevent transmitting diseases from infected plant parts to healthy ones. Remove flowers and flower buds from cuttings to allow the cutting to use its energy and stored carbohydrates for root and shoot formation rather than fruit and seed production. To hasten rooting, increase the number of roots, or to obtain uniform rooting (except on soft, fleshy stems), use a rooting hormone, preferably one containing a fungicide. Prevent possible contamination of the entire supply of rooting hormone by putting some in a separate container for dipping cuttings.

Insert cuttings into a rooting medium such as coarse sand, vermiculite, soil, water, or a mixture of peat and perlite. It is important to choose the correct rooting medium to get optimum rooting in the shortest time. In general, the rooting medium should be sterile, low in fertility, drain well enough to provide oxygen, and retain enough moisture to prevent water stress. Moisten the medium before inserting cuttings, and keep it evenly moist while cuttings are rooting and forming new shoots.

Place stem and leaf cuttings in bright, indirect light. Root cuttings can be kept in the dark until new shoots appear.

Stem Cuttings

Numerous plant species are propagated by stem cuttings. Some can be taken at any time of the year, but stem cuttings of many woody plants must be taken in the fall or in the dormant season.

Tip Cuttings

Detach a 2 to 6-inch piece of stem, including the terminal bud. Make the cut just below a node. Remove lower leaves that would touch or be below the medium. Dip the stem in rooting hormone if desired. Gently tap the end of the cutting to remove excess hormone. Insert the cutting deeply enough into the media to support itself. At least one node must be below the surface.

Medial Cuttings

Make the first cut just above a node, and the second cut just above a node 2 to 6 inches down the stem. Prepare and insert the cutting as you would a tip cutting. Be sure to position right side up. Axial buds are always above leaves.

Cane Cuttings

Cut cane-like stems into sections containing one or two eyes, or nodes. Dust ends with fungicide or activated charcoal. Allow to dry several hours. Lay horizontally with about half of the cutting below the media surface, eye facing upward. Cane cuttings are usually potted when roots and new shoots appear but new shoots from dracaena and croton are often cut off and re-rooted in sand.

Single Eye

The eye refers to the node. This is used for plants with alternate leaves when space or stock material are limited. Cut the stem about 1/2-inch above and 1/2-inch below a node. Place cutting horizontally or vertically in the medium.

Double Eye

This is used for plants with opposite leaves when space or stock material is limited. Cut the stem about 1/2-inch above and 1/2-inch below the same node. Insert the cutting vertically in the medium with the node just touching the surface.

Heel Cutting

This method uses stock material with woody stems efficiently. Make a shield-shaped cut about halfway through the wood around a leaf and axial bud. Insert the shield horizontally into the medium.

Leaf Cuttings

Leaf cuttings are used almost exclusively for a few indoor plants. Leaves of most plants will either produce a few roots but no plant, or just decay.

Whole Leaf with Petiole

Detach the leaf and up to 1 1/2 inches of petiole. Insert the lower end of the petiole into the medium. One or more new plants will form at the base of the petiole. The leaf may be severed from the new plants when they have their own roots, and the petiole reused.

Whole Leaf without Petiole

This is used for plants with sessile leaves. Insert the cutting vertically into the medium. A new plant will form from the axillary bud. The leaf may be removed when the new plant has its own roots.

Split Vein

Detach a leaf from the stock plant. Slit its veins on the lower leaf surface. Lay the cutting, lower side down, on the medium. New plants will form at each cut. If the leaf tends to curl up, hold it in place by covering the margins with the rooting medium.

Leaf Sections

This method is frequently used with snake plant and fibrous rooted begonias. Cut begonia leaves into wedges with at least one vein. Lay leaves flat on the medium. A new plant will arise at the vein. Cut snake plant leaves into 2-inch sections. Consistently make the lower cut slanted and the upper cut straight so you can tell which is the top. Insert the cutting vertically. Roots will form fairly soon, and eventually a new plant will appear at the base of the cutting. These and other succulent cuttings will rot if kept too moist.

Root Cuttings

Root cuttings are usually taken from 2 to 3 year old plants during their dormant season when they have a large carbohydrate supply. Root cuttings of some species produce new shoots, which then form their own root systems, while root cuttings of other plants develop root systems before producing new shoots.

Plants with Large Roots

Make a straight top cut. Make a slanted cut 2 to 6 inches below the first cut. Store about 3 weeks in moist sawdust, peat moss, or sand at 40oF. Remove from storage. Insert the cutting vertically with the top approximately level with the surface of the rooting medium. This method is often used outdoors.

Plants with Small Roots

Take 1 to 2 inch sections of roots. Insert the cuttings horizontally about 1/2 inch below the medium surface. This method is usually used indoors or in a hotbed.

Layering

Stems still attached to their parent plants may form roots where they touch a rooting medium. Severed from the parent plant, the rooted stem becomes a new plant. This method of vegetative propagation, called layering, promotes a high success rate because it prevents the water stress and carbohydrate shortage that plague cuttings.

Some plants layer themselves naturally, but sometimes plant propagators assist the process. Layering is enhanced by wounding one side of the stem or by bending it very sharply. The rooting medium should always provide aeration and a constant supply of moisture.

Tip Layering

Dig a hole 3 to 4 inches deep. Insert the shoot tip and cover it with soil. The tip grows downward first, then bends sharply and grows upward. Roots form at the bend, and the recurved tip becomes a new plant. Remove the tip layer and plant it in the early spring or late fall. Examples: purple and black raspberries, trailing blackberries.

Simple Layering

Bend the stem to the ground. Cover part of it with soil, leaving the last 6 to 12 inches exposed. Bend the tip into a vertical position and stake in place. The sharp bend will often induce rooting, but wounding the lower side of the branch or loosening the bark by twisting the stem may help. Examples: rhododendron, honeysuckle.

Compound Layering

This method works for plants with flexible stems. Bend the stem to the rooting medium as for simple layering, but alternately cover and expose stem sections. Wound the lower side of the stem sections to be covered. Examples: heart-leaf philodendron, pothos.

Mound (Stool) Layering

Cut the plant back to 1 inch above the ground in the dormant season. Mound soil over the emerging shoots in the spring to enhance their rooting. Examples: gooseberries, apple rootstocks.

Air Layering

Air layering is used to propagate some indoor plants with thick stems, or to rejuvenate them when they become leggy. Slit the stem just below a node. Pry the slit open with a toothpick. Surround the wound with wet unmilled sphagnum moss. Wrap plastic or foil around the sphagnum moss and tie in place. When roots pervade the moss, cut the plant off below the root ball. Examples: dumbcane, rubber tree.

The following propagation methods can all be considered types of layering, as the new plants form before they are detached from their parent plants.

Stolons and Runners

A stolon is a horizontal, often fleshy stem that can root, then produce new shoots where it touches the medium. A runner is a slender stem that originates in a leaf axil and grows along the ground or downward from a hanging basket, producing a new plant at its tip. Plants that produce stolons or runners are propagated by severing the new plants from their parent stems. Plantlets at the tips of runners may be rooted while still attached to the parent, or detached and placed in a rooting medium. Examples: strawberry, spider plant.

Offsets

Plants with a rosetted stem often reproduce by forming new shoots at their base or in leaf axils. Sever the new shoots from the parent plant after they have developed their own root system. Unrooted offsets of some species may be removed and placed in a rooting medium. Some of these must be cut off, while others may be simply lifted off of the parent stem. Examples: date palm, haworthia, bromeliads, many cacti.

Separation

Is a term applied to a form of propagation by which plants that produce bulbs or corms multiply.

Bulbs

New bulbs form beside the originally planted bulb. Separate these bulb clumps every 3 to 5 years for largest blooms and to increase bulb population. Dig up the clump after the leaves have withered. Gently pull the bulbs apart and replant them immediately so their roots can begin to develop. Small, new bulbs may not flower for 2 or 3 years, but large ones should bloom the first year. Examples: tulip, narcissus.

Corms

A large new corm forms on top of the old corm, and tiny cormels form around the large corm. After the leaves wither, dig up the corms and allow them to dry in indirect light for 2 or 3 weeks. Remove the cormels, then gently separate the new corm from the old corm. Dust all new corms with a fungicide and store in a cool place until planting time. Examples: crocus, gladiolus.

Division

Plants with more than one rooted crown may be divided and the crowns planted separately. If the stems are not joined, gently pull the plants apart. If the crowns are united by horizontal stems, cut the stems and roots with a sharp knife to minimize injury. Divisions of some outdoor plants should be dusted with a fungicide before they are replanted. Examples: snake plant, iris, prayer plant, day lilies.

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