Propagating Plants

According to meteorologists, the Spring Equinox occurs tomorrow (Saturday), just before midnight, but the first full day of spring will be on the following day (Sunday).

In any event, spring’s arrival inspires many thoughts of gardening opportunities. This column addresses three timely tasks.

Propagating Plants from Cuttings

First, real gardening includes the propagation of plants. One method for getting new plants that is particularly good in the early spring is taking cuttings from existing plants. The timing is good because cutting from the new growth of existing plants can be rooted easily.

Practicing this technique is both frugal and fun, so survey your garden and the gardens of others for plants that you would like to propagate, either to add to your own garden or to gift to other gardeners. If you want more of someone else’s plants, ask permission to take cuttings!

Start by preparing your containers, e.g., small plastic nursery pots, by filling them with planting mix from a garden center, rather than garden soil, which might have bacteria or fungi that could harm young plants.

Using clean clippers, take cuttings of about three inches from the tender green growing tips of plants. The cuttings should be flexible, not woody.

Strip the lower leaves from the cuttings, and insert the stems into damp soil. Place the planted containers where they will be warm but protected from direct sunlight.

Follow up by keeping the cuttings moist. This involves occasional watering and perhaps providing a mini-greenhouse of plastic sheeting to reduce water loss from evaporation. If moisture condenses on this covering, the cuttings could be too moist and vulnerable to fungal problems, so remove the covering for an hour or two to let the excess moisture evaporate.

Your new plants could require several weeks to establish roots, at which time they will develop new leaves. To check their status, tug very gently on the cutting to detect resistance from the new roots.

When you have rooted cuttings, move the plants into larger containers or the garden, and congratulate yourself.

Propagating Plants from Seeds

Planting seeds is also a frugal and fun approach to real gardening. The process is very similar to propagation from cuttings, but it offers a broader range of options and requires more time.

Seeds are available from garden centers. If you want to grow varieties that are not offered by a local garden center, visit Cyndi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs ( for many, many options.

Almost all seed packets have basic instructions for growing the particular seeds.

Propagating Plants from Plant Sales

You could get more of the plant you like by just buying them. That approach also works for plants that are new to your garden!

Mark April 9th on your calendar for the combined plant sales of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz County Chapter. For information, visit the Arboretum’s website (

Mark April 23rd & 24th on your calendar for the Spring Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. For information, visit the Society’s website (

Spring is here and time to enjoy your garden!

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