Ink & Penstemon

Observations on plants, gardening, & nature from the Great Basin steppe in the American West.

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    Single-Serve Plant Propagation


    I had a conversation with a friend this weekend about plant propagation. He had taken a class where he was taught about countering cauterization of plant tissues, spray-bottles, trays of perlite, and all sorts of gee-whizery. He went home, took some cuttings, tried to grow them, and got nothing. In my case, I read the instructions on the side of the rooting hormone bottle, stared at the stacks of Jell-O single serve cups I was hoarding since I couldn’t recycle them at the time, and it was kismet. Using the method above, I’ve had 100% success. Not to mention the Jell-O cups are my favorite pots for growing; since they are clear, you can see the root growth, and they are #5 plastic, so you can wash them over and over in the dishwasher.

    I like the single-plant approach to propagating because I usually propagate plants that I don’t have many of, and to do the traditional full-flat method would wipe out my plant stock completely. And sometimes, you only want maybe a couple of new plants, not 50.

    1. The Jell-O cups are available in your grocer’s refrigerator section, sold in packs of four. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may be out of luck. Or you could just beg the empty cups off of someone who has kids who will eat Jell-O.
    2. Cut two notches in the bottom of the cups. You now have an excellent all-around pot for seed starting. They fit nicely in trays.
    3. Nest the notched cup in an untouched cup. This will act as a water reservoir.
    4. Another unnotched cup will rest on top as a dome. Your plant specimens need high humidity until they’ve developed roots. This is your basic, one-plant propagation unit.
    5. Since I was completely uneducated when I began propagating plants through cuttings, I knew nothing of sterile trays of perlite. Regular seed-starting mix out of the bag seems to do just fine, though. However, you need to poke a large hole with a chopstick/straw/pencil for step 7.
    6. When you take your cutting, you don’t want too big a leaf. You should also remove leaves from the bottom of the cutting to expose a stem, and the rooting hormone instructions say to scrape away hairs and the surface layer a bit to expose some tissue. I overdid a bit here, but we should be fine.
    7. You can propagate plants without rooting hormone, but using it makes things pretty bulletproof. And if you have it, why not use it? Just dip and gently tap. I bought this bottle at Lowe’s 6 years ago. Supposedly, it loses its effectiveness as it ages. Supposedly.
    8. You need to make sure to not rub off the rooting hormone when you insert your dusted stem into the hole. Once it’s in, gently press some soil up against the stem to close the gap.
    9. I usually put a little water in the reservoir cup, place the dome on top, and put the unit in a window that receives indirect light for most of the day until late afternoon. They also do fine under florescent grow lights. Check the soil after a few days and if it isn’t obviously damp, add water to the reservoir. You don’t want the plant to be bogged, just well watered. After about a month, you should see a little root coming out of the bottom. You can then start propping up the dome to begin the hardening off process. When I start to see a lot of root growth, I begin fertilizing with a diluted seaweed emulsion, and begin the move to the outdoors. By the end of the season, you should have some decent-sized starts to put in the ground.

    Full disclosure: Since this post, I ramped up propogation production and did finally experience some failures. Regardless, I was trying some perennials that were trickier, but the good news is that I got at least 30% of the hardest cases to root, which is still better than the usual 0% most people get with the more traditional methods.

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