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Propagating Houseplants Isn’t Difficult

Fri., Jan. 6, 1995

We traditionally think of January as the month of new beginnings - a time for positive action. Since I am one who never forsakes tradition, I have decided to treat my houseplants to something they have never experienced - care. My poor plants go into the holidays already looking a little on the shabby side and come out requiring a total body-lift. It’s not that I dislike houseplants. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoy them. It’s just that I don’t make the time to give them the attention they so need.

So I am going to begin this new year by giving my old plants a new lease on life. I am going to clip, clean, repot and in general, create a splendid mess. And with all the leftover plant debris? I’m going to use it to propagate all kinds of new, handsome specimens to fill my windowsills.

Propagating plants is fun and very rewarding. I stick with the vegetative form of propagation (using some part of the plant) rather than starting houseplants from seed. In most cases, it takes too many years to reap the rewards from seed.

It doesn’t take much to get started with vegetative propagation - a few small, clean pots; sharp shears and knife, potting soil, a container of water, a few clear plastic bags and a good houseplant reference book. The reference book will help us identify the plants we own and explain which method of propagation is best to use for a particular plant.

Propagating by plantlets or offsets: Some plants have the capability of producing little plants that look just like the main plant. When attached to long thin stems, like the spider plant, or held onto by mature leaves, as in the piggyback plant - they are called plantlets.

Offsets are also little replicas of the main plant, only they don’t hitch rides on mature leaves or suspend themselves on long stems. They originate on the main stem of mother plants such as cacti, bromeliads and bulbs. In either case, plantlets and offsets are easily propagated by removing the little fellows and rooting them in small containers of fresh potting soil.

Propagating from stem cuttings: This is probably the most common method of propagating. Short pieces of stem, (six to eight inches long), are often clipped from the top portion of the plant and rooted in potting soil or water. Also, side stems and even thick main stems can be handled in such a way as to promote new plants.

Sideshoots should be pulled off, not cut off. Some sideshoots tend to root more easily with the heel connected to the shoot. (The heel is a strip of bark and wood torn away from a main stem when a sideshoot is removed by a downward pull.) Remove the lower leaves and set the heel in potting soil.

Thick, old stems, barren of leaves (like that of rex begonia or dieffenbachia) can be cut into short pieces and laid horizontally atop potting soil. If they are planted vertically, just make sure the pieces are planted in the same upward direction as they once grew. To ensure the right end of the stem is pointing up, cut the rooting end on a diagonal. Each piece of stem must have at least one node in order to sprout shoots and roots.

Propagating by division: Most plants that grow in clumps can be divided. Simply pull or cut them apart, making sure each new section has leaves and roots.

Propagating by air layering: This method is usually for big guys with huge leaves, such as philodendron. Below a node, cut a diagonal slice three-quarters of the way through the main stem. Dab a little rooting hormone into the wound. Encase the wound with dampened sphagnum moss. To keep the moss moist and intact, cover it with clear cellophane.

Once roots form above the wound, remove the stem by cutting it away from the main plant. Sink the rooted cutting into a container of potting soil.

Propagating by leaf cuttings: This method is incredible. If you have the proper kind of plants, I suggest trying it just for the fun of it.

Certain leaves can be pinned flat on top of moist potting soil, while other leaves can be planted upright. Still others, like the strappy leaves of the sansevieria, can be cut into many individual pieces, each piece capable of creating new plants. In all these cases, it’s fascinating to watch new leaves and roots develop from the veins of old leaves.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Phyllis Stephens The Spokesman-Review

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