What is Propagation?

What is propagation when talking about plants?

The dictionary defines propagate as “breed specimens of (a plant or animal) by natural processes from the parent stock”.

In our nursery we use the parent plant to create multiple plants. For our purposes we are propagating plants for profit.

Propagating plants is a free and easy way to create new stock. So for us the definition of propagation means we are able to make money without spending money!

How to propagate plants varies, there are 3 main methods of plant propagation which we use in the nursery.

The most common one people are probably familiar with, is growing plants from cuttings.

We also use plant division to create new plants.

Lastly we use seeds, this is the most common form of natural propagation.

Let’s talk more about the different plant propagation methods we use.


So what is a cutting?

A cutting is simply a piece of a plant. It’s called a cutting because you simply cut a piece off the parent plant.

The idea is then to get the cutting to grow roots, the term used is, striking plants.

Cutting propagation

Cutting propagation is our most widely used method of propagation.

Why we use this more than any other method is that by taking a plant cutting we are effectively cloning the parent plant from which we take the cutting off.

For our nursery, this is very important as it allows us to hand pick the healthiest, strongest, most disease resistant specimen to clone.

It also enables us to create identical stock, which is very important when selling large volumes of the same plant species.

These benefits  can be applied directly to the home gardener, you too can pick healthy, strong, disease free plants to propagate or clone.

How to root cuttings

To propagate cuttings there are a few things we need.

Firstly we need a form of medium to grow them in. The medium in this case is  a soil mix for propagating cuttings.

Sometimes we use a potting mix, but more often than not we use a perlite-peat moss mix.

This we mix up specially for rooting plant cuttings. The reason we use the perlite-peat moss mix is that it’s water holding properties are exceptional.

Another benefit is that the perlite is completely sterile and neutral in PH which aids in the prevention of unwanted fungi that can thrive in moist and humid conditions.

Due to a cuttings lack of roots in their infancy stage they are unable to suck up water, hence why we need to create a moist and humid environment so that the cutting may draw moisture from the atmosphere through their foliage.

So once you have the cutting in a good medium it’s very important then that it’s kept moist.


They must also be kept out of direct sunlight and wind. Both of these will quickly dry out the plant cuttings.

For our wholesale nursery where larger volumes are required, we use an igloo.

Home gardeners have a wide range of options available to them, some choosing to allocate a small area inside their homes for this purpose.

Some creating cold frames outside, which don’t need to take up a lot of room and are also useful for raising seedlings in preparation for spring.

Most hardware stores and local nurseries now have many different propagation enclosures to choose from.

Just remember that there are no roots on the cutting at the start, and at this stage they are at their most vulnerable.

Some cuttings benefit greatly from bottom heat.

In the nursery we will sometimes turn on our heat beds during winter.

For the home gardener it is possible to buy effective heat pads that can heat small areas.

How long does it take to propagate a plant from a cutting?

There is no definitive answer to this question.

It all depends on so many factors. Such as, the time of year, the species of the plant, hardwood vs softwood cutting, and amount of light and water.

In our experience small fast growing perennials will strike much faster than slower growing trees and shrubs.

An example of this is, a cerastium (Snow in summer) which we can strike in 1 month. While a buxus (Box plant) will take 4-6 months.

Different types of cuttings

When propagating plants from cuttings, there are different areas of the plant which we can take cuttings from.

You can’t just take any piece and stick it in some perlite, give it a drink and expect it to strike.

Well perhaps there may be a few ridiculously easy plants to propagate but we can talk about that later.

3 types of cutting methods which we use, are:Tip cuttings, this is the very end of the plants stem where it is actively growing, these cuttings can be quite soft so care must be taken to ensure they don’t dry out too fast.

Again, it depends on the plant, some plants such as the buxus mentioned earlier, are quite hardy. Whilst the fast growing perennials will wilt much faster.

Base cuttings, these cuttings as the name suggests are taken from the base of the plant. We like to use base cuttings as our preferred method, reason being they have a tendency to fill out faster.

Whilst the tip cuttings sometimes need a slight prune after they have rooted to encourage them to bush up.

Root cuttings, these are one of my personal favourites, this is like magic.

With a root cutting all your do is take a section of root, lay it in some potting mix and lightly cover it.

This can only be done with certain plants and is not a commonly used method.

There are other forms of cuttings, but these are the ones we use in our nursery and the ones which we will show you how to use on specific plants.

This short video shows how we propagate gaura, using cuttings.


What is plant division?

Plant division is another propagation technique we like to use in our nursery.

Division is simply separating a piece from the parent plant, taking some roots with it.

Plant division is great for us in the nursery as we can quickly double, triple even quadruple the amount of stock we have available.

Division is much faster than propagating cuttings as there’s already root on the plant.

For us we pot up the divided plants direct into their pots which they will be sold in.

General tips for propagating using division.

When propagating using division, it’s important to minimise plant stress.

The most effective way to do this is to trim the plants foliage right back, usually two thirds of the way down.

We prefer to keep plant foliage to a minimum, just enough to allow photosynthesis (plants processing light) to occur.

Then, just as we did with plants propagating by cutting we must remember to keep the plant moist.

With division its ok to plant the plants directly outside, depending on the season. As they already have their roots, they will not dry out as quickly as a cutting.

If it’s a plant you really treasure i absolutely recommend you to nurture it in a pot for a little while before moving it into the ground.


A short video on propagating Society Garlic by division.


General rules for seed propagation

Seed propagation is by far the easiest of propagation methods. Nearly all plants produce seeds.

Seed propagation is great for us in the nursery, as it allows us to generate hundreds even thousands of plants in a small area.

They can be collected by hand, but is also readily available and well priced for you to purchase.

Seeds do have some draw backs when it comes to propagating for profit, or even for the home gardener.

When seeds are pollinated by bees, insects or the wind there can be genetic variations.

For example if i collect seed from my yellow clivia i cannot be guaranteed that the seed will produce a yellow flowering clivia, as i have orange clivias nearby.

It is possible to pollinate the flowers by hand and then cover the flowers, but this is a highly time consuming affair, and just not viable for us on a larger scale.

It’s worth noting that the cross pollination of flowers is what creates new varieties of plants.

So if you have the time, it could be fun to experiment, who knows, you may create the next plant sensation!

It’s a good idea to use a seed raising mix when sowing seed as these are generally finer than regular potting mix.

They will regulate moisture much better. There are certain seeds which we propagate in our perlite-peat moss mix but these are very slow germinating varieties.

When covering the seed only lightly cover the seed. The general rule of thumb is to put on the same amount of soil as the length of the seed.

Seeds can be stored via refrigeration, however when we collect seeds for propagation we like to sow them immediately.

Makes sense when they are ready to fall off the plant that they are ready to go into some soil.

However some seeds go dormant and like to be frozen before planting. Others need to be heat treated in order to germinate.

Therefore it’s important to understand the requirements of the seed to maximise your chances of success.


So, those are the the 3 methods we use to propagate plants in our nursery.

At the top of this page you can find instructions and videos on all the plants we grow.

Please give us time to update the list as we have only just begun our journey on this website in early 2018.

We hope over the coming year we can create video and tutorial notes for all of the plants we are currently growing in our nursery.

If you like the idea of learning more about propagating plants. Please subscribe and we will keep updating the content.

This short video shows the way we propagate Syzygium australe- Brush cherry in our nursery. The method we use is collecting and sowing the seed.