Growing up in rural Nebraska, I was a member of the local FFA chapter in high school. I wasn’t very active in the chapter, but in order to keep my membership, I had to take agriculture classes every year. My sophomore year, I picked the horticulture class on a whim. As we all know, because I am now writing this column, I accidentally fell in love with it.
We always had had a family garden growing up, and seeing the flowers finally emerge after a long winter always was my favorite part of spring. Although I had never considered a career in horticulture, one very specific moment in the class made me realize, “Oh, this is something I’m passionate about.”
We were propagating, which means we worked to make more plants from one plant. This particular plant was a plant called Wandering Jew. It is a gorgeous purple and green/silver vine that spreads quickly and can be invasive in some climates. Unfortunately for us, it can’t survive the cold Nebraska winters.
We were doing a simple layering technique where you use a long vine from the mother plant, then you take one of the nodes (the places that the leaves grow from) and scrape the top layers of cells off the stem on the part of the plant that will be on the bottom when planted. Consequently, while the vine still is attached to the mother plant, you can plant the area that was scraped in a separate pot.
As we were doing this in class, I specifically remember turning to the person next to me, thinking that they would think that it was as cool as I did, and they didn’t care about it. They just wanted to get the activity done so that the class could be done. I was absolutely fascinated by propagation. Plant propagation continues to be one of my favorite topics in horticulture but like everything, there are good and bad aspects to it.
Anytime that you propagate plants without seed it is considered asexual propagation because there is no fertilization of cells. The problem with asexual reproduction is that all of the plants propagated this way are genetically identical because they are made from the same plant. While being identical may be good from the point of view of how they look, if a disease comes through that one plant is susceptible to, all of its clones will be susceptible as well. There is no chance of them having more resistance to the disease and all of them will be lost. However, asexual propagation is a great way to prune back plants without having to throw away plant material. It is also a great way to share plants with friends, and overwinter non-woody perennial plants that are not hardy to Nebraska.
If the cutting fails the first time, don’t be discouraged. Some plants will propagate as cuttings easily and some won’t. Cuttings are not a foolproof way to propagate plants, and there’s many reasons that a cutting might die. Plants that have woody growth are difficult to propagate. The easiest way to do so is to take stem cuttings. When taking stem cuttings, be sure to start with a clean knife and a healthy plant. Unhealthy plants may not have the energy reserves needed to put out roots and the cutting will die. When taking the cutting, be sure to have at least three nodes, or growth points on the stem. Nodes are found easily by identifying where the leaf is growing from. Remove the leaves from the portion of the stem that will be under the soil. I would not recommend using normal soil for cuttings because there can be pathogens present. Instead, use a potting mix to reduce the risk of disease entering through the open wound where the stem was cut. Keep the soil moist, but it should not be sitting in standing water. After a few weeks, check the cutting for roots by gently tugging on the cutting. If it moves easily, it has not rooted. If it does not move, it has rooted and you can treat it as a normal plant.
I wish you luck in propagating your plants, and if you have any questions contact me at the Buffalo County Extension Office, 308-236-1235, or at email@example.com.