Updated: Jan 8, 2020
Yep! You can grow heaps of plants - thousands, in fact - for free.
By cutting off small parts of established plants you can create exact genetic replicas. When prepared correctly, cuttings can take root and form healthy individual plants, which you can pot on or plant out into your garden beds. Some of the first cuttings I took are pictured
, all forty-odd from Mum’s garden. Having started to buy plants at my favourite local nursery weekly, my bank account was suffering and so I got really excited about the idea of growing plants for free. Mum taught me a few essential tip, including growing medium, water and light requirements, rooting mediums and cutting types. I’ve also perused a few horticultural books from the library and have recently purchased an amazing book dedicated to plant propagation - Let's Propagate! by Angus Stewart from good ol' Gardening Australia.
Firstly, not all plants will grow from cuttings of stem ends or leaves. Each family is a bit different. For example, succulents propagate easily in days from leaves lying on top of soil with little maintenance, whereas many natives will grow from woody stems and take a bit longer (weeks) to root. Rosemary and lavender are typically very easy to root from stems plunged into potting mix/sandy soil and left for a few weeks (as long as they’re kept moist).
Growing medium (i.e. what you plant them into) needs to have good water retention properties and drainage, with larger particles to allow roots to grow and spread with ease. Pearlite, vermiculite, river sand and standard potting mix are often used in varying ratios for these reasons. These will cost money if you don't have any lying about already, but you can try with your garden soil if it fits the bill.
Cuttings generally do better with very few leaves left attached, as they allow moisture loss and this can cause death. They also need to be kept moist and in the shade during rooting – remember, you’re trying to encourage underground growth, not leafy above ground growth, so sunlight is not a priority (though warmth is helpful).
Rooting hormone is a commercially available product that improves the rate of rooting speed and success but is not essential for cutting propagation unless you're a business or taking from some more challenging plants. Raw honey is an alternative to this and, though not a vegan product, was the method I used because there was plenty of it available at home already. As recommended by Mum, I tried to avoid dipping different plants into the same blob of honey to minimise the spread of any disease that may have been present on one or more cuttings.
I combined good quality potting mix with vermiculite at a ratio of 3:1 respectively. I used a dibble stick (anything the size of a pencil will do) to create holes in the soil to the depth of the cutting, then dipped the ends in honey and into their hole in the pot, backfilling gently. After labelling them all (this is especially important if some of your plants look very similar!) and watering them in well, I took them back to Geelong and left them in a shady spot in the backyard, checking them regularly to ensure they didn’t dry out.
Now, eight weeks on, I have had success with about 80% and am letting these grow on a bit longer in their pots to establish better root systems before planting out into garden beds and pots. I have also grown a few cuttings from rosemary, lavender and roses which are doing extremely well. I'm sure your neighbour, friends or Grandma probably have some great plants for you to propagate from!
There are other ways to root cuttings, such as in water – this often works well with indoor plants that like humidity. For more tips and inspiration, as well as event info, make sure you're following @seedblog on Instagram and Facebook. I love messages, comments and questions, as well as shares of anything you find helpful! Thanks for taking time from your day to read this, legend.