Plantlife: Propagation

The precise moment I became a plant-lady is unknown, even to me.  Plants are stylish right now – instagrams like @thesill, @urbanjungleblog, and @haarkon_ bear that out.  I tend to be helplessly drawn to whatever is trendy at the moment, so maybe that was the beginning – me scooping up a few ferns from my now-favourite nursery, muttering to myself about my future #plantgang and dreaming about breezy dinner parties amongst the trailing vines (I still have not hosted even one dinner party, be-vined or no).

Really though, I suspect it began earlier. I grew up in Kelowna in an old-Kelowna family, curling my toes into the dirt of the garden as I picked tomatoes in the summer.  Constantly recruited to help out in either my mom’s large garden or my grandfather’s larger one, I must have osmosed something from my time pulling up crab grass and chopping the ugly, leggy blooms off the rhubarb plants before they went to seed.

My collection of plants bloomed (pun intended) from those first few ferns up to the 36 that are scattered around our apartment now, mostly huddled on sunny windowsills or on the side of our kitchen table the catches the afternoon light.  I’ve cut myself off from buying new ones, but luckily I found a sneaky way to keep my windowsills cluttered with plant-filled old mugs (just what everyone wants in their life, right?)

I first got into propagation after staying at an airbnb in Armstrong this summer (more on that to come).  The owner, Rick, was a retired garden designer with a stacked bookshelf to prove it.  I spent the weekend reading a beautifully illustrated book on houseplant care, dating back to sometime in the 1970s.  Luckily, basic instructions for propogating plants are essentially timeless, and I’ve been experimenting ever since.

I’ve successfully propogated a stem of my ZZ plant (snapped off by a falling book), a chunk  of my grandmother’s jade (the original plant fell victim to overzealous watering), and a long leggy thread of my tradescantia (one of many snapped vines after my shower curtain came crashing down one night).  All it takes – like all plant care – is some dirt, some water, and your attention.  Okay, rooting powder won’t hurt either.

  1. Pick a plant – jade is easy to start with, but you can propogate just about anything.  Choose a stem with a few healthy leaves on it and – if possible – clip just below a leaf.
  2. From there, you have two options.  You can root it in water by just placing the cutting in a glass of water on a sunny windowsill.  In the best world, you use elastic bands or a narrow glass opening to keep the stem from resting on the bottom of the glass, physically prohibiting root growth.  I’ve had success with the stem sitting on the bottom of the glass, too – no rules are absolute.
  3. Alternatively, you can root directly into dirt.  Dip the cut end of your plant in some rooting hormone (easily purchased at any nursery). Plant the cutting in some high-quality potting soil and water it like you would a mature plant.  I tug up my little cuttings every month or two to see if it’s rooting – it doesn’t harm them when their roots are too small to be broken in any event.
  4. Be patient.  It can take a few months for a plant to root.  If it starts wilting or dying in the interim (and it’s clear that it’s not from lack of water) – the plot is up, and that plant-baby needs to hit the compost.  If it’s still looking spriggy and healthy, though, hang on!  Something’s going right, and with a bit of luck you’ll start seeing roots pop out of the bottom of the plant, or even some new growth.
  5. When a water-rooted plant begins to flourish, I transition it to dirt.  Some plants can happily live in water alone – like the tradescantia mentioned above, many herbs, and philodendrons (a huge class of plants, a few popular members of which you’re probably familiar with).  I happen to prefer plants in dirt, but it’s up to you.

That’s it!  Having successfully rooted a few plants, you start to feel like a real botanist (as though propogating plants weren’t the easiest home-plantery one could do).  As above, really all a plant needs is some careful attention – anyone who thinks they have a black thumb just isn’t turning their minds to their plant’s needs.  Enjoy your newly propogated plant babies, and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, concerns, or success stories.

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