Plant Propagation – A Beginner’s Guide

Plants are usually treated as treasure, especially by plant lovers. They are food, medicine, and air cleaner, and they can be a stress reliever, and make one’s environment more beautiful, too. They are taken care of so they can grow healthy, beautiful and produce more plants. Plant propagation is the only way to do it.

What is Plant Propagation

This is the process of producing new plants from an existing one. Propagating your own plant can be an advantage. It allows plant enthusiasts and gardeners to get the most out of the plants that they purchased.

There are different ways to propagate plants. It also depends on what plant to propagate, too. One plant may be easier to propagate by cutting while growing seeds can easily propagate another.

Some plants can be successfully propagated in just a few days, and some take months. There are always successes and failures. Don’t be dismayed because everyone experienced it.

But as time goes on, the unsuccessful rate will become lesser as you learn more. These can be from your experiences, from reading, from watching videos, and from other means. There is this blissful feeling when you see your precious plants, vegetables or ornamentals, that came from the seeds or cuttings grow beautifully.

And then, you wanted to try another way of propagating your other plants. The division and separation method of propagation is also very easy. There’s also layering that you wanted to try to a certain plant. Then, you have a small fruit tree that you’d like to reproduce by grafting or budding.

Being a beginner in propagating plants never ends. There is always something new to learn.

When we decided to start gardening, propagation is inevitable. So, let’s start your journey in plant propagation.

There are two main types of plant propagation. It may sound new, especially to beginners. We will talk about them for a better understanding.

Types of Plant Propagation

1. Sexual Propagation

This is the combination of the genetic material of two parents by pollination and fertilization, creating offspring that are different from each other. It involves the pollen (male) union with the egg (female) to produce seed.

2. Asexual Propagation

This process reproduces desirable plants into new plants by taking and then using their vegetative pieces. The resulting plants are genetically identical to the parent plant.

The methods to this type of propagation are:

  1. Tissue culture (micropropagation)
  2. Layering
  3. Grafting and Budding
  4. Division and Separation
  5. Cuttings

See the difference? There are more about how seeds were fertilized and develop in different ways, but that will another story.

Plant Propagation from Seeds

Parts of the Seed

  1. Seed coat – protects the seed.
  2. Endosperm -a food reserved.
  3. Embryo – the young plant itself in a resting stage.

Mature seeds can germinate and begin to grow when placed in a favorable environment. Every plant has a unique seed-starting requirement, such as the correct light needed, exposure to sunlight, the right soil mixes, and the required nutrients and water. Some seeds must be soaked first in water before sowing, while others can be sown directly into the soil.

Here are the Basic Steps to Grow the Seeds:

  1. Start with high-quality seeds. Choose to get them from a reliable source. Choose something that you will really like. If fruits or vegetables, choose something that you and your family will surely consume. Make sure that these cultivars you choose are adapted to your area. The seed packet will tell you some basics about the seeds and the best time to start planting.
  1. Prepare the container to use for the seeds. If you are into DIYs, like small plastic containers, milk cartons, or egg trays, go ahead. You can also use seedling trays specifically provided for such a purpose. Some seeds require to cover as they germinate.
  1. Get the right germinating medium ready. Check instructions about what medium you should use for the seeds you choose. They are usually written in their packets. You can look online, too. You can also safely use a fresh, sterile mix from reliable greenery or source to ensure healthy seedlings. It should be well-drained, too. Never use soil from your garden or re-use potting soil. 

Now, you are ready to germinate the seeds.

Germination is the process by which seeds begin to grow into plants. The germination of the seeds depends on the environmental conditions. The factors that influenced the growth are water, temperature, light, and oxygen. 

Let’s continue on how to propagate the seeds:

  1. Fill the containers with medium or potting mixture. Moisten a bit with a sprayer. Plant the seed according to instruction. Some seeds are really tiny, almost dust-like. They can be poured carefully from the packets, or use a small spatula and scatter the seeds on the medium, then cover them with a very thin layer of medium or not cover at all. Spray with some water.

For seeds as small as swiss chard’s or tomatoes’, poke 2-3 shallow holes and place a seed on each hole and cover with a thin layer of medium and spray with water. When they grow, choose the healthier one from each container to continue their growth and cut off the others.

Some gardeners germinate the seeds in one container. When the seeds grow, they choose the good seedlings and carefully uprooted them to be repotted.

If you are looking for containers online, I suggest these:

If you are into DIY, check this out:

  1. As the seedling grows, use a small watering can or mister to water them. Give the required light, temperature, and humidity. Fertilizers are not usually needed at this stage of growth. When the true leaves fully develop, they can be transplanted to a separated pot or nursery pot (1 seedling per container) or spaced out in a garden bed and allow to continue growing. 

Remember the factors that influenced their growth. Enough watering, light, temperature, and humidity. That’s why it is also important that the seeds be sowed at the right timing. Instructions like: ‘seeds best to sow 4 months before winter starts’ can be found in their packets.

Plants grown in nursery pots can be transplanted in bigger pots or directly onto the soil to mature. Depending on the plants, follow instructions about the right fertilizers, besides the other factors.

Plant Propagation by Tissue Culture (Micropropagation) 

Tissue culture is the culture of cells, tissues, organs, or whole plants in controlled conditions to rapidly produce more plants.

The small pieces, such as the plant tissue, are grown in sterile containers, such as flasks or Petri dishes in a designated room with controlled temperature and light intensity. Most often, to produce clones of the plants.

This plant propagation technique is being used as a tool for research for the improvement of plant production. So, I guess let’s leave this to the professional unless you’d like to study or have the guts to try tissue culture.


This method of plant propagation is where the new plant is still partially attached to the mother plant while forming new roots. The rooted stem after the separation or removal from the mother plant is the layer.

5 Methods of Layering and How to Do It

  1. Tip Layering – The tip or point of a stem is pushed under the soil and cover. A pin is used to hold it down. The hole should be about 3-4 inches where the tip is placed. The tip will go downwards first then will grow upward. Some of the plants that can be propagated using this method are raspberries, blueberries, loganberries.
  1. Simple Layering – This plant should have a flexible stem. Bend the low-growing, flexible stem to the ground. Then bury the part of the stem 6-12 inches from the top left above the soil. The tip can be put into a vertical position and stake it to stay in place. The bent stem that’s underground will induce rooting. It may take one or more seasons before the layer is ready to be removed for transplanting.

Some of the plants that can be propagated using this method are rhododendron, azalea, boxwood, and climbing rose.

  1. Compound (serpentine) Layering – This layering method is good for plants with long, flexible branches. To do this, bend and push the stem with the node underground, like doing simple layering. But instead of covering one node with soil, 2 or 3 nodes are covered with soil. The covered nodes alternate with uncovered, exposed nodes where new shoots can form above ground. This method sometimes occurs naturally in nature, spreading over time.

When roots develop, each segment can be cut along the branch forming multiple plants. Some plants that can be propagated this way are pothos, grapes, and heart-leaf philodendrons.

  1. Mound (Stool) Layering – Useful for shrubs and fruit tree rootstocks with closely branched and heavy stems. Cut the plant back to 1 inch above the soil surface during the dormant season. Nodes will produce new shoots in the spring. Mound soil over the new shoots as they grow. Roots will develop at the bases of the young shoots. And then cut the layers from the main stem underneath the newly developed roots. These cuttings are ready to be planted. This method is often used to propagate dwarf understocks for fruit trees and some ornaments. Some examples are magnolia, apple rootstocks, spirea, quince, daphne, and cotoneaster.
  1. Air Layering – This is usually used to propagate large, overgrown plants or woody ornamentals with stems of pencil size or larger. Air layering is usually done on a stem about 1 foot from the tip.  To do this, choose an area of the stem below the nodes. Then remove the leaves and twigs on the stem about 3-4 inches above and below the point. 

However, the way layering is done depends on whether the plant is monocot or dicot. This is how they’re done:


  • Create an upward 1- to 11⁄2-inch cut about one-third through the stem. To hold the cut open, use a toothpick or a match stick.
  • Soak some unmilled sphagnum moss in water and then squeeze to remove excess moisture. Get about a handful of moist sphagnum moss and put it around the wound.
  • Wrap the moss with plastic and then hold it in place using twist ties or electrician’s tape. The moss should not extend beyond the ends of the plastic.
  • Securely fasten both ends of the plastic to retain moisture and to prevent water from entering. If exposed to the sun, the plastic should be covered. Aluminum foil can also be used, as it does not require twist ties or tape to hold it in place.


The process for dicots is similar, except a 1-inch ring of bark is removed from the stem.

  • Make two parallel cuts about an inch apart around the stem and through the bark and cambium layer using a clean, sharp knife.
  • Then connect the two parallel cuts with one long cut. Remove the ring of bark, leaving the inner woody tissue exposed.
  • Carefully scrape the newly bared ring to remove the cambial tissue to prevent a bridge of callus tissue from forming. Application of a root-promoting substance to the exposed wound is sometimes beneficial.
  • Then wrap and cover using the same procedure as described for monocots.
  • After the rooting medium is filled with roots, sever the stem below the medium and pot the layer.
  • The new plant will usually require some pampering until the root system becomes more developed. Provide shade and adequate moisture until the plant is well established.

Plant Propagation by Grafting and Budding

Grafting and budding are asexual methods of plant propagation where parts of two or more plants are joined together to grow and then develop as one compound plant. These procedures let the breeders grow multiple plants of exactly the same genetic material. 

In grafting, the upper part (scion) of one plant grows on another plant’s root system (rootstock). This is mostly done during winter and spring while both rootstock and scions are still dormant.

While in the budding or bud grafting process, a bud is taken from one plant, with or without a small piece of bark, and grown on another. It is usually done before or during the growing season when the bark is soft and easy to peel back from the cambium.

These 2 methods of propagating plants are usually preferred for some plants where cuttings are undesirable because they root poorly or not at all. And most of them are fruit trees and nut trees.

Different types of grafting.

The most basic basics are cleft graft, bark graft, side-veneer graft, splice graft, and saddle graft. There are more, actually.

The cleft graft is the most common and easier. Any beginner can try this method. This is the one that we will tackle.

This works for flowering and fruiting trees like apples and peaches. This is also used for some varieties that are difficult to root, such as camellias. Grafting can be done on main stems or lateral or scaffold branches. The size of the rootstock should be from 1 to 4 inches in diameter and should be straight-grained. While the scion should be around ¼ inch in diameter, straight, and long enough to have at least 3 buds, The easiest to use are usually 6-8 inches long.

How to do the cleft graft

  • Knife – you can get a grafting knife or a simple, small knife but it should be razor-sharp.
  • Clefting tool wedge – a tool that is a combination blade/wedge designed or can be used for cleft grafting.
  • Grafting Wax – a paraffin-based wax to be applied to a new graft to prevent desiccation.
  • Pruning Saw
  • Preparing the Rootstock. Saw the stock off with a clean, smooth cut perpendicular to the main axis of the stem to be grafted. Make a split or “cleft” through the center of the stock and down 2 to 3 inches using a clefting tool wedge and a mallet. Remove the clefting tool wedge and drive the pick end of the tool into the center of the newly made cleft so that the stock can be held open while inserting the scion.
  • Preparing the Scion. In cleft grafting, one scion is usually inserted at each end of the cleft. Prepare two scions for each graft. Choose scions that have three or four good buds. Using a clean grafting knife, start near the base of the lowest bud and then make two opposing smooth-tapered cuts 1 to 2 inches long toward the basal end of the scion. Then cut the side with the lowest bud slightly thicker than the opposite side. Be sure the basal end of the scion gradually tapers off along both sides.
  • Inserting the Scion. Carefully insert a scion on each end of the cleft, with a wider side of the wedge facing outward. Make sure that the cambium of each scion should contact the cambium of the rootstock.
  • Waxing and Securing the Graft. Remove the clefting tool wedge from the cleft so that the rootstock can close. Pressure from the rootstock will hold the scions in place. Then seal all cut surfaces with grafting wax to keep out water and prevent drying.

Choosing the Right Scion

If both scions in the cleft “take,” one will usually grow more rapidly than the other. After the first growing season, choose the stronger scion and prune out the weaker. A decision on which one to remove can wait a month or so to see which grows out most vigorously. However, never allow both bud sticks to remain for the entire growing season because the complete healing of the wound will not happen with both in place.

Note that the temperature of grafting wax is critical. It should be hot enough to flow but not so hot that it might kill plant tissue. Recently, paint-like sealants have replaced wax in many areas because they are easier to use and require no heating.

The bud sticks should break buds readily during the subsequent spring growth flush. If both bud sticks survive and resume growth, the less vigorous one should be cut away, careful not to dislodge the other one. A decision on which one to remove can wait a month or so to see which grows out most vigorously. However, under no circumstances should both bud sticks be allowed to remain for the entire growing season since complete healing of the wound will not occur with both in place.

Plant Propagation by Division and Separation

Some plants grow in groups, clumps, and masses. These can easily be propagated using division and separation. And this method is one of the easiest and fastest ways.

1. Division method of propagation 

This method is when one of the structures is cut into sections that each will grow into a new plant. These structures are suckers, tubers, bulbs, stolons, and rhizomes, which are easier to propagate in this method.

Plants that produce masses of stems and grow in clumps at ground level with their own root system can also be propagated using this method. They are brought out from the ground and divided into individuals, and then grow into separate plants.

Example of plants and how to do it:
  •  Aster, Tuberose, Chrysanthemum – dig entire clumps and separate the plants using a clean, sharp knife. Plant immediately.
  • Tulips – dig the ground carefully around the tulip bulbs fairly dip to lift the bulbs safely. Once bulbs are out of the ground, divide the bulbs. They are now ready to be propagated. To plant the bulbs, make sure to plant the bulbs at least 8 inches (20 cm) deep, add a generous amount of peat moss to the hole to ensure excellent drainage, and add some special bulb fertilizer before filling it up.
  • Iris (rhizomes) – they can be divided every three years. Dig around the rhizomes enough that they can be lifted safely. Break the plants apart to divide the rhizomes. You can discard the small roots and the old rhizomes farthest away from the leaves. Before replanting, you may cut the leaves in half if preferred. To plant, dig a shallow hole, about 10 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep. Put a small mound of soil in the middle of the hole. Place the rhizome at the center and spread out the roots on either side, then fill the hole with soil. Never plant the irises too deep. The top surface of the rhizome should be visible at the surface of the soil. Water thoroughly, but do not mulch will cause the rhizome to rot.

2. Separation method of propagation

This is when these natural structures are simply removed from the parent plant and planted to grow on their own. These rooted or unrooted parts of the plant are detached from the main plant on maturity.

A good example of this plant propagation by separation method is the asparagus and the grasses in your lawn. 

To do this, dig up the established and overcrowded plant. Check the roots for an “eye”  (bud or nodule) on them. Separate them making sure there is at least one eye on the root and replant. Plant them at the same depth that they were originally at. Keep the soil moist.

You might like to check these, too:

Plant Propagation by Cutting

And finally, my favorite way of propagating plants. You see, I was able to get some of my plants by asking my friends for some cuttings from their mature or bushy plants.

Cutting is the most common method for asexual propagation. A part of a plant is detached to produce a new plant identical to the parent. This is made possible if the cutting is taken from a healthy plant and then regenerated under favorable conditions. They are usually placed in a warm, humid environment to develop roots faster and prevent drying.

The cuttings can be taken from stems, leaves, roots, and combinations of parts like stems with leaves. Make sure that the blades of your cutting tool are sharp. Disinfect them by wiping or dipping them into rubbing alcohol or a mixture of bleach and water (1:9 ratio) to avoid being infected or transmit any disease. A rooting hormone can also be applied to make roots grow faster. 

Then initiate rooting by placing the cutting in a medium like soil, sand, vermiculite, water. Or a mixture of peat and perlite, and more depending on what kind of plants and the type of cutting.

Types of Cuttings

1. Stem Cuttings

The part of the plant to be cut and propagated is the stem. Depending on the type of plant, the part of the stem where to cut also varies.

  • Tip cuttings – cut off 2-6 inches of stem from the tip. Include the terminal bud. Make the cut below the node. Remove lower leaves that may touch the medium. If preferred, dip the stem in rooting hormone and then gently tap the end of the cutting to remove excess hormone. Insert the cutting into the media with at least one node below the surface. Some plants that are best propagated through tip cuttings are Chinese evergreen, pothos, coleus, raspberries, and rosemary
  • Medial cuttings – the first cut is just above a node and then make the second cut 2-6 inches down the stem just above a node. Axial buds are always above the leaves. So, make sure that the cutting is positioned right side up when inserting it into the media. You can also put some rooting hormones before inserting them into the media. Some plants that can be propagated this way are ivy, philodendron, Ti plant, purslane
  • Cane cuttings – cut the cane-like bare stems into sections about 3-6 inches long containing 1 or 2 nodes ( ‘eyes’). Dust the ends with fungicide or activates charcoal then let dry for a few hours. Lay the cuttings horizontally into the media, covering half of the cane. with nodes or eyes facing upward. A mixture of peat and sand can be a good medium. You can use a pot or tray so that several cuttings can be placed. Water and keep the soil moist. You can also cover the pot with plastic wraps. Place in a warm area with bright but indirect sunlight. Remove the plastic wraps when roots grow and shoots appear. Good examples of plants that can be propagated by cane cuttings are yucca and dieffenbachia.

More Stem Cuttings:

  • Single eye cuttings –  The eye refers to the node or bud. This means of cutting propagation is used for plants with alternate leaves when space or stock material are limited. To do this, cut the stem about ½-inch above and ½-inch below a node. Place cutting horizontally or vertically in the medium. Do as in cane cuttings.
  • Double eye cuttings – (with 2 leaves per node) This is used for plants with opposite leaves when space or stock material is limited. .To do this, cut the stem about ½-inch above and ½-inch below the same node. Insert the cutting vertically into the medium, with the node just touching the surface.
  • Heel cuttings – this is an effective method for stock materials with woody stems. This is made when a stem is pulled off with a piece of the stem attached. To do this, Select a side-shoot with a swollen base. The growth hormones in this part of the plant are concentrated which will assist rooting. Pull off the shoot from the parent plant by carefully pulling outwards and then downwards where a small heel of bark comes with it. But take care not to strip away the bark from the parent plant as this may cause infection for the plant. Trim any excess or damaged tissue and long tail of the bark and carefully remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting’s stem.  Dip the heel into the rooting hormone, and place it in a pot with a sterile potting mix.

2. Leaf cuttings

this method of plant propagation is almost the same as stem cutting, except that it is done on the leaf, a piece of leaf, or a leaf and its stem. A healthy leaf is cut from a plant, then planted in compost and watered thoroughly. The leaf should be fully grown and came from a healthy and productive plant. This method suits some houseplants as well as herbaceous and woody plants.

Here are different ways of leaf cuttings and how to do it.
  • Whole leaf with petiole cuttings – Detach the leaf with 1 inch of the petiole. Dip the end of the petiole in a rooting hormone. Insert the lower end of the petiole into the medium and moisten with water. Cover the container with a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap. The enclosed environment drastically reduces the loss of water from the leaf cuttings and prevents them from wilting and dying before they have a chance to root. Place in a bright location but indirect sunlight. Roots will form in 3 to 4 weeks. One or more new plants will form at the base of the petiole. The leaf may be severed from the new plants when they have their own roots, and the petiole reused. African violet can be propagated with this method.
  • Whole leaf without petiole cuttings -This method is used for plants with sessile or leaves without petioles. Insert the cutting vertically into the medium. A new plant will form from the axillary bud. The leaf may be removed when the new plant has its own roots. The method s the same as the whole leaf with the petiole. The Jade plant is a good example of the leaf without petiole and can be propagated this way.
Cut up leaves
  • Split vein cuttings – Detach a leaf from the stock plant. Slit its veins on the lower leaf surface. Then lay the cutting, lower side down, on the medium. New plants will form at each cut. If the leaf tends to curl up, hold it in place by covering the margins with the rooting medium. Rex Begonia can be propagated in this method.
  • Leaf section cuttings – The snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) is commonly propagated by leaf section cuttings.  Remove a leaf and then cut it into 3- to 4-inch-tall sections.  For each section, the area closest to the base of the parent plant is the bottom and the farthest away is the top.  No roots will develop if the sections are inserted upside down.  As the leaf is cut into sections, a small notch can be made at the top of each section to ensure that the sections are inserted correctly.  Dip the bottom end of each section in a rooting hormone and then insert it one to two inches deep into a moistened rooting medium (perlite, coarse sand, or vermiculite).  Keep the rooting medium moist with periodic watering.  New shoots should appear in two months. 

3. Root cuttings

These are pieces of roots cut from a plant that you like to propagate. Plants, trees, or shrubs with fleshy roots that produce suckers are suitable for this means of propagation. Examples are horseradish, perennial phlox, blackberries, and lilac. Get the root cuttings in late winter or early spring. This is the time when they just break dormancy. Choose the roos that are firm and white and doesn’t show signs of insects, disease, or rot.

How to get and plant the root cuttings

  • Expose the roots of the parent plant. Then carefully cut roots of about pencil thickness.
  • Cut the roots into sections about 1-6 inches (2.5–15 cm) long.
  • Cut the top of each section square and the base with a slant.
  • Place them in the growing medium, either vertically or horizontally.
  • Then put them on a hotbed or in a warm place.
  • Keep them well-watered.

There you go! Which method of plant propagation do you like and will be very easy for you? Which something new would you like to try out, too? Go visit your nice neighbors and maybe they have interesting plants that you like to propagate (Of course, ask them first if they are happy to share their plants)

Plants are usually treated as treasure, especially by plant lovers. They are food, medicine, and air cleaner, and they can be a stress reliever, and make one’s environment more beautiful, too. They are taken care of so they can grow healthy, beautiful and produce more plants. Plant propagation is the only way to do it.

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