Garden Tips, Plant Propagation

An Overview Of The Six Common Means Of Plant Propagation

An understanding of how plants are propagated is essential to an understanding of gardening and nature in general …

Plant propagation can occur through any number of means. An understanding of how plants are propagated is essential to an understanding of gardening and nature in general. One should not underestimate the value of this understanding.

As William Davis, the author of Plant Propagation has noted “Plant propagation is of the greatest utility to mankind, so much do we rely on the vegetable kingdom for our sustenance, clothing, furniture-absolute needs, in fact, to say nothing of our luxuries.” Propagation is critical to humanity and an appreciation of the means utilized to propagate plants can help us to develop a better understanding of our world.

A brief overview of each propagation method is provided here:


Seed propagation is the most common means of propagation. The seeds of a given plant are sown in an appropriate medium and are treated to plant-appropriate light and water levels. Germination times vary based on the plant being seeded, as does the amount of time required before a newly propagated plant can be successfully transplanted. Some seeds will germinate more quickly when treated to a higher temperature than what the plant will likely later encounter. Thus, many propagators use special frames or “hotbeds” to assist the propagation process.


Cuttings are probably the most commonly used means of asexual propagation. When using cuttings, one basically clones a mother plant by severing a portion of the parent and replanting it as a new entity. The success of cutting, in large measure is determined by proper selection of a mother plant. Other factors include the quality of the cuttings and the use of an appropriate root growth medium. New cuttings must be kept in moist state, and failures in propagation using this method can often be traced to a failure to provide adequate moisture.


One propagates via layering by taking a branch or other attached outgrowth of a mother plant and compelling it to take root on its own. Subsequent development of a root structure then allows the new plant to be separated from its mother. Layering can be accomplished through any number of means, including mound and air layering techniques. Layering can also refer to natural means of propagation that do not require human intervention. Many plants will self-propagate by layering without any encouragement or action taken by an outsider.


Division is the process of cutting plants into pieces in order to produce separate and distinct plants. Generally, the cuts are made along natural lines. Division can be very easy and is a reliable method for a variety of plants. Division is commonly used with bulbs and other perennials.


Spores are collected by drying the leaf of a fern that had shown pustules on its bottom. Once dry, the dusty spores can be collected from the leaf where they are then placed on a sterile medium and subjected to high-humidity circumstances encouraging the growth of a new plantlet. Often, this process takes place in an enclosed environment devoid of light or outside oxygen sources. Eventually, the new growth will reach sufficient size to be transplanted. The process of propagation via spores is unique to ferns.

Grafting / Budding

Grafting and budding are accurately described as advanced propagation techniques. In these circumstances, a propagator will take part of one plant and merge it with another host plant to form a single entity.

Grafting and budding are particularly complicated and labor intensive. Grafting, for instance, requires perfectly implemented binding of the new part with the new host. In some cases, a grafting exercise can require regular maintenance for many years before a plant is truly ready to be left “alone” subsequent to propagation. Grafting and budding, though scientifically intriguing, are not usually used by amateur propagators due to their complexity.

There are other methods of plant propagation, but the six most common methods comprise the great majority of overall efforts. Almost all propagation occurs as a result of seed, cuttings, layering, division, spores or grafting/budding.

A simple understanding of these techniques can enrich one’s appreciation and understanding for what William Davis terms “the vegetable kingdom” upon which we all rely.