There are ways to get free plants for your garden, and I don’t mean bribing the checker at the home improvement store. Nope, these are more satisfying anyway! The way to get free plants is to propagate plants that already exist, either from your own garden, or a neighbor or gardening buddies. To propagate means to basically cause the plant to multiply… thus taking one plant, and turning it into several, or even many! Free plants!
There are many ways to propagate plants, but many of them are too complicated for the average gardener, and usually take extreme patience and a greenhouse. I’m going to concentrate on the ones that are easy and within the ability of even a beginner. These methods include gathering seed, division, softwood cuttings, and leaf cuttings. Our feature photo, above, is a great example of division by cuttings… ‘Cafe Sucre Furine’ shows us how to propagate basil by cuttings. (Keep reading, we cover it!)
I’m not going to get detailed about seed saving, because we just did a post on that, but you should jump over to learn all our seed saving tips.
Division is an easy process that splits one plant into several, best done in spring or fall. Any plant that grows with more than one central “stalk” is technically a candidate for division, but certain plants are easier pickings. In other words, plants that grow in “clumps”. Good choices? Most perennials without a taproot, such as hostas, day lilies, iris, grasses, phlox, coneflower, black eyed susans, asters and astilbe. (And many, many more!) The basic steps?
- Dig up the plant with a sharp spade
- Separate the crowns to make new plants. You can tease the roots apart with your fingers with some plants, but others you may have to cut them with a knife. Don’t worry, they will be fine!
- Replant each crown you separated as a new plant immediately, and water well until they get established.
Check out this video on dividing perennials from ‘Fine Gardening’.
Softwood cuttings are kind of like when we cut a stem of a houseplant and stick it in a glass of water until it grows roots, except we stick it into moist potting soil and trap it with a plastic bag. (OK, you can just stick some plants into water, let’s be honest… some are just so easy!)
If you want to try softwood cuttings on plants with tougher stems, like hydrangeas, follow this tutorial by ‘This Old House‘… this should work for many soft stemmed shrubs. This is just a touch more work, but don’t let it scare you. And when they mention rooting hormone powder and you start to panic, don’t worry. Just ask for it at your local nursery, it looks like cornstarch and just helps… you can do it without though. Don’t believe me? Here is a softwood cutting tutorial for softer stemmed perennials and herbs from ‘Mother Earth Living’… and they agree with me, it doesn’t have to be that complicated!
The last easy method is propagation by leaf cuttings. What this means is you basically cut off a leaf and some of the stem, then plant it into soil medium just like you did for softwood cuttings. This works really well with succulents, which are so popular right now. In fact in my garden, these propagate themselves. When a windstorm breaks off some stem or leaves, they replant themselves everywhere! So really, how hard can it be? (My sedum “Angelina” is a main offender, but I love it!) Wikihow has a great tutorial on how to propagate succulents by leaf cutting.
Ok, so that’s it! Easy ways to make free plants for your garden, or host a swap party with family and friends and share!