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Propagate Yourself

For a worthwhile Saturday morning activity in June, go root something. I’m working on a long-term lawn reduction project, and one of the challenges these days is getting plants without spending a lot of money. Rooting cuttings of bushes that are already successful where I live is a method I’m giving new energy to this weekend.

We’ve got a great cotoneaster shrub growing outside our back door, but it’s placed right next to a path that it keeps on growing out into. My wife cuts it back every other year to give people room to move. This year, I grabbed those cuttings quickly, and stuck them into a bucket of water while I went out to get rooting hormone.

I got a little bottle of it for just five dollars, but it was more than enough for 15 cuttings. I’ve got enough of the rooting hormone powder left for maybe 50 cuttings to boot.

The process was simple. I cut off any leaves or branches from the bottom few inches of the cuttings, dipped them in water again, then dipped them in the rooting hormone, so that the powder would stick. Then, I put each cutting into a hole I had made with my finger in damp soil in a pot. Finally, I pushed the soil around the cutting, but not with enough force to rub off the hormone from the cutting.

Rooting hormone powder is not organic – it’s a synthetically refined substance that occurs naturally in plant tissues. If you’ve got a willow tree, you can make your own organic rooting hormone treatment – willow tea – by cutting up young willow branches and leaving them to soak in water for a while. I don’t have any willows, and don’t know of any willows I could cut from anywhere near me.

I don’t feel too bad about using synthetic rooting hormone, though. It is not a very toxic substance for humans, though you shouldn’t put it in any sandwich unless you want to experience some heartburn. The energy that goes into the hormone powder’s production will be more than offset, I figure, by the carbon capture of the shrubs I plant, and the reduction in emissions from mowing.

With many plants, you don’t actually need rooting hormone at all for propagation. Some are just prolific rooters. With others, you can take a sprig and bend part of it own under the soil. Within a year, and sometimes much sooner there should be roots growing from the buried section, which then can be cut away from the mother plant and transplanted elsewhere.

You don’t have to just propagate plants from your own yard, of course. Go take a walk around your neighborhood, and check out the flowers, herbs and shrubs that you appreciate. Ask your neighbors for permission to take a cutting, and you just might be able to grow some of their stuff around your place. Results are not guaranteed, of course. Some rootings just don’t take. It’s worth a shot, though, and a far better process, economically, than paying 5 dollars and up per plant from a nursery.

3 comments to Propagate Yourself

  • Tom

    Hey jclifford! i’m also looking to do as little mowing as possible by carving out a swath of lawn to make a shrub and flower bed. It’ll be a lot of work, but the first step is to make a phone call to see where the power lines come in to a 1 x 2 foot rectangular electric company ground box (that i’m hoping to hide with this project). Once they come and mark out where i can safely dig, i’m rollin’!

    Good luck and enjoy yourself.

    • Thanks – and with those lines, you may be able to put in shallow rooted plants, such as thyme, or plants nearby that will spread and eventually overwhelm the grass – ferns or japanese iris. Good luck.

  • tonykw

    With these shrubs you’ll find that you don’t even need rooting compound. They root just find with moist (not wet) soil.

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