How to Grow Plants From Seed

Replenishing your own …

Sowing always gives the best, most vigorous plants especially when sowing in situ because they are never disturbed. This is often inconvenient, especially if the plants are slow growing. For this reason most plants are started off elsewhere in pots or a nursery bed and planted out when they are big enough to survive in their final position. Growing plants from seed has one major drawback, namely that most of the best varieties of perennial plants cannot be propagated from seed, but have to be vegetatively propagated from cuttings, layers, grafts, buds or root division if they are to come true. For many woody plants the simplest way to propagate them is by autumn cuttings (also known as hardwood or ripe cuttings). These have the summer’s energy stored away, and cleanly cut young shoots a foot or less long root easily. Firm them in a slit trench lined with sharp sand. Keep them moist and sheltered from the worst of the weather over winter, and they will be ready for planting out next autumn.

How to Grow Plants from Seeds - Cuttings As a rule, cuttings are best able to root from the leaf joints (nodes) in the stem, so are cut close below one at the bottom. For a few plants, such as clematis, they are best cut half-way between nodes. Lower buds are removed unless many shoots are wanted close to the ground to form a stool, as for blackcurrants. Autumn cuttings root well, but have to endure the winter. In hard areas, store the cuttings in moist sand in a frost-free place, then plant them in spring.

Cuttings of some less hardy plants, such as rosemary and lavender, will not stand hard winter or storage, but they can be rooted successfully from cuttings taken in early spring. ‘Lazy cuttings’ (semi-ripe cuttings) are best for this; small shoots are pulled off with a tiny heel of old wood. Summer cuttings (also known as unripe or soft cuttings) are of the fresh young growth, and would wither before rooting unless given special conditions, which a propagator can provide. They need warmth underneath high humidity and shading with a sheet of paper to prevent them scorching in strong sunlight. Summer cuttings are shoots of current growth long enough to have several pairs of leaves. Usually one pair of leaves is left and two or three pairs at the base removed to give a short, bare stem to firm into a sterile medium. Sharp sand in pots is excellent, because it is well aerated and the grittiness helps rooting. Once rooted, the cuttings must be potted on into richer potting compost. They form smaller plants than those produced from autumn cuttings, but they root more readily and after overwintering can be planted out into a nursery bed or potted up.

Layering is used for plants that do not take easily from cuttings, and is simply rooting the cutting while it is still attached to the parent: If a branch cannot be pegged down into the soil then a pot of soil can be held up to the branch. In either case, the bark is damaged and held in moist, sharp-sand-enriched soil till it roots and can then be detached and planted. Hormone rooting powder may encourage rooting of difficult subjects, but although naturally occurring, it is not generally accepted by organic gardeners.

For woody plants that do not layer easily, such as many of our fruit trees, grafting and budding are used. This is a more difficult technique to master, but basically consists of joining a bit of the desired plant to the rootstock of another, compatible plant that is more easily propagated. The cut surface of one is attached so closely and firmly at the cambium (growth layer) of their bark, that they join.

Root division is used to propagate most herbaceous plants. As plants grow they form large clumps that get old and woody in the centre. They can be dug up, the vigorous perimeter divided into chunks for replanting and the worn-out middle discarded. If many plants are wanted, every segment which has roots and a bud can be replanted in fresh ground to make a new plant. Often the clumps just need splitting into two rather than being chopped up small, while others can be teased apart by hand, or have tightly entwined roots pulled apart with two forks placed back to back.

Most plants can be grown from seed in the same way as vegetables, though some need to spend time in a nursery bed before being big enough to plant out. This can be a long time for some trees, so you may be better off buying these in, but is quite short for many shrubs, though most of these are quicker to flower when grown from cuttings in the autumn, or layering if cuttings are difficult. If you want named varieties you will have to propagate from cuttings, as few will come true from seeds. However, if you want to take the risk, you might just grow something completely different!

With patience, a garden can be replenished or even stocked with little expense. Most gardeners are only too willing to donate cutting material and seed, and few begrudge bits off the side of herbaceous plants especially when they are replenishing a bed anyway. Beware the overgenerous gardener who comes with a barrow-load of any plant. It is more likely to be an invasive peril than a rare and choice item, so accept it graciously and compost discreetly.

… and profiting from your surplus

There are strict laws preventing the sale of seeds of most vegetables in many countries, and plant-breeders’ rights govern the sale of protected varieties. Generally, though, you are free to sell your surplus plants and produce. However, I counsel against selling produce because the returns are so low compared to the efforts, and one always ends up selling the best and retaining the poorest for oneself. Give your surplus crops and plants to friends or charity stalls instead — and never give away too much, or the best, which is yours by right.

Replanting and rotation

In any garden there comes a time when, for some reason or another, a major tree or shrub dies or is evicted. Never ever try to replace it with the same or similar, because the new one will seldom prosper. The proximity of any established similar plants will also severely handicap the newcomer. In the worst cases, if you want to replant part- of a hedge or rose bed, you will have to remove and replace all the immediate soil and give the new plants a heavy feeding and regular watering if there is to be any hope of success.

26. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Organics, Propagation | Tags: , | Comments Off on How to Grow Plants From Seed


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