Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

Do you have additional gardening questions? Please contact us. Here's how.

Horticulture Questions and Answers

How can I propagate my indoor plants?

Sooner or later most indoor gardeners get involved in propagating some of their prized plants. Two types of propagation are possible since plants reproduce themselves in two ways; sexually and vegetatively.

Sexual reproduction is accomplished through seeds. The resulting offspring may or may not have the attributes which made the parents so desirable. In addition, seeds may be slow to germinate, and seedlings may take several seasons to achieve attractive size. For these reasons, seeds, except in a few special cases, do not offer the home gardener the best route to the production of most new, indoor plants.

Vegetative reproduction involves using parts of an original plant to make new plants. The latter, strictly speaking, are not offspring of the parent but should be regarded as younger versions of that original plant. They are true clones. The common usage of terms such as mother, daughter, and the like often leads to confusion on this aspect of vegetative plant propagation.

The most frequently used processes for propagating indoor plants involve divisions, offsets, cuttings, and layering. Generally, one of these is preferred over the others depending upon the individual plant species. Guidebooks on indoor plants usually point out such propagative preferences.

An easy way to propagate many species involves the use of offsets. These are small duplicates of the parent plant which grow directly from its main stem. After they have developed to a certain size, offsets should be carefully cut away from the parent making sure that each plantlet has some well-developed roots attached. The plantlets should then be potted up in the appropriate manner. Most offsets grow rapidly into mature plants which are identical to the original. This method is especially useful for propagating bromeliads, many cacti, and bulbous plants.

Plants that grow in clumps are generally propagated by being divided into two or more smaller parts called divisions. Carefully remove such a parent from its pot. Gently pull, or cut, it into two or more pieces making sure that each has a healthy, leafy top and its share of well-formed roots. Repot each division in the manner appropriate for the species. Divisions usually grow rapidly to produce mature plants. This method is usually recommended for propagating multi stemmed and/or rosette-forming, herbaceous indoor plants.

Depending upon the species, cuttings can be made from plant roots, stems, or leaves. Stem cuttings, the most commonly used, should be prepared from relatively young wood-no more than one year old. Always use non-flowering shoots if possible; otherwise, remove flowering parts before making your cuttings. No matter which part is used, resultant plantlets will be exact duplicates of the parent. To learn which type of cutting works best for individual species, consult an encyclopedia dealing with the culture and propagation of indoor plants.

Since cuttings must grow their own roots, this is slowest method of vegetative propagation. Do not put cuttings directly into ordinary potting soil. They are best rooted in perlite, builder's sand, or vermiculite used alone, mixed with each other, or mixed with sphagnum peat moss. Peat moss, alone, is not a satisfactory rooting medium. Rooting hormone, applied sparingly to the cutting, usually speeds up root formation. It is often beneficial to keep the humidity at a high level during the rooting process; the use of plastic pots and plastic bags to enclose each potted cutting can be very helpful in this regard. Cuttings from a few species can be rooted in water; however, water-bred roots do not make the transition to soil very well, so overall results may tend to be inferior.

Place the bagged plant-to-be in a bright place out of direct sunlight. After a few weeks check the cutting by gently tugging at it. If it resists your tug, it is probably rooted and ready to be potted out into its new permanent home in well-drained potting soil appropriate for the species.

For details concerning the final type of vegetative propagation, layering, please refer to message number 3711, Air Layering Indoor Plants.