Cutting and Cloning

So the last time I counted, I had 33 plants in my apartment. That’s a lot. I’m running out of space. Any reasonable person would be questioning my sanity. “Why, Jen, do you have so many plants in your apartment? What are you going to do with all of them? How did you get so many?” The answers to the first two questions are simple and the same; I have so many plants because I’m getting ready for the plant sale the Comm[]_[]nity Garden Club hopes to have once semester starts. If all goes according to plan (when does it ever?) the club will be able to sell all the plants to fundraise for the materials we need to replace the rotten raised beds. In short, I have so many plants to sell them.

The third question is really what this post is about. How did I get so many plants? I’ll give you a few hints. I didn’t buy them, they weren’t given to me, and most are herbs like mint, basil, and oregano. Some of them are African violets. The last and final hint is in the picture:

Look closely!
Look closely!

Did you figure it out? If you guessed that I grew them from cuttings … you’re right!

The Cuttings
The Cuttings

Growing plants from cuttings was an idea my mother introduced to me when I was little. We would take the leaves that broke off from my African violets and place them in jars of water. Given enough time they would eventually sprout little roots and grow into plants when potted. When I moved to my apartment I purchased a peppermint plant, which I had to trim to keep from growing too big. Instead of throwing the cuttings away or making a tea from them (I already had enough peppermint tea to last me years) I started putting them in water, thinking that maybe, just maybe, they’d sprout roots, and boy did they. It turns out that mint is fairly easy to propagate from cuttings, so when I first heard that we may have a plant sale fundraiser I started growing more mint and experimenting with other herbs as well.

Here is typically what I do to grow plants from cuttings:

  1. I take a cutting from the plant I want. I typically try to keep the cuttings at least 4-5” (10-13cm) but I have had success with shorter cuttings.
  2. Next I strip the leaves of the bottom few inches of the cutting. I do this because I have found that if I leave the leaves on when I put the cutting in water the leaves will rot and roots won’t grow. Also, I’ve noticed that for some herbs the roots grow from the leaf nodes.

    Image Source:http://www.amnh.org/learn/biodiversity_counts/ident_help/Parts_Plants/leaf_arrangment.htm
    Image Source
  3.  After I have removed some of the leaves I cut the stem so there is a node at the bottom. Again, I do this because roots tend to grow from the nodes and I find the extra stem at the bottom a bit awkward when it comes time to plant the cutting. It should look like this.

    Cutting ready to be put in water.
    Cutting ready to be put in water.
  4. Then I put the cuttings in a jar of water. Some people dip the cuttings in rooting hormone, but after learning what a mutagen (definition) it is I’m avoiding it. The containers I use for rooting cuttings range from old jam jars to juice cups. It really doesn’t matter as long as it holds water. Some people also skip this step and just put their cutting in potting mix. I don’t really have experience with that method so I can’t comment on it. I happen to think growing roots are cool so I like being able to look at them.

    Basil cuttings growing roots.
    Basil cuttings growing roots.
  5. Once the cuttings have some roots, I put them in a small pot with potting soil and water them. From then on I treat them just like any other plant.

I’ve found that cuttings are an excellent way to propagate herbs without having to buy a bunch of new plants. There were already mint, basil, and oregano plants in the garden, so the cuttings were free. If you don’t already have these herbs, perhaps you have a friend who does and who will be willing to give you cuttings to root on your own.

Here are some of the herbs that root well using the water method: mint, lemon balm, basil, and thyme.

Some herbs do better if you place the cuttings directly in the soil instead of water. Lemon verbena, rosemary, sage, and scented geraniums are some such herbs.

Rawr!
Rawr!

Now, as for the cloning part of this post: All of the plants are grown from cuttings are clones of the plant we took the cuttings from. This means that they are genetically identical. I personally think this has interesting implications. While it is easy to grow clones of herbs, I worry about pests and diseases. Because the plants are all the same, if one has a certain susceptibility to a disease, they all have it. This could go the other way as well, where if one of the plants has pest resistance, they all would have it. It is a sort of all or nothing deal, where either all plants are okay or all plants are doomed. Genetic variation is really important in maintaining disease and pest resistance in a species as a whole, even if some of the members fail to survive.

So, the point of that little tangent? If you’re going to start a mint farm (Do those even exist?), I wouldn’t recommend having all your mint plants be from the same “parent” plant because it will make you very vulnerable to losing your entire crop to pests and diseases. This shouldn’t be a problem for a home garden though, so go! Clone your herbs!

Sources of Information about Growing Plants from Cuttings:

Apartment Therapy has a wonderful post about both water and soil methods.

HGTV has good instructions for the soil method of propagating cuttings.

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