Propagating Herbs from plant parts
By far the easiest and cheapest method of growing herbs is by propagating your own through vegetative propagation, or cuttings. Here are a few certain ways of increasing your herb collection on a budget.
The plant parts required to propagate herbs can be obtained from friends and neighbours, community gardens or by buy a small plant and then increasing your plant numbers once it is established.
Most of your perennial herbs can be grown by vegetative propagation. If the plant parts are obtained during the right season, they will respond well to these forms of propagation and productive plants can be obtained much faster than seed propagation.
Vegetative propagation methods include division, stem and root cuttings and layering.
This is the easiest of the vegetative propagation methods. Herbs that are easily divided include chives, oregano, marjoram, yarrow, mints, tarragon, sorrel, ginger, turmeric, chamomile, lemon balm and other plants that spread by clumps or stolons (runners).
So what to do:
• Division is best completed during the winter months, when the plants are dormant.
• Dig up the plant.
• Use a trowel or knife to separate the plants into clumps.
• Trim leaves and roots
• Replant each of the divisions
• Water well with seaweed/fish emulsion type product to promote root growth
• Maintain as normal
Before using this method of propagation, however, remember that some herbs that spread by stolons, such as mints, can be invasive and need to be grown in a container or contained in some way.
2. Taking Stem Cuttings
Most perennial herbs can be propagated from stem cuttings at various times during the year.
In the spring, you can take soft tip (soft wood) cuttings by cutting a 6 to 12 cm length of stem from new growth after it has hardens slightly. Best herbs for this method are lavender, rosemary
In the summer or autumn you can take semi-hard wood cuttings by cutting a 12 to 20 cm length of stem from the current season’s growth that has hardened to the point where it will snap rather than just bend. Best herbs for this method are Rosemary, sage, wormwood, geranium, Lavender.
In winter take hardwood cuttings of deciduous plants by cutting a 20 to 35cm hardwood cuttings from last season’s growth in midwinter. Best herb for this are lemon verbena.
I find semi hardwood and hardwood cuttings the easiest to grow in a home garden situation, soft tip cuttings are a bit delicate and need extra care.
What you need
• Pots I like broad sallow pots that are only about 10cm deep
• Propagation media I usually just buy a commercial brand from the local nursery but to save money you can make your own, there are plenty of recipes on the internet.
• Secateurs- make sure they are clean and sharp.
• A shaded or protected area – a small glasshouse or cold frame is great, by under a tree or on a veranda works as well. It just need to be out of direct sunlight and wind.
• Take cuttings in the early morning when they are well hydrated and place in water or a plastic bag until you have potted them up. This will stop them from drying out.
• For soft tip and semi- hardwood cuttings remove the bottom third to a half of the leaves. This is not necessary for hardwood cuttings as being deciduous they will not have any leaves on them.
• Make sure that the cut you make at the bottom of the cutting is just under a node (small swelling on the stem where the leaves emerge).
• Fill a pot with a good quality propagation media.
• Push cuttings into the media to a depth of 1/3 of the stem.
• Water well.
• Place the pot in a protected area.
• Some cuttings benefit from being covered by plastic to maintain humidity.
• Some cutting will benefit from having the ends of the stems coated in a rooting powder.
• Water in well and keep moist until roots form.
3. Taking Root Cuttings
I do not use this method of propagation often as most of the plants that can be propagated this way can be divided easily. I would only use it is I need a large number of plants. The most common plants that can be propagated by root cutting are comfrey, horseradish and French tarragon.
• Dig up your selected herb plant
• Wash any soil from around the roots.
• Cut a 10cm length of thick healthy root
• Fill a shallow try with propagation mix
• Lay the sections of the root horizontally onto the mix.
• Cover slightly with mix.
• Water well and keep moist.
Layering refers to the development of roots on the stems whilst they are still attached to the parent plant.
Many herbs can be layered and some like the thymes layer naturally. Because thyme spreads across the ground they soon develop roots where ever the stems come in contact with the soil.
It is easy to follow a stem back to the section that has taken root, cut the stem from the main plant and carefully dig up the roots of the now independent stem.
For other herbs such as rosemary and bay layering is another method to use though it can take longer than cuttings.
Method to layer herbs plants.
• Take a long flexible stem.
• Slice a shallow section from the underside of the stem near a node.
• Place this section of the stem on the ground.
• Pin it down with a wire peg or rock.
• Cover at least 5cm of the stem with soil.
• Roots should form at the nodes within 12 months.
• Once roots are formed cut the stem and its roots from the parent plant and either pot up into a container or replant in a garden bed
5. Buying Herb Plants.
Propagating your own herbs, whilst very satisfying does take time and effort
If you don’t want to propagate your own herb plants, you can, of course, buy them.
Here a few tips to follow when selecting your plants.
• Choose a healthy strong plant that is well developed but no root bound.
• Take the plant out of its container and inspect its roots. The roots should fill the container and hold the potting mix together but not a solid mass. Plants that are root bound can be difficult to establish and dry out very quickly, often resulting in plant failure.
• Inspect the leaves for any insects or disease damage.
• Look at the situation they are placed in at the nursery, is it a similar situation to where you are going to plant them. i.e. are they in full sun
• If not you may have to gradually harden them off before putting them into their final destination.
Once purchased ensure they are not left in a car for any length of time and are either potted up into a larger container or planted into a prepared garden bed as soon as possible after purchase.
Lots of information here regarding propagating herbs – but just try one method at a time and see how you go. It is very rewarding to be able to grow your own plants from next to nothing!
Happy propagating! Kathy
Next week how to maintain your herbs to get the most productivity from them.
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