Propagating Plants: Which Methods Should You Use?

You have decided which plants your nursery is going to produce. Now it is time to determine how you are going to achieve this. Plant propagation techniques range from simple to complex methods, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. 

This post discusses the various methods at your disposal. Depending on the plants you will produce, you may wish to employ one or all of these methods. This is where Agriculture Academy proves its worth, by supplying you with all of the information and resources for you to make your business a success. 

Propagation by Seed

Seeds are mature ovules that produce a seedling. The seedling undergoes various changes along its life-cycle to reach a desired maturity.

Pros

  • Offers the potential to mass-produce plants on a large scale easily.
  • Requires little technical expertise.
  • Equipment is easily available.
  • Initially, a large area will not be necessary to germinate seeds.
  • Generally, seed is commonly available and cheaper than mature plants.

Cons

  • Seeds must be bought from certified retailers. Otherwise you risk disease and other problems.
  • Seed propagation is more time-consuming than propagation by cuttings.
  • Seeds can be very sensitive to unfavourable temperatures, light and growing media.
  • Seedlings will need to be periodically thinned out and transferred to larger containers as they develop.

Conclusion

Propagation by seed is an effective way to mass produce plants, especially if you have a smaller propagation area.


By purchasing certified seed, you are increasing your chances of producing healthy, vigorous seedlings. However, you will need to ensure you provide the seeds with the correct environmental conditions. Be aware that your plants will need a bigger area as they grow, and the period from germination to maturity may be lengthy.


Suitable plants to propagate by seed: grasses and groundcovers, annuals, herbs, vegetables

Propagation by Cuttings 

This is a form of vegetative multiplication. All of the plants you produce in this manner will be identical to the mother plants the cuttings were taken from. Simply put, a stem is cut and placed into the growing medium to form its own roots.


Pros

  • Makes efficient use of the stock plants (is a suitable method to use if the mother plants are in short supply).
  • Plants will reach maturity quicker than those grown from seed.
  • You know exactly what your plant is going to look like (flower colour, size etc.).
  • Is relatively easy to perform.

Cons

  • A large propagation area will be required, as cuttings will be of considerable size from the offset.
  • Some plants are very difficult to root. These may require additional inputs such as heating pads, lighting and hormones.
  • Care must be taken to source material from healthy, disease-free mother plants. Otherwise, the entire stock will be vulnerable to disease.
  • Some specialist equipment will be required. This may include rooting beds, misting systems and plug-trays.

Conclusion

Cuttings are an effective and easy way of propagating cloned plants. 


The production cycle is quicker compared to seedling propagation. You can also select the exact characteristics you wish to preserve in your plants. Whilst the process is generally easy, some techniques will have to be learned. Furthermore, the need for some specialist equipment may require a capital investment. 


Suitable plants to propagate using cuttings: perennials, fruit trees, succulents

Propagation by Tissue Culture

A form of micro-propagation, tissue culture allows for the mass production of plants from a small piece of parent tissue. The process is complicated and requires expertise, training and suitable facilities.

Pros

  • One plant (or part thereof) can produce numerous clones.
  • Is a form of vegetative propagation. You can select desired characteristics of your plants.
  • If you have the facilities to do so, your laboratory will not be subject to season. You can therefore produce plants year-round.
  • Allows for the production of genetically pure, disease free plants. This is especially important in some industries (e.g. potato) that lack virus-free stock plants.

Cons

  • Personal expertise is a must. The process is difficult and the labour will need to be trained well.
  • Specialized facilities will be required. A tissue culture lab is an expensive investment.
  • The process is painstaking and must be highly regulated to prevent disease manifestation and contamination. 

Conclusion

Unless you wish to produce highly specialized plants, most producers will not employ this method to propagate their plants.


Whilst the process allows for mass-production, it is expensive and labour-intensive. However, tissue culture may be suitable if you can sell your plants for high prices, or if virus-free stock is otherwise unavailable. 


Suitable plants to propagate using tissue culture: orchids, ferns, perennials, fruit trees

Curious about the practical implementation of these techniques? Watch our instructional videos on these methods here.

Recommended Resources

Hartmann & Kester's Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices (9th Edition) (What's New in Trades & Technology) 


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