Preparing your planting ground
Hopefully, you have a spot already selected where you would like the new plants to be, whether it is in your flower beds, your vegetable beds, or in containers. If the intended is a new site, then you will have to do a little manual labor (why is this guy, Manual, never around when the real work starts?!) The best way to amend the soil is to add wonderful compost, organic matter. A combination of topsoil and compost is nice. We have to do this, as we have clay soil which can be rock hard. We also add a bit of sand to the mix to lighten the soil and help with drainage. Unless you have bog plants, most plants do not like their feet constantly wet! (gardener talk for 'roots') Be sure you have determined what type of plants will be grown here in relation to sun exposure, growth habits, and drainage.
Moisture in your planting ground
When selecting the types of plants you want to grow for your selected garden area, be sure and take into consideration the moisture factor. A most common problem with achieving success, as I have discovered, is that we want to put plants where they will not thrive or grow to their fullest potential! If your garden is in the shade, the soil retains moisture longer than in a dry, sunny location. Plants here should like those moist conditions and will not be watered as often. Alternatively, if your plot is dry and sunny, don't think you can just water them more often. Unless the plants are sun loving and drought resistant, they will always struggle or die.
Always select your seeds with an eye to site moisture in addition to sun exposure so that they will grow into plants which will thrive and bloom. Make a pact with Mother Nature! Work with her. You may want azaleas near your south-facing front door, but they will scorch and not do as well as they would with some afternoon shade. The leaves will be greener and the flowers more lush. So save yourself some grief and money by initially placing your plants where they will naturally thrive. For that hot, sunny spot, try blue fescue with Coreopsis or a low rose shrub with pink carnations. Gaura, sweet sprays of white, dainty blooms, is delightful in sunny sites with Butterfly bush and purple Verbena. They love the heat! Paint your canvas with color! If your area is larger, Red Hot Pokers are just wonderful, as are the tall, variegated grasses, lavenders, snapdragons, or daisies.
Before we get on to the actual steps for propagation, I would like to tell you that you do not need a greenhouse for this operation. You can achieve pretty good results with sunny window sills and Gro lights. We actually started forty flats of seeds in an empty room while Tim constructed the little greenhouse (81/2 x 14) from a mail-order kit. Frank, our neighbor, lent a hand. He is a great neighbor, happy to help no matter what it is! Rooting cuttings by using plastic to make little greenhouses over them works fairly well also. Another good method is to moisten the soil in a plastic bag, stick the cutting into it, and squeeze the soil all together to form a ball, then securing it shut. Be careful with native plants which are drought resistant, however, as you must provide holes in the bag so the cuttings do not rot from too much moisture.
The following table lists methods of propagation you can easily do. If the cuttings do not dry out, have the proper amount of light and warmth, they will rot! You have to duplicate the conditions needed for that plant to root. That little cutting is the promise, a complete nutritional blueprint, of its parent! All it needs is a little tender care. Seeds need to be planted at the right season for their type as some are planted in the fall, and some in the spring. Be sure and read the seed package for all the additional information you will need.
How to propagate
Well, you read this far, so you must be interested in how to do this successfully! I am only giving you the methods I use, the success and failures I have experienced, and my suggestions. I will include links to some propagation sites at the end of this page. Some sites are specific as to type of plant and are very detailed. Have fun!
At Dunn Farm, Tim built a wooden raised bed, and lined it with chicken wire to foil the gophers. It is filled with a mixture of sand and compost. This is our 'holding bed' where we place some of our cuttings, our new plants and newly purchased plants to acclimate. Sick or ailing plants also visit this location to regain their vigor throughout the season once it is no longer used as a holding bed.
One of the most common mistakes I made in propagation was in letting the cutting either dry out, or watered it so much that it rotted. It must be kept moist, yet not wet. Another mistake I made was in putting the new plant in a location that was too hot for a young seedling. So I created the 'holding bed', a second stage nursery. This has worked very well as the new plants get extra protection and extra care, and being grouped together in a 'nursery' ensures no plant is forgotten. There is bright sun over this location until about ten in the morning, then partial shade gently protects the plants during the afternoon heat. This greatly reduces plant stress and conserves water. Mulching the plants also conserves moisture. Once roots have formed, and the cutting is growing vigorously, they are potted up or placed in the gardens.
We hope you have enjoyed learning how easy plant propagation can be. There really is no mystery about it, and if the plant's needs are met, you will be rewarded with new plants to create new gardens or fill out already existing gardens. They may even be potted up and given away as gifts, or sold for profit. But watch out! This new hobby will soon lead to even more exciting endeavors! Then you will be 'creating' new types of plants by grafting, or special hybridization--new hybrids which one day may be named after you! Have fun!