The many phases of plant propagation
The actual process of propagation is only oneof many phases in the production of a plant.The other phases are selecting suitableplant material; preparing it so it has a highcapacity to regenerate; then providing suitable conditions in which the plant materialcan regenerate; and ensuring its survival untilthe final phase of establishing the plantmaterial as an integrated, self-supporting newplant.
Selecting suitable plant material
Often the most overlooked, but one of themost significant, phases is the considerationand choice of suitable material from whichto propagate. It is well worth the extra timeand effort to assess the available plantmaterial critically so that the best selectionis chosen, and new plants are not producedfrom inferior stock. Only the best forms andselections of a plant should be earmarked forpropagation, and they must always be fromhealthy stock, free from virus infections.Many plants, more especially the older andpopular selections, will have deviated fromthe normal to some extent. Despite theirvarietal name, they may differ quite considerably and will exist in several clones, sobear this in mind when choosing plantmaterial for propagation.Another limitation that should be considered if propagating by vegetative methodsis that the capacity of the plant to regeneratewill be affected by the age of the cutting andits parent plant, as well as the age of thevariety from which it is taken.Plant material of the current year's growthwill regenerate more readily than oldermaterial, and the highest rooting responsewill be found in a plant that is juvenile, i.e.immature and unable to produce flowers orfruit. As soon as a seed germinates andproduces a juvenile plant, it begins to "age"and its capacity to regenerate starts todecline. Most plants subsequently enter amature phase when their regenerative abilities continue to decline. Old plants and oldervarieties will exhibit very low levels ofresponse. Pruning or forcing a plant will onlyrecover a little of this capacity to regenerate.Thus the gardener must be prepared toaccept that old and very old plants andvarieties will be difficult to propagate. Forexample, a deciduous azalea, of the Exburytype, which was germinated from seed onlyabout 40 years ago, will be much easier topropagate than a Ghent azalea, which wouldhave been originated over 140 years ago. It isimportant to realize this distinction, and thatall plants derived from one selected formmust, physiologically, be the same age,regardless of when they were vegetativelypropagated.
Preparing the plant material
Having chosen the most desirable forms, thenext phase is to prepare the material so that,when the time comes for propagation, it willpossess its maximum capacity to regenerate.Such preparation of highly regenerativematerial can be done by growing techniquessuch as pruning, feeding and watering, or byforcing the plant in a warmer environmentthan normal.
Providing suitable conditions forregeneration
Next, it is necessary to stimulate this plantmaterial to regenerate as a new plant byencouraging the processes that cause thedevelopment of a new and complete plant.This can be done by placing the plant materialin a suitably controlled environment, such asa cold frame or propagator. This will not onlyspeed up regeneration but also lessen thechances of the plant material dying fromrotting, disease or exhausted food reserves.A stem, for example, can also be encouragedto produce roots by dipping it in a rootinghormone or wounding it toward its base.The ability of plant material to regenerateis also influenced by the different seasons.Always, therefore, propagate a plant duringthe season recommended by this book.
Ensuring its survival
Once the plant material is in its propagatingenvironment, it is vital to ensure its survivaluntil it becomes established.The only way to do this is by maintainingabsolute hygiene in the propagating environment and by thoroughly cleaning all toolsand equipment. Also, treat the plant materialwith a fungicide such as Captan or Benlate,and protect it with a general or specificpesticide. The shorter this survival period theless time there is for things to go wrong.
Establishing the new plant
As soon as the plant material has regenerated,the last phase in successful propagation is theestablishment of this young material as anintegrated, self-supporting new plant. Whenany cutting, such as a leaf or stem, is taken,the new parts that are required to form acomplete new plant will need time to becomefully integrated with the original cutting. Justbecause a stem cutting produces roots doesnot imply a new plant—both systems mustgrow sympathetically so that a balanced andintegrated growth is achieved. It is oftenrelatively simple to persuade a cutting toregenerate a missing part, but it is moredifficult to establish the plant material. Thishas to be done by weaning it from its protected environment and hardening it off untilit is a self-supporting individual that can growhappily in a normal environment, whetherthis is indoors or outdoors. This is often thehardest part of plant propagation.
The path of success
Provided the gardener uses this book tounderstand the principles and basic practicaltasks of plant propagation and then followshis judgment in relation to a particular plant,he can always approach propagation withconfidence. It is this last factor that underliesall aspects of successful propagation.