There are ways to get free plants for your garden, and I don’t mean bribing the checker at the home improvement store. Nope, these are more satisfying anyway! The way to get free flowers and plants is to learn how to propagate plants that already exist, either from your own garden, or a neighbor or gardening buddies. Plant propagation means to basically cause the plant to multiply… thus taking one plant, and turning it into several, or even many! Free plants for the garden!
There are many ways to propagate plants, but many of them are too complicated for the average gardener, and usually take extreme patience and a greenhouse. I’m going to concentrate on the ones that are easy and within the ability of even a beginner. These methods include gathering seed, division, softwood cuttings, and leaf cuttings.
How to Divide to Get Free Plants
Division is an easy process that splits one plant into several, best done in spring or fall. Any plant that grows with more than one central “stalk” is technically a candidate for division, but certain plants are easier pickings. In other words, plants that grow in “clumps”. Good choices? Most perennials without a taproot, such as hostas, day lilies, iris, grasses, phlox, coneflower, black eyed susans, asters and astilbe. (And many, many more!) The basic steps?
- Dig up the plant with a sharp spade
- Separate the crowns to make new plants. You can tease the roots apart with your fingers with some plants, but others you may have to cut them with a knife. Don’t worry, they will be fine!
- Replant each crown you separated as a new plant immediately, and water well until they get established.
Check out this tutorial on how to divide perennials from ‘Garden Gate Magazine‘. They have tons of tips, step by step photos, and even tell you when is the best time to divide!
List of Easiest Perennials to Divide
- Bee Balm
- Purple Coneflower
- Black Eyed Susan
- Lily of the Valley
- Bearded Iris
- Bachelor Buttons
This list is far from exhaustive! Remember, DO NOT try to divide perennials with woody crowns or a taproot.
How to Propagate Plants with Cuttings
Softwood cuttings are kind of like when we cut a stem of a houseplant and stick it in a glass of water until it grows roots, except we stick it into moist potting soil and trap it with a plastic bag. (OK, you can just stick some plants into water, let’s be honest… some are just so easy!) Learn how to propagate from softwood cuttings over at ‘Fine Gardening‘. If you want to try softwood cuttings on plants with tougher stems, like hydrangeas, know that it matters what time of year, and what part of the plant you use as a cutting. And when they mention rooting hormone powder and you start to panic, don’t worry. Just ask for it at your local nursery, it looks like cornstarch and just helps speed root formation… you can do it without though. They even have a list of the plants that you can root this way.
Here we have a nice post on rooting perennials in water… ‘Valley Gardens‘ shows us how to propagate cuttings the lazy way. ;) They used a eucalyptus tree and a morning glory plant, but many plants are easily propagated this way.
Here’s another great example of division by cuttings… ‘Cafe Sucre Furine‘ shows us how to propagate with cuttings. In this tutorial, they used a common basil plant.
Leaf Cutting Propagation
The last easy method is propagation by leaf cuttings. What this means is you basically cut off a leaf and some of the stem, then plant it into soil medium just like you did for softwood cuttings. This works really well with succulents, which are so popular right now. In fact in my garden, these propagate themselves. When a windstorm breaks off some stem or leaves, they replant themselves everywhere! So really, how hard can it be? (My sedum “Angelina” is a main offender, but I love it!) Terrain has a simple tutorial on how to propagate succulents by leaf cutting.
Ok, so that’s it! Learn plant propagation so you can make free plants for your garden, or host a swap party with family and friends and share! We think you will also love our posts on 10 No Fail Perennials for Low Water Gardens and DIY Hypertufa Projects!