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A beginner's guide to propagation

Person adding soil to a pot.

The warmer months motivate many of us to step outside and get gardening. This year, rather than buying plants, why not have a go at growing your own? It's much more rewarding and can save you some cash, too.

We've put together this handy guide for green-fingered beginners, explaining all you need to know about plant propagation.

What exactly is propagation?

Propagation is the term used to describe the process of growing new plants from seeds, cuttings and other parts such as roots. There are a number of ways you can propagate plants, but sowing seeds is a good place to start.

Sowing seeds

As a B&Q blog explains, sowing seeds is something the whole family can get involved in. Opt for seeds like cress or peas if you've got kids – they'll love watching them grow, not to mention eating them at the end!

Depending on the seed, you can sow directly outside into prepared soil, or you may need to start them off in a propagator to allow them to germinate. Then they can be transferred to your chosen space.

Gardeners' World has some handy tutorials on sowing small seeds and large seeds, and has shared some tips for germinating success, which include:

  • Choose fresh seeds for the best and quickest results.
  • Follow the instructions on the packet for timing, temperature, light levels and sowing depth.
  • Label pots and seed trays so you don't forget what you've sown!
  • Water-in newly sown seeds.
  • Protect seeds from squirrels, mice and cats with mesh or wire netting.

Propagators

Propagators are essentially incubators for seeds, made up of a plastic cover, tray and growing pockets where you place the compost and seeds. It stays indoors, meaning you can kick-off the germination process when it's still too cold to plant outdoors.

As a beginner, you may want to start off with tomatoes, runner beans, chillies or sweet peas. You'll need to fill the tray with seed and cutting compost, before sowing the seeds as per the instructions. Once sown, you should sieve compost over the seeds so they're at the correct depth, then use a watering can with a rose head to gently water them.

Propagators should be placed somewhere warm, but not in direct sunlight. A sunny window sill is perfect – but make sure you turn the tray regularly to encourage even growth.

Using cuttings

You can also propagate using plant cuttings. The process is different, but it means you grow identical replicas of your favourite plants in your garden. You can use the stem, side shoots, leaves or roots – either taking softwood cuttings (the young growth tips on the plant) or hardwood (the less flexible branch material).

All you need to propagate using cuttings is a sharp knife, some rooting gel and a designated planting spot in your garden.

Transferring your plants

The general rule is, when your plants have grown three or four true leaves, they're ready to plant in the garden, explains Gardening Know How. The plants will need to be hardened off, which means acclimatising them to the cooler temperatures.

As the RHS notes, hardening off takes place in gradual stages, which includes moving them to a cold glasshouse and a well-ventilated cold frame before transferring them to their new home.

When they're ready to plant out, Grow Veg advises to firm the soil around the plant and water well to ensure the roots stay moist. When you transfer plants, growth is usually set back by one or two weeks as the roots establish themselves.

Do you have any tried-and-tested tips for growing your own plants?

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