by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
So you want to multiply your houseplants. Some are easy to propagate at home; others are more challenging. The keys are starting with healthy plants, choosing the proper propagation method and providing a suitable environment.
Plant diseases and common houseplant insect pests can be propagated along with plants, so it's important to start with healthy plant parts and disease-free seed. Portions of healthy, vigorously growing plants are also more likely to establish roots and begin to grow on their own.
Some houseplants can be propagated by more than one method. African violets, for instance, can be grown from seed, from divisions or from single leaves. For other plants, such as true ferns and orchids, generally only one method will succeed. So choosing the appropriate method has a lot to do with your chances of success.
All plant propagation methods fall in one of two categories: sexual or asexual, also called vegetative. Plants propagated sexually are grown from seeds. Plants propagated asexually are grown from other plant parts, most often leaves and stems.
The third key is providing a suitable environment. Seeds and cuttings generally need high humidity, a moist growing medium and warm temperatures for quick germination and successful rooting. These may not be the conditions the plants need once they get established, though this varies from plant to plant.
High humidity is necessary when propagating plants -- it reduces water loss from leaves so that new plants don't wilt and dry out before they develop a good root system. Moist air also keeps the growing medium from drying out so quickly.
Another factor in successful propagation is using a sterile material for starting seeds and cuttings. A sterile medium is free of disease organisms. This is critical because the warm, humid conditions that promote germination and rooting also are ideal for fungi and other disease organisms.
Containers for the growing medium must likewise be cleaned and sanitized before use. Any shallow container will do, as long as it has some way of letting excess water drain out. A clear cover -- such as plastic wrap, a plastic bag or a big glass jar -- keeps the air around plants moist and lets light in. It also makes it easy to check for emerging seedlings or wilting or other signs of trouble.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office