Children’s Corner: Starting Plants From Cuttings

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Amy Johnson created a garden of over 150 plants —for free! — by starting plants from cuttings and and transplanting wild seedlings.
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Amy even transplanted small trees (like this young maple) she found growing in her yard!

MOTHER EARTH NEWS feels strongly that youths can be creative “doers,” working toward more ecological and self-reliant lifestyles whether their tasks be raising chickens on a farm or maintaining rooftop container gardens in the city. To support the endeavors of our often overlooked “underage” citizens, we’re glad to publish well-written articles from younger children and teenagers concerning projects they’ve undertaken.

My name is Amy Johnson. I’m 11 years old now. Two years ago, my family bought a lawn and garden center in Kentucky. Being around so many trees, houseplants, flowers, and shrubs, I soon learned to like them a lot. I also learned about growing plants from seed and starting plants from cuttings (stems that have been cut off a plant).

Then it dawned on me I could have a garden of my own from cuttings I rooted myself! I decided to raise my plants in pots, since we didn’t have any spare room in the garden for me to use. I started with some mum stems that my parents had trimmed off. I rooted those and soon I had some mums of my own. Then I started some other cuttings, too.

A few days later, I happened to find a few baby plants in the store that had sprouted accidentally. My sister Becky and I decided we could dig these up and pot them, too. So we went plant hunting around the store.

By the end of the day, we had found about 25 baby plants. Becky helped me put them in polystyrene cups and poke drainage holes in the bottoms. We kept looking, and by the end of the week we had found and potted 70 plants.

After a while, we decided we’d found most of the baby plants in the store. Then Becky suggested we look for more around home. Why, yes! That was a good idea. We found them under shrubs, between trees, everywhere! Becky and I dug up junipers, euonymous, many varieties of cotoneaster, and hen and chickens. We even got a palm tree that a teacher threw out the window at a school! By wintertime (about two and a half months later), we’d collected about 150 plants.

Maybe you’d like to try to have a garden of your own like mine. If so, when you dig up seedlings, make sure you put them in pots that are large enough for the plants and that have holes for drainage. But when you root plants from cuttings, remember to use little pots or cups that do not have holes, so the cuttings will stay moist.

Here’s how to start plants from cuttings:

[1] First, cut a stem off a plant that’s too long or bushy. Be sure to cut the stem at a slant (to help it root easier) with a sharp knife (to make a clean cut). You must use a fleshy green stem, not a woody one. Begonias, impatiens, pink polka-dots, yews, geraniums, coleus, and chrysanthemums are all good plants to root.

[2] Dip the cut end into rooting hormone. You can buy some rooting hormone at most nurseries or garden centers.

[3] Put the stem in a soil mix in a small pot. [EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ll want to use a light mix for this. A good commercial soil mix — a “homemade” combination of two parts clean topsoil, one part peat moss, and one part coarse sand — or even plain vermiculite should work. However, you’ll have to transfer the plant to a soil-based medium as soon as it roots, because vermiculite has no nutrients.]

[4] Water it. Be careful how you water, though. You need to keep the plant moist so it will root, but not so wet that the bottom starts to rot. You’ll have to check the moisture every day, and water every time the dirt feels dry. Put your finger in it to tell.

[5] Set the plant in the shade for a couple of days. It’ll probably wilt for a few days, but then, if it’s rooting, it should get fully colored and healthy-looking. Remember, not every cutting you take will root. Just keep trying.

It’s not hard to start cuttings or to dig up seedlings you find. And you can grow them in pots or in the ground. That way, you can have a whole garden … for nothing!