Monday, May 26, 2014

Propagating Herbs - get more for less!

If you have a mature herb plant, multiply the joy and get more plants from the one you already have.  One way is with seeds - but I find collecting seeds challenging so I use cuttings, division, and layering to get more for less.   also included below some photos of very inspirational herb gardens!

Here are the recommended techniques for some common herbs. 
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – stems will sprout roots in water. See the photo of sprouting basil. Check out this post for easy steps. 
  • Bay  - take semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or early autumn. Divide suckers in spring. 
  • Chives  - Divide bulb clumps in spring or autumn.
  • Lavender - take softwood cuttings.
  • Marjoram  - Take softwood cuttings in summer or divide in spring.
  • Mint - Take softwood cuttings in summer. Rhizome cuttings in spring. Divide in spring.
  • Oregano - Take softwood cuttings.
  • Rosemary  - Take semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or heel cuttings in spring. Can be layered or mound-layered in summer.
  • Sage  - Take heel cuttings or softwood cuttings in early summer. Layer after flowering. Mound layering in spring.
  • French tarragon - Underground runners for root cuttings taken in spring. Divide mature plants every two to three years in spring
  • Thyme  - Take softwood cuttings in late spring or summer. Simple layering in early autumn. Mound layering in spring.

Below is more of description of each of the techniques mentioned above. 

Herb Garden at Government House, Victoria, BC,
photo credit to
Many herbs can be propagated indoors from cuttings.  Take softwood cuttings to propagate lavender, oregano, rosemary, sages and thymes. Certain groundcovers and vines, as well as many shrubs and trees, also root easily this way.   I use this technique for succulents and sedums like Autumn Joy. Some plants get too woody so that layering is not an option – cuttings of the fresh tips may be just the option to choose.

I've started cuttings in water and soil.  Here's a quick process to propagate from cuttings in soil:

  1. Fill containers with slightly damp rooting medium of choice 
  2. Take 3- to 5-inch cuttings, using a knife or pruner. Cut the stems about 1/2 inch below a node, where a leaf emerges from the stem. Remove any flowers or buds as well as leaves from lower part of the stem.  If the cutting is taken from a side branch and a portion of the main branch comes along - this is a heel cutting.
  3. Place cuttings in prepared containers, several to a pot, leaving the top part with leaves exposed. (Softwood cuttings don't need rooting hormone.) Press the medium around cuttings and water in. 
  4. Set containers in a warm, semi-shady location and cover with clear plastic. Keep medium moist but don’t over-water. Be sure to open the bag or cover for several minutes every day to provide ventilation. 
  5. When cuttings send out new leaves and roots have formed (test by pulling gently), remove the bag or cover and repot each plant in its own pot filled with potting soil. Allow the new plant to put on some growth before transplanting to the garden.

How to mound layer herbs
This is a great method of propagation for overly woody plants. Old woody lavender, sage and thyme can be rejuvenated with mound layering.  Here’s an easy process:

  • Make a mix of equal parts peat-free compost and sand (or perlite)
  • Mound the mix over the base of the herb plant so the tips of the shoots are just above
  • Keep the plant watered and replace any mix that washes away
  • Roots will form along the stems by late summer.  Test this by pulling back the mix and peeking at the branches.
  • Rooted layers can be detached and potted or planted out
  • The old plant can then be composted

The Herb Garden,
Simple Layering
Some herbs, including mint, lemon balm and thyme propagate easily by layering. To layer follow these steps:
  1. Bend a stem to the ground leaving about 6 inches between the ground and the top of the stem (opposite end of the mother plant)
  2. Remove leaves from that stem section that touches the ground. To hasten root growth you can nick below a node on the stem that’s buried.
  3. Stake in place (old wire coat hangers work well) or weight down to hold in place (a rock works!)
  4. Cover the section with soil, and water gently.
  5. The new herb plant will be nourished by the mature “momma” plant. Once rooted, the new plant can be severed from the mother plant and potted or placed in the garden.
Division : Just like other perennials you may have in your garden, herbs which have grown into large clumps, can be chopped up into pieces and replanted. Really plant division is multiplication :)

Water rooting:  If you place herbs into water to keep them fresh before using them. You may  notice that they sprout roots. This happens with my basil all the time. Guess what - you can plant that :)

Other posts you might be interested in regarding herbs:

- Herb container gardening
- Herb garden maintenance

Have a great time. Your friends will be happy when you can share with them! I've also been so bold as to suggest layering in a friends herb garden - and it worked!

Happy Day

Teresa Marie

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