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Four ways to propagate woody plants

Tree seedsThe Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation begins with a discussion of the four main methods you can use to take one plant and make several.  Each has its pros and cons, so it's worth taking a look at all four before you decide which one(s) you want to use.

For those of us used to working with annuals, the most obvious form of propagation is to grow plants from seed.  The great thing about growing from seed is that you end up with lots of new plants quickly and at a low cost.  The bad part is that every seedling is going to be a little different --- very few woody plants have been line bred to the point where you can save the seeds and end up with similar offspring the way you could with an heirloom tomato.  On the homestead, it's most handy to grow woody plants from seed if you're working with species likely to breed true (often self-pollinators like peaches), if there aren't many named varieties (often the case for nuts, Nanking cherries, etc.), or if you're just producing rootstocks to graft onto.

Which brings us to grafting.  As I explained in my lunchtime series about The Grafter's Handbook, grafting is a method of producing a clone of a variety you like, such as a winesap apple.  The major advantage of grafting is that it's fast and dependable once you know what you're doing.  The downside is that you either have to buy or grow rootstocks (produced from seed or by rooting cuttings), so grafting tends to be more expensive than most other types of propagation.

Rooting cuttingsRooting is the poor man's grafting.  Once again, you end up with an exact clone of the plant you like, but the process can cost absolutely nothing in many cases.  The Reference of Woody Plant Propagation notes that it's cheaper to root cuttings than to graft if your rooting success rate is at least 50%, but on the downside, rooting generally takes a year or two longer to produce fruit than if you grafted.  I'll spend most of the rest of this week's lunchtime series writing about rooting cuttings, but it's also worth noting that many plants self-root automatically at the tips of their branches.

The final method of propagation --- tissue culture --- requires lots of lab equipment, so I won't write about it here.  The benefit of tissue culture is that you can produce lots of clones very quickly, but there is a large price tag attached.

Before you plant your perennials, be sure to boost your soil organic matter with cover crops.  Learn how in my 99 cent ebook.

This post is part of our Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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Cloned plants would be vulnerable to the same pests and diseases, wouldn't they?

IIRC, this is a big problem with the current cultivars of seedless bananas; most of which are supposed to be clones of a single plant.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Feb 26 12:22:04 2013
Roland --- That's definitely the downside of cloning. On the other hand, on the homestead scale it's unlikely to be a problem. We're more likely to clone a couple of copies of one variety to swap with a friend for a couple of copies of their variety than to create a monoculture of the same genetic material. Trying to grow non-cloned fruit if you've only got a bit of space is often a bad idea because you're just so much more likely to end up with something blah than something tasty.
Comment by anna Tue Feb 26 13:15:21 2013

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