Propagation on easy mode
September 10, 2019 4:44 AM   Subscribe

I want to garden without buying plants, buying a bunch of stuff, or following finicky propagation procedures. Bonus Human Relations aspect at the end.

I know from experience that you can practically throw iris tubers, hacked up hostas, and hacked up sedum on/in the ground and they'll grow just fine. Likewise, I know I can stick a bunch of basil or mint from the grocery store in some water, and often as not it will grow roots that do fine after planting outside. But my knowledge ends there.

What other garden plants are about that easy to propagate, and how do you do it?

If there's not much more in that category, how about one baby step up from there, where maybe I have to buy one cheap, accessible thing (rooting hormone? a tray of perlite?) or learn one simple technique, but it's easy from there? If I need a cold frame or grow lights or temperature control, let's leave it out for now. Likewise if precise processes or luck are needed for success.

If there's a book, site, or other resource that you think is just what I'm looking for, I'd love to know that, too. I browsed all through Making More Plants but ended up feeling daunted, not inspired.

My Massachusetts town is in zone 5b, but my yard seems to be in a cold pocket (next to a large brook and culverts with large masses of stone, all at the base of a small mountain), so maybe better to consider it 5a or even 4? A little of the garden-able area gets sun, but most is in partial shade. The yard here is practically a blank slate.

A bonus, Humans Relation aspect of this: I'm new to the area, don't know people yet, and wonder if I should post to a local online group asking for splits of people's plants. I don't want to make a bad first impression as a mooch. Would I if I offered to divide perennials that could use it, leaving the bed better than I found it, and taking a bit? E.g., iris need periodic splitting to keep flowering well, and they're tough to damage. If it's fine to post something like that for iris, what other plants are in that category -- benefitting from being split and hard to mess up?
posted by daisyace to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Lavender is incredibly easy to propagate, although in your climate/lighting, it might not thrive. Anyway, all you do with it is cut/pull off lots of little sprigs of new growth in the spring (say 3-4"), strip off the leaves from the bottom inch or so, and stick them around the edge of a pot filled with a mix of compost+grit. They'll usually be well-rooted (and may even flower) by late summer. Don't over-water them - just don't let them dry out. Move to individual pots there and then, or plant them out the following spring.
posted by pipeski at 4:58 AM on September 10, 2019

I’d think asking for starts/splits is fine. People who like gardening often end up sad because they can’t send excess to good homes and end up composting it.

Another low-effort (or different effort) option is to simply stop mowing an area and see what happens. In your area woody shrubs would probably eventually take over on a ~10 yr time frame, but the point is stuff will arrive and colonize, and all you have to do is play defense and ID and remove noxious pest plants.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:03 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rosemary is super easy. Take a small cutting (say 4 inches long) from the end of a branch that's growing new leaves, and stick it in a small pot of compost. Twice I've been able to grow a giant rosemary bush via this method. The only thing to watch out for is if the rosemary is in a pot, make sure it's well drained - it prefers being a bit dry, and if it gets water-logged for too long it will kill it.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:27 AM on September 10, 2019

See if there are freecycle-type sites in your area - sometimes plants (and equipment) come up there.

I doubt I'd be annoyed by people just asking nicely for cuttings or splits, though. If you're open to it you could mention being new to the area or to gardening and include a request for advice - some people really love taking others under their wing.
posted by trig at 5:31 AM on September 10, 2019

Geraniums are easy. I picked a few nice sprigs on a walk once, stuck them in a cup of water that I changed every few days until I saw some roots develop, then moved them into a pot with soil for a few months. They grew all bushy and happy, and then I planted out into the garden and neglected them. Two died but three did well and have now taken over a large area of the garden.
posted by lollusc at 5:36 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love them but lavender is iffy in southern Rhode Island, rosemary is a total loss every winter and geraniums are houseplants here. And they all need full sun. I have some native phlox and wild ginger that have spread nicely in a very shady spot, both from a single plant bought at a native plant sale. I recommend Native Plants for New England Gardens for some other possibilities.
posted by Botanizer at 5:42 AM on September 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

My area has a very active Facebook group, and they arrange plant swaps. Usually quite well attended, with a ton of plants for the taking. Definitely worth checking out.
posted by Ftsqg at 5:44 AM on September 10, 2019

Nextdoor is a misery in most ways except for this, in my experience: people are constantly offering up divided day lilies and such.
posted by padraigin at 5:49 AM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

We have cuttings, etc come up pretty regularly in our Buy Nothing group, both as gifts and wishes. People are always happy to share
posted by brilliantine at 6:12 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to reinforce that many gardeners are happy that people take their splits. I can hardly walk our neighborhood in spring without walking by a dozen free hostas, irises, day lilies, etc.

If you get a raspberry cane from someone, it won't be long until you are the one giving those away....
posted by advicepig at 6:30 AM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, a local plant society or free swap site is totally the way to go. Advice about specific plants is going to be extremely localized -- the things my neighbors and I trade around here in California are going to freeze to death in your climate, but I hear wild tales of people trading peonies and tulip bulbs in colder areas.
posted by xeney at 6:44 AM on September 10, 2019

Most grasses will want splitting in the spring - this is kind of annoying to do so if you offer to do it for people they're likely to take you up on it.

What part of MA are you in? There is a pretty good MeFi community in many parts of MA and maybe this would be a good IRL.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:58 AM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in Maine, and making my yard a bit wilder. Wild blueberries did not take, but a lowbush blueberry from a store is doing well; I may try again with wild ones. Daylilies - we removed the daylilies form 1 area, moved them to a new area, where they are thriving. They have come back in the old area. I have globe thistle that has spread itself, as well as wild bleeding heart.

I'd also like to try bayberry. Holly bushes do well. Lilacs, rhododendrons, wisteria, forsythia. Strawberries make a good border. They don't thrive for me but many people do well with forget-me-nots and lupines. Red clover is often considered a weed, but I encourage it by broadcasting the seeds. Wild daisies, too., buynothing groups, craigslist are good places to look for plants. Maybe facebook. Your cooperative extension office should be a good resource.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Leave a head of supermarket garlic in the cupboard or on a windowsill until it begins to throw out green shoots. Then break it apart into cloves, and plant each clove in shallow soil with the green shoot only just peeping through at the top. After a full growing season you will end up with a new head of garlic where each clove was.
posted by flabdablet at 9:33 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Potatoes and sweet potatoes (from the market is fine) are both extremely vigorous and ready to go
posted by sockanalia at 12:01 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jade plants (indoor) propogate easily through cuttings.
posted by hydra77 at 12:13 PM on September 10, 2019

Best answer: Oh here’s a good term: ‘naturalizing’.
Most commercial flowers sold as bulbs are very showy, and will not even sustain themselves, by die off over 2-3 years as the drain their stored resources.

But better bulb catalogues will identify naturalizing bulbs, which means they not only hold their own but will spread and propagate on their own reliably in your zone.

You would probably have to buy, but your investment would be very likely to increase on its own over time, even/especially in your partial sun northeast environs.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:05 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I suggest looking through a guide to the local flora to see what grows naturally in your area, especially in the understory of woods or forest. I'm thinking of things like ferns and Jack-In-The-Pulpit. Where I live in CT, we have Mayapple, but this may be about the northern limit.

Note that some of these plants may be protected by law, and you wouldn't want to be plucking them up out of someone else's woods anyway.

I've had the experience that SaltySalticid describes with bulbs like Tulips, but crocuses, always welcome in the spring, seem to go on forever. As will daffodils if they are allowed to grow for a few weeks and not just mown down after the show is over.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:46 AM on September 11, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks all! I'm going to go ahead and post to a neighborhood group and see what comes of it, and I'll also try some of the specific plants you all mentioned.
posted by daisyace at 4:30 PM on September 11, 2019

I was in Amherst, MA once in Spring. ONG, the violets. They like old soil that has a lot of compost, but are pretty hardy. Many people will share some. I may liberate a few of the white violets from my neighbor's yard.
posted by theora55 at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2019

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