What’s the best way to propagate plants for charity plant stalls?

Geoff Stonebanks shares his tips for propagating plants for plant sales.

Over the years I propagated and nurtured several of the plants I grow in my own garden. It’s a great, as well as a relatively easy, way to raise money for charity too. When I open my garden, people love to buy plants to take home.

Here are four of my favourites which I like to propagate and share with my garden visitors and use to raise money for my charity plant stall.

Propagating garden ferns

Ferns are popular garden plants and visitors to Driftwood love to buy them from my charity plant stall.

There are several different methods to propagate ferns, the easiest of which is by dividing your garden plants in spring. But there’s another method that I’ve used to grow lots of plants easily. Some ferns, including some cultivars of the soft Shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum), False hen & chickens fern (Asplenium x lucrosum) and the wood fern (Dryopteris wallichiana), make miniature replicas of themselves on the fronds of the parent plants which can be rooted easily in the right conditions. I find it really easy to cut the frond off, once you see small new plants beginning to form and then pin it down onto a tray of compost, facing upwards, I use lady’s hair grips, which encourages rooting.

fern propagations
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Place them in a moist, humid atmosphere in a cool and shady spot in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame. Over time the frond will wither and small ferns will develop. I’ve found that it is safest to overwinter the rooted ferns still in the trays and then pot them up on their own in spring when signs of growth appear.

Potted up ferns
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Keep the young plants in a similar humid atmosphere until they have established a good root system and are large enough for planting out or sell.

Propagating Agaves

Anyone that has read about my garden will know I have a large collection of potted Agave’s that are placed in my beach garden at the front of the house each year.

Every autumn, I relocate them undercover to protect them from the wet winter months. While doing so, I check for any babies or pups that are showing at the side of the plants.

Baby agave
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

I remove the plant from the container and use a sharp trowel or old kitchen knife to detach the offset of the mother plant, leaving a small part of the stem that connected the pup to its parent. Cutting too close to the base may result in the roots not forming. It’s best to free the offsets, one at a time until they are loose of the mother plant and soil.

baby agaves
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Place the pup in a shaded, airy spot for a few days so the root can dry. I tend to mix equal parts of potting compost and coarse sand. Gently put the agave pup into the rooting medium and place the container in a bright, hot place and lightly moisten the soil. After the offsets take root, they will begin to grow. You can feed at this stage. I use Flower Power. Water the plant when the topsoil is dry and be careful not to saturate it.

I have produced hundreds of new plants from my collection and sold most at garden openings.  I have retained some this year as they are going to look great in the new sunken garden area I have created at the back of the house and will blend in well with the old railway sleepers I have used.

Taking Aeonium cuttings

Another of the popular plants from my garden are the Aeoniums. A unique feature of aeoniums is the way they grow and branch out from a single flowerhead to form new plants. They do so naturally as they grow and mature.

aeonium cutting
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

What’s more they are the simplest plant on earth to reproduce new stock for your garden, or to sell on to visitors. I have a large collection, part of which is displayed by the summer house in the garden when we open. The easiest way to create new plants is to take a stem cutting from a healthy plant, let these dry out for a few days and then stick the stem cutting in soil.  After a few weeks the stem cutting will root and as it grows and matures, it will start to branch out on its own. You will notice the flowerhead begin to warp as little baby plants emerge out of this single flower head.

Soon you will see this single stemmed flower head transforming into multiple branched out aeonium plants. When I first saw this happening, I remember thinking the plant was looking pretty alien-like. Yes, it’s pretty awesome to behold, give it a go.

aeoniums displayed at Driftwood garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Fabulous fuchsias from cuttings

Both my Dad and his sister loved fuchsias and when they died several years ago, I inherited some of their plants. One of them my father bought to celebrate my parent’s ruby wedding anniversary. My Mum’s now 95, so it’s quite a few years ago! I have taken so many cuttings from it over the years and now have about ten established plants around the garden and I know there are countless others now growing in visitor’s gardens. That’s a lovely thought.

Dad's fuchsia empress of prussia
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

It is quite simple to take cuttings and grow your own. First choose healthy stems and remove a 7cm-long section from each with a sharp knife. Use non-flowering shoots or pinch off the flower buds from the top. Remove the lower leaves and side shoots, then cut cleanly below the leaf joint. Cuttings should ideally have one or two pairs of leaves. I fill a small plastic pot with seed multi-purpose compost and extra horticultural grit added. Insert the cuttings around the edge of the pot. Water well and allow to drain. Place the pot of cuttings in a warm propagator or cover with a clear plastic bag, sealing it with an elastic band. Keep on a warm windowsill out of direct sunlight, and remove the lid or bag once you can see signs of new growth. Pot into individual pots after a couple of weeks.

Fuchsia cutting
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Selling plants at an open garden is a great way to share your plants and raise vital funds for charity. And of course you can also grow them from seed. Or just take cuttings of your favourite plants and give them as gifts when you visit friends and family. Then a little bit of your garden will take root in theirs and be a lovely memory of you and your love of gardening.


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