A creative sideline for gardeners is plant propagation, or enhancing the landscape through reproduction.
It's also a cheap way to fill flowerbeds and herbal containers while prices continue to climb.
Methods of propagation range from seed sowing to grafting, and all require varying degrees of skill.
"For propagation, you don't need an education but you may need some guidance," said Ken Druse, author of the new "Making More Plants: The Science, Art and Joy of Propagation" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang). "Most often, though, it's all about starting plants from seeds."
Seeds are an economical way to grow in bulk, even if you must buy them in commercially prepared packets. "Getting your seeds from a proven source is a good way to ensure high production," Druse said.
Here is a propagation glossary, describing the most commonly used methods:
From the positioning tip that leads to better-tasting veggies to why you should plant by the light of the moon, help your garden flourish this year by following these 8 unusual steps.
It may seem like an odd pairing, but sunflowers make great growing companions when it comes to planting sweeter cucumbers. Not only do both plants require similar soil conditions, the tall stalks of the sunflowers give cucumber plants something supportive to climb. Flickr photo by La Grande Farmers' Market
Rich in calcium carbonate, dried egg shells work as a great natural fertilizer. Try crushing them up in a blender before throwing them in your garden to enrich the soil. Flickr photo by ksuyin
Chamomile tea is great for keeping your plants healthy. Use it when watering to ward off bacterial and fungal infections and to prevent young seedlings from damping off. Just make sure the tea is completely cooled off first before you use it. Flickr photo by this lyre lark
To make your garden look more balanced and pleasing to the eye, be sure to plant in odd numbers. This composition looks more natural than even numbered groupings and gives off the illusion that plants are bigger and healthier. Flickr photo by Ian Muttoo
Protect your crocuses by planting lavender nearby. Birds are more attracted to the fragrant flower, and it will prevent them from pecking away at your blooming bulbs. Flickr photo by graibeard
Night owls, rejoice! Experts say that planting by the light of the moon actually causes gardens to grow faster and stronger than they do if you plant by day. An added bonus? Moonlight gardening also minimizes water waste. Flickr photo by rmlowe
Keep your shorter plants on the south side of your vegetable garden and tall plants toward the north. This will prevent taller plants from casting unwanted shadows over smaller crops, shading them from the sun. Flickr photo by Doug Beckers
The water you use to cook pasta or boil vegetables is full of left over vitamins and nutrients. Instead of throwing it away, let it cool to room temperature and then use it to water you plants. You'll be left with a happier, greener garden. Flickr photo by chichacha
-- Sowing seeds: Druse starts his seeds indoors three at a time in half-inch pots, topping the soil with fine sand. "Moist soil is a great medium for seeds but also for fungus, which can kill a great many sprouts in just a couple of weeks," he said. "Gravel is not a hospitable medium for fungus."
-- Stem, leaf or root cuttings: Pieces of the parent plant are cut and placed in water or a suitable growing medium until roots develop. They become clones, or junior versions of the originals and soon are ready for transplanting.
-- Layering: A practice usually done with woody plants where living stems are placed on the ground with their tips forced downward. They receive nourishment from the parent plants while roots form on the planted ends, enabling them to eventually be separated and grow unaided.
-- Grafting: Branches are removed from one woody plant and secured to another until they "take" or begin to grow. That unites certain desirable characteristics from one plant — say hardiness, dwarfing or faster fruiting — with those of its host. Apple trees commonly are grafted, as are Japanese maples.
-- Dividing: Perennials should be divided once they outgrow their sites. That improves their health, bulks up foliage and produces more flowers. "Depending upon the species, these divisions may grow to be as large as the original plant by season's end: more plants for free," Druse said.
"Sowing seeds, cuttings and division are the most prevalent forms of propagation done by home gardeners," said Rosie Lerner, an extension consumer horticulturist with Purdue University. "It's a little work but well worth the effort. It's a matter of knowing which parts of the plants to split off and divide. Many have a high degree of success."
And then there are plant swaps, which add a social component to garden building.
Be careful of those pass-along plants from neighbours and friends, though — the kind they're willing to trade because they have so many. Some could be infested with mites, while others may be invasive.
"Some plants are thugs," Druse said. "Anything so easy to propagate may not be that great to have around your yard."
For more about expanding your plant collection through propagation, see this University of Minnesota Sustainable Urban Landscape fact sheet: http://www.sustland.umn.edu/maint/propagation.html
You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape.net