AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION SERVICE
Circular 148 April 1956
i'" :- .. T. J. SHEEHAN
Assistant Ornamental Horticulturist
Home owners often need a convenient way to propagate a few
choice plants or to propagate a cutting or some seed given by a
friend. Equally important, too, is the fact that the unit should
not be "messy" and should be convenient and easy to care for
in the kitchen, porch or apartment.
The bed or bench, coldframe or seedflat used for propagating
nursery stock is usually too large for use around the home, or
may require more care than the home owner can give. There
are, however, many small units that can be used to propagate
the limited number of plants required for planting the average
home grounds. It is not the purpose of this circular to depict
all of the possible variations of small home propagation units,
but to supply information on handling some of the more common
An aquarium (Figure 1) is an ideal unit. The bottom of the
tank should be covered with at least one inch of pea gravel for
drainage. A layer of three to four inches of sharp sand, ver-
miculite (expanded mica), sphagnum moss or other propagating
medium is added on top of the gravel. Once the material has
been moistened the unit is ready. After the cuttings have
been stuck a glass or plastic cover can be put on the aquarium.
The cover will help keep the humidity high within the tank, pre-
venting the cutting from wilting and thus hastening the root-
A large bulb pan (Figure 2) can be adapted for use. A six-
or eight-inch pan is best. Plug the drain hole with pitch, putty
or similar materials and fill the pan about half way with sand.
Take a two-inch pot and plug its drain hole in a similar manner.
Then place the small pot in the center of the large pan on top
of the sand and fill in between the rims of the two with sand.
Once the sand is wet the cuttings may be stuck. Fill the center
pot with water. This pot acts as a reservoir and as long as
there is water in the small pot the sand will have sufficient mois-
ture to insure rooting of the cuttings. The water in the small
pot will slowly pass through the porous sides of the pot into the
sand, keeping it at a uniform moisture content.
1 _= I,
These materials make satisfactory home propagating units.
Plastic or polyethylene bags (similar to those in which pro-
duce is packaged) are also useful as parts of propagating units
at home (Figure 3). One method that has been successfully
used to root some of the easily rooted plants, such as coleus and
chrysanthemums, is to take a ball of damp sphagnum moss and
wrap it around the base of several cuttings. Next insert the
cuttings in a polyethylene bag and tie the top. The bag should
have a few small holes in the sides to insure air exchange. The
cuttings need not be disturbed until they are rooted.
Still another method consists of filling an ordinary clay flower
pot with moist sphagnum moss and, after the cuttings have been
stuck, cover the pot with a polyethylene bag. A stake or two in
the pot will help keep the bag from collapsing on the cuttings.
An apple crate (Figure 4) can be made into a suitable unit.
Leave one side intact and cut the other down to about six inches.
Cover any of the large openings with screening to prevent the
rooting medium from running out. Then fill the box with three
to four inches of rooting medium, such as sand, vermiculite or
sphagnum moss. After the cuttings have been stuck the box
can be covered with polyethylene film as shown in the diagram.
There is one precaution that must be taken when using poly-
ethylene films. Do not allow your propagating unit to stand in
the full sun, as it will absorb enough heat to cook the cuttings
before they are rooted.
A one-gallon or five-quart oil can (Figure 5) may be converted
into a very dependable propagating unit. Remove the top and
wash out any oil residue that may be present. Punch a ring of
six or eight holes in the side halfway between the top and bot-
tom. Fill the can with pea gravel to within I/ inch of the
holes. Cover the gravel with a one-inch layer of sphagnum moss
and then fill the remainder of the can with sand. Once these
steps have been completed the can should be watered until the
excess water comes out of the side of the can. You now have
a propagating unit with its own water reservoir. As the water
evaporates from the top, water moves up from the bottom of the
can by capillary movement, maintaining uniform moisture in
the sand. Under normal conditions this unit will require water
about every 10 to 14 days. Once it has been watered, the cuttings
can be stuck. It will hold around 20 three- to four-inch cuttings
of azalea, holly, hibiscus, cuphea or similar plants. A polyethylene
bag can be put over this unit, too. Attach as shown on the
pot in Figure 3.
Rooting cuttings under mist is increasing in popularity all the
time. A larger home unit can be made by cutting down a 55-gallon
drum (Figure 6). The lower 1/3 of the drum is all you need. A
hole large enough to permit a 12- or %-inch pipe to pass through
is punched in the bottom; then punch 20 or more smaller holes
in the bottom for drainage. The latter holes should be small
enough to prevent pea gravel from passing through. The nozzle
and pipe are then put in place. The nozzle should be placed about
15 inches above the cuttings. The base of the pipe can either
be coupled to the water line with a valve or adapted for a gar-
den hose connection. Place the drum on either bricks or concrete
blocks so that it is raised four to eight inches above the soil
line; this insures good drainage. Next, place three to four
inches of pea gravel in the bottom of the drum and then add
three to four inches of rooting medium, such as sharp sand,
vermiculite or similar materials. Once this is done, the cuttings
can be stuck and the mist turned on. Most home owners will
run the mist from 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning until 4:00 or
5:00 in the afternoon.
In setting up any of the above propagators, it is advisable that
they be placed in partial shade. One of the most important
factors in the successful rooting of cuttings is the prevention
of drying out. Direct sunlight will frequently dry them out too
rapidly. In the case of polyethylene sealed containers or aquar-
iums, direct sun will burn up cuttings very rapidly.
Temperature is also important when rooting cuttings. Most
cuttings root best when the temperature of the rooting medium
is between 60 and 700F. Therefore, it is advisable to bring your
propagating units into the house in the winter months.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30. 1914)
Agricultural Extension Service, University of Florida,
Florida State University and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
H. G. Clayton. Director