PROPAGATING PLANTS DOESN’T have to be complicated. A quick look around your garden, and you’ll find it’s already happening.

Start with seed
You can learn a lot by observing plants that self-sow in the garden. Annuals, like larkspur, love-in-a-mist, calendula and various poppies, flower and seed generously. Several short-lived but indispensable perennials, like golden feverfew, Mexican fleabane, Verbena bonariensis and a particular wine-colored double columbine, are constant in my garden, but they rarely show up in the same place from year to year.

As the growing season progresses, leave a few blooms to ripen their seed and collect for later sowing. Even easier, simply allow the seeds to disperse naturally and become part of your garden’s unique soil seed bank. Then all that’s left for you to do is to learn to identify seedlings of your favorite plants and conduct their placement in the garden. Early spring is a good time to dig and relocate volunteer seedlings.

Divide and multiply
Most perennials and grasses with a clumping habit grow outward from a central crown. Over time, this produces an awkward doughnut-shaped plant surrounding an exhausted center. Division rejuvenates plants by prioritizing vigorous new growth and dispensing with the tired bits.

To divide a clumping perennial, dig up the entire plant and place it on tarp. A quick rinse with the hose allows you to clearly see what sort of roots you’re dealing with. Some perennials, like primroses, can be gently teased apart with your fingers. Other plants with more dense roots will require using the blade of your trowel, shovel or even a sharp knife to split the crown into smaller sections with roots attached.


Rambling perennials and most ground covers expand by sending out underground shoots or rooting wherever their stems encounter soil. Simply carve out a rooted section to increase the number of your plants.

Reset divisions into refreshed soil, or pot up extras to share with others. Either way, water well to settle the roots. While you might sacrifice blooms, you can dig and divide plants at any time when the soil is workable if you’re attentive to the care of new transplants in the heat of summer. To avoid interrupted flowering, divide spring-blooming plants after the summer solstice. Summer and fall bloomers can be divided and reset in spring.

Cuttings and clones
Taking a part of a treasured plant and expecting it to clone itself might seem like sorcery, but generations of gardeners have been passing “slips” over the fence to neighbors and sharing (or begging) cuttings with friends after a garden visit. Plants want to grow.

Transplant an Oriental poppy from one part of the garden to another and, if any scrap of root is left behind, you’ll likely find plants in both places. Root cuttings can be a blessing or a curse. Anyone who has tried to eradicate noxious bindweed knows all too well how tenacious some roots can be. 

On the other hand, harvesting rooted shoots from a suckering woody shrub, like twig dogwood, lilac, rugosa rose or raspberries, yields almost instant results and a new plant.

Ready to try your hand at stem cuttings? Pluck a sprig of mint (from the garden or the grocery store), put it in a glass of water, and roots will readily form. Congratulations: You’ve “stuck” your first cutting. However, sticking stems in a small pot of moist potting mix produces roots that transition better to life in the garden. In addition to mint, stem cuttings of coleus, salvia, bee balm and catnip, all members of the vast mint family, are satisfying for beginning propagators.