I have long been practicing asexual propagation. As I walk around my yard with friends, I point out the plants I have reproduced by air layering, slipping or dividing. My propagation method up to now has been to put a cutting into a mixture of sharp sand and pumice and then water it daily. This mixture retains moisture but drains well.
Some cuttings, such as Shimpaku junipers, produce roots quickly; others take months. I have been successful with propagating maples, junipers, lavenders, penstemon and salvia this way.
Asexual propagation means taking a piece of a plant and making a duplicate by rooting it. The new plant is a clone of the old, meaning they are genetically identical. The patented plants we buy at a nursery are not seedlings (that is to say, they aren’t planted from seed) but clones. The mother plant may be a sport of a particular species with desirable characteristics. The only way to pass on those characteristics with certainty is through asexual propagation.
A few months ago, I saw a Facebook post from a person who had purchased a cloner and that person loves it. I did some research on cloners, which are a form of aeroponics, or growing plants without soil. I ordered one. When it arrived, I experimented with a variety of plants and had some amazing results. Apparently, this device is used often for marijuana propagation. A note included with device suggested that I should be careful what I try to propagate.
The device has a small pump in the base. In the top, there are openings with sponge-like stoppers called cloning collars. The cloning collar inserts have a slit in them to hold the cutting in place.
I started with a few plants that were in the pumice mixture and put them in the device. Within two weeks, a small hardy penstemon had roots and I was able to transplant it into a regular pot. A juniper also developed a root within two weeks, a milestone that can take months in the pumice mixture.
I have been so pleased with the results that I purchased a second machine. Both are working full time. Succulent cuttings root quickly in this system. After three weeks in the device, they had produced many small roots and I was able to transplant them into soil.
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Not all my trials have been successful. Some cuttings from deciduous plants have lost all their leaves in the cloner. However, the bark seems to be alive, so I have left the cuttings in the cloner.
These machines continually wash the roots with water, and that action seems to make roots grow. You’ll need to monitor the intake of the small pumps splashing the water over the plants. Debris can clog them and slow the action. I also replace the water every couple of weeks and keep an eye on the water level.
My little tree toads have taken a liking to the devices and move in and out. I’m not sure how, but they come and go. The water tends to be warm and maybe they like that. I have not seen any insects in the area.
You can find plans online for building your own cloner. The parts are rather simple, but I decided to wait on that for now. Some machines have a cover to keep the plants hydrated. However, I am not using a cover on either of my devices.
You need an electrical connection for the pump. I also put a plant light over each cloner as they are under a porch and get little sunlight. You can add rooting hormone to the water to boost the chance your cuttings will root.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will host a workshop on “Holiday Décor Gifts with Succulent Plants” on Saturday, Nov. 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at University of California Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Napa. This is a hands-on class and everyone will take something home. Online registration (credit card only); mail/walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).