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Chapter 6: Other Methods of Propagation

If you have grown a bush from seedlings or have access to a mature bush, probably the easiest method of propagation is by inducing adventitious roots to grow on plant cuttings. The cutting method also gives more control over what type of plant will be produced, because the cutting will grow into a bush with all the characteristics of the parent bush, whereas reproducing by seed germination can yield widely varied results.

Cuttings should be taken from the parent plant's growing tip or from the side shoots. Erythroxylon coca cuttings will be most successful if they are 5-6 inches long. The base should be cut very cleanly with a sharp knife. Tearing the base of the cutting will injure the plant and its ability to form roots. In choosing a shoot to use for a cutting, the stem must be neither too hard nor too soft. If it is very soft and pliable, it is of no use and the same applies if it has gone quite woody. It is difficult to indicate the precise optimum state for cuttings, but a general rule of thumb is to take cuttings at that point where growth is firm enough to snap when the twig is bent sharply. If the wood bends, the cutting is too old (or too young) for satisfactory rooting. (If the shoot is snapped off, care should be taken to trim it to make the cut clean). Avoid taking abnormal growth or weak shoots from the center of the plant.

Once the shoot has been removed from the plant, remove all leaves that will be under the soil when it is inserted and remove some which will be above the soil level. The cuttings should be inserted into the soil about half their length, the soil replaced and firmed around them. The soil we are speaking of may be sand, perlite, vermiculite or kitty litter mixed with a small amount of potting soil.

The more foliage the cutting has the more it will transpire and lose moisture, causing it to wilt. If it loses too much moisture from the leaves, it is likely that it will die before it has a chance to take root. One method of circumventing this is to cut the leaves in half, allowing less leaf surface for transpiration. A more effective method is to place an empty gallon container over the shoot, thereby creating a miniature greenhouse that will retain the humidity the shoot needs to take root.

Rooting can be greatly speeded by treating the base of the cutting with a rooting hormone. Speed is important, because the quicker the cutting takes up water the less chance it will have to wilt. The brand names of two of these are Rootone and Hormodin. Again, this hormone can be purchased in nearly any store that sells plant or gardening supplies. Dip the moistened end of the stem into one of these powders, shake the excess powder off and insert the stem in the rooting medium. Be sure to read the instructions on the label and don’t expect the hormone to make up for any mistakes you make in watering, shading or sanitation. Too much of these hormones is worse than none at all.

Ground layering is another simple method of propagation in which branches are notched and brought into contact with the soil to make them take root while still attached to the parent plant. Once they have formed roots, they can be detached and planted, thus becoming new plants.

Select a low growing branch that can be bent to the soil of a new pot. Take a point a few inches from the end of the branch and just below a joint. On the underside of the branch at a selected point, make a slanting cut halfway through the branch and wedge it open with a people. Bend the branch into a hole in a pot placed nearby, placing the cut at the center and well toward the bottom. Anchor it with a heavy wire loop, fill the hole with soil, firm the soil and mulch the pot to conserve moisture. After several weeks, dig down carefully to see if the branch has taken root. If it has, sever it from the parent branch. If rooting has not taken place, put back the soil and wait. Sometimes this process will take several months.

Air layering is another ancient and well-proved technique for propagation. Select a pencil-sized branch. Below a joint either make a slanting cut 1/3 through the stem, inserting a piece of matchstick to keep it spread apart, or remove a ring of bark about 3/4 wide, scraping it down to the heartwood. Dust the cut lightly with rooting hormone powder, wrap the area with a generous handful of damp sphagnum moss, and enclose it in polyethylene. Bind it securely above and below the cut with string or wire ties.

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