Propagating Alpines

Propagating your own plants from seeds or cuttings is one of the most pleasurable aspects of gardening. It can be both exciting and rewarding 
to raise your own plants and to watch them gradually develop into their flowering maturity.

Hygiene is very important when 
it comes to propagating. Always 
use clean pots and fresh, sterilized compost (soil mix), otherwise pests and diseases may well ruin hours of patient work. Seed should be as fresh as possible, and cuttings or divisions should be pest-and disease-free as 
far as you can ascertain. Labelling batches of seeds or cuttings as you proceed will prevent muddle and confusion later on.

With cuttings and divisions of established plants, you can be certain that what you propagate will come true to type, but this is not always certain with seed. Many seeds will come true to type, but others will not, and some seed batches may even show a great deal of variation in 
the offspring. Plants such as pansies and violets (Viola) and the alpine columbines (Aquilegia) are notoriously promiscuous in the garden, and where several species or kinds of each are grown in the same garden, hybrids are certain to occur. This can be annoying or rewarding, depending on what you want – 
some gardeners delight in getting variations, and there is always the possibility that something really 
novel and beautiful may turn up.

Many alpines can be readily increased
by propagation methods. Here, a pot-
grown Campanula is ready for division.

Taking cuttings

There are several types of cuttings:

• Softwood: the soft shoots of active young plants are generally taken in spring or early summer – aubretia, Gypsophila repens and alpine phlox, for example.

• Semi-ripe: firm yet not woody shoots of the current season are 
taken during the summer – clematis, daphne and helianthemum (rock rose), for example.

• Hardwood: firm, well-ripened, woody young shoots of the current season are taken in late summer and autumn – dwarf conifers, such as Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’ 
and Salix alpina, for example.

• Rosette: many alpines have small leaf-rosettes – androsace, many saxifrages and sempervivum, for instance – and these can be removed individually, generally with a very short length of stem. This is best undertaken in spring and summer.

• Leaf: a few alpines, such as haberlea, ramonda and large-leaved sedums, have large leaf-rosettes, and individual leaves can be removed and treated 
as cuttings.

• Irishman’s: pieces of plants, often individual shoots, are pulled from 
the base of the parent plant and already have roots attached. Gentiana acaulis (trumpet gentian), Veronica peduncularis and Viola cornuta can 
be propagated in this way.

• Root: sections of thick, fleshy roots, cut into 2.5–5cm (1–2in) sections and inserted in pots of cutting compost or sharp sand, will form new plants. This method applies to only a few alpines, including Primula denticulata (drumstick primrose) and Pulsatilla (pasque flower).

Sowing seeds 1: Select clean plastic pots and place a 2cm(3⁄4 in) layer of coarse grit in the bottom to cover the drainage holes.

Picture of Patio Planting

Sowing seeds 2: Fill the pots to 1cm (1⁄2in) of the rim with a suitable seed compost (soil mix). Firm down the compost to level it, but do not over-firm.

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Sowing seeds 3: Water the pots with a fine rose on the watering can. Alternatively, immerse the pots to half their depth in a basin of water. Once the compost is wet, allow the pots to drain for an hour before sowing.

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Sowing seeds 4: Sow the seeds evenly and thinly over the surface. Thin sowing is essential, especially for alpine plants.

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Sowing seeds 5: Sprinkle a fine layer of extra seed compost over larger seeds, followed 
by a thin layer of potting grit. Fine seed should be simply covered with grit.

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Sowing seeds 6: Carefully label each plot with the name of the plant and the date of sowing. Place the pots in a cool, moist position outside to germinate. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out into individual pots and grow on in a cold frame or cold glasshouse.

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Division 1: Carefully dig up the parent plant, 
and gently shake off the excess soil.

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Division 2: Divide it into suitably sized sections, each with its own share of shoots and roots. Pull the pieces apart by hand or use two hand forks, held back to back, to tease the clumps apart.

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Division 3: Replant in a suitably prepared site or pot on pieces to become established. At the same time, discard any old, tired bits of plant, or those with any sign of pests or disease.

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Taking Softwood Cuttings 1: You will need hormone rooting powder, plastic bags, a pot filled 
with cuttings compost (soil mix) and secateurs (pruners).

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Taking Softwood Cuttings 2: Remove healthy, leafy, non-flowered shoots that are 1–6cm (1⁄2–21⁄2in) long from the parent plant, cutting immediately below a node (leaf joint).

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Taking Softwood Cuttings 3: Trim off the leaves from the lower 
half of the stem, and dip the cut end into a hormone rooting powder.

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Taking Softwood Cuttings 4: Place several cuttings around the edge of a pot in cuttings compost, inserting them to about half their length.

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Taking Softwood Cuttings 5: Water with a suitable fungicide and leave to drain.

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Taking Softwood Cuttings 6: Place the pots of cuttings in a propagator or in individual plastic bags, in a light but not sunny position.