The process of starting a new plant is called propagation, and a gardener can either start a new plant from a seed or a piece of a living plant called a cutting. Propagating plants can be challenging for many gardeners, whether they propagate by seed or by cuttings. Starting new plants involves very specific soil conditions and special fertilisers to ensure proper growth of new plants, and many gardeners find it easier just to buy seedlings.
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One of the hardest things about propagating plants is keeping the soil at a certain temperature, along with maintaining the proper moisture levels and light levels. Some seeds need no light, and others only dim light. Many seeds also require a period of lower temperatures before they must be warmed to mimic the natural temperature changes of winter and spring. Seeds need enough moisture to sprout, but too much moisture can also encourage mould growth. Cuttings generally require more light and moisture than seedlings, and some can sprout roots in water.
One problem many gardeners have with propagating plants at home is the trays, special soil, tray covers, seed-drying racks and other tools that are required for proper seed germination or propagation from cuttings. One method of propagation requires building a wooden rack for seedlings that fits inside a fish aquarium. Even basic propagation methods, such as planting seeds or cuttings directly in nutrient-rich soil, require compost, a cutting tool and plastic.
Seeds and young plants also need very specific levels of certain nutrients to sprout and grow, and these nutrient levels change as the seeds sprout, so a fertiliser that works at one stage can burn plants at another stage. Nutrient levels for seeds and cuttings can also vary by the type of plant. Some gardening supply retailers will sell rooting hormones, which are mixes of B vitamins and a compound called indole butyric acid that encourages rapid development of root systems. However, this rooting hormone must be applied at a certain time in the growth process.
Another disadvantage of propagating plants can be the time it takes to grow a plant that can be planted in a garden or even a container. Some plants, including perennial flowers, can grow fairly quickly from seed, while woody plants such as shrubs or trees can take years to go from a seed to a viable plant.
Just as with consumer products, some plants are actually patented or trademarked. This means that their specific genetics are owned by an individual or company, and it is illegal to propagate these plants without a license. To reproduce these plants from seeds or cuttings, the gardener must pay the holder of the plant's patent a license. These licenses usually start at £650.
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