Easy Grafting for Beginners

You can use just a few plant cells to create whole new plants through the biological trait known as totipotence.

| Summer 2020

Dwarf-apple-tree
Photo by Lee Reich

Totiotence refers to the potential ability of any part of a plant — except reproductive cells (egg and sperm) within a flower — to give rise to any other part of a plant, or even to a whole new plant. That’s because all of a plant’s cells (with some exceptions) house identical genetic information. Depending on the cellular environment and other influences, a cell may become a root, a petal, or any part of a plant.

I’ve made plenty of use of totipotence to multiply a favorite houseplant or shrub, sometimes doing nothing more than dropping some fantail willow stems into a glass of water and waiting for roots and shoots to sprout. Such asexual propagation, so-named because it bypasses using seeds (except in the case of apomictic seeds, such as those borne by citrus), results in new plants that are genetically identical to each other and to the mother plant. Totipotence lets gardeners start whole new plants from pieces of stems, roots, leaves, or even just a few cells from the growing tip of the mother plant.

Starting from Stems

Putting the base of a stem into a suitable environment induces roots to form. Water, although effective with some easy-to-root plants, such as coleus and willow, isn’t actually a good rooting environment. Roots need to breathe; if they’re submerged in water, they’ll soon be gasping for air. Shaking or changing the water occasionally helps. Roots that do develop in water are structurally different from those that develop in soil, and sometimes have difficulty making the transition from water to soil.



The most effective rooting environment holds moisture and air, and provides support. Nutrients are unnecessary at this point, because the stem draws on its nutrient reserves to grow roots and new shoots, and, anyway, the rootless stem would have a hard time drawing up nutrients. Any ordinary potting soil, with a little extra perlite added for better aeration, is suitable. I make up my own rooting mix by combining equal parts peat moss and perlite.

 Cutting,-softwood
Photo by Lee Reich



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