Plant propagation from seed is one of the most commonly used methods for producing new plants. This method is not only easy for children but fun too. In fact, show them where seeds come from, other than seed packets. Take them into the garden and teach them how to collect their own seeds from plants such as marigolds, sunflowers, etc. Seeds can be stored until needed. Place them in a tightly sealed container until you’re ready for planting. Meanwhile, explain that within each seed there is a new plant waiting to sprout. Once planting season arrives, allow them grow their own plant by seed and observe its growth.
Create a root view box so kids can see first hand how plants form not only stem and leaves but roots as well. Simply cut off the top of a half-gallon milk carton and punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Then carefully cut a “window” in the side of the carton, leaving at least a ½-inch edge around it. Next, take a clear piece of acrylic or any type of plastic (clear and stiff) and size this to fit the window. Tape the plastic to the inside of the carton and allow kids to carefully fill it with soil. Plant the seeds close to the side of the window so kids can view the roots as they grow down through the soil. Moisten the soil with water and be sure to place the carton inside a shallow pan to catch any excess.
Leaf, Stem, and Root Cuttings
Cuttings are another popular method of plant propagation. Cuttings can be taken from leaves, stem, or roots and placed into a growing medium such as soil or water to produce new plants.
Numerous plants can be easily propagated through leaf cuttings. Leaf cuttings can be done using the entire leaf or sections of one. Show kids how to take leaf cuttings from a plant, such as begonia. Whole leaf cuttings can be placed directly into a shallow hole of potting soil, gently pressing in around the leaf, and misted well with water. Sections of a leaf (about ¾-inch) can be taken as well and placed on top of a soil-filled container, moistened with water and covered with a clear plastic bag, with some holes for ventilation. Misted daily, new plantlets should begin forming on the leaf cuttings within about 4-6 weeks. Stem cuttings are usually taken by clipping off a piece of stem with scissors or garden pruners and placing it into a container of potting soil or water. Root cuttings involve cutting a plant root into sections with each section placed into the soil. As with leaf cuttings, these should be watered and covered with clear plastic bags. Within 3-6 weeks, roots should begin forming.
Not all cuttings will root the same way. Some cuttings root easily in water while others may require other means. Allow kids to experiment to see which plant works well using different growing mediums and propagation method. For instance, using different techniques, take cuttings from various plants. Coleus, begonia, philodendron, and wandering Jew are good choices for teaching kids about cuttings. Cut the tops off clean, plastic bottles and add potting soil to some and water to the others. Have them place their cuttings in soil near the side of the bottle for easier viewing. For those growing in water, make sure the stems are in the water, not the leaves. Monitor the cuttings daily, adding water as needed. Ask questions. Discuss possible outcomes of these various plant cuttings and create a chart or journal to record observations.
Other Plant Propagation Techniques
In addition to leaf, stem, and root cuttings, there are also other types of vegetative propagation. These may include division, air layering, grafting, budding, or tissue culture. With exception to division, however, these methods are more difficult and time consuming for the average child. Therefore, actual hands-on practice may not be possible. Instead, you could choose to take a field trip to a local plant nursery so children can see exactly how professional growers perform some of these propagation techniques. Propagation through division can be explored right at home or school. Simply take the kids out into the garden and dig up a clump of plants, such as iris or whatever you have handy. Show them how this clump can be cut or pulled apart from its “mother” plant and divided into new ones, with each section containing roots. Give each child a piece that he or she can place in a container and keep.
Did you know that plant explorers from the past commonly used cuttings taken from around the world? Many crops and other types of garden plants came from various places via seeds, cuttings, or in some cases, the entire plant. List common plants that are native to other areas. Help kids learn about plant propagation as well as some history by having them choose and study plant explorers and write about their findings. For instance, what types of plants did they collect? By what means did they propagate them?
Teach kids the value of money while exploring plant propagation by allowing them to propagate and sell their own plants. This can be a great way to raise money for school fundraisers or simply to put extra cash into their pockets selling them from home.