How to Grow Herbs With Propagation

Overview

Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow in the home garden. Some, like spearmint and bee balm, self-propagate to the point of becoming weeds. Most can be grown from harvested seeds, but some hybrids set sterile seeds. Propagate slow-to mature and sterile plants using cuttings, divisions or layering. How the plant grows determines the most efficient method. All three methods produce mature plants for the garden or winter windowsill in a few days to a few weeks.

Cuttings

Step 1

Snip 4 to 5-inch lengths of green wood cuttings from the growing tips of basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Take young branches that are not soft and green but have not yet hardened into stiff, woody branches.

Step 2

Clean leaves off all but an inch or two at the tip to expose the growth nodes. These knuckle-like bumps where new leaves and branches grow are also where roots sprout.

Step 3

Plunge the end of the shoots into fresh, sterile potting medium in small pots or clean milk carton bottoms. Do not allow the soil to dry out. Keep it moist but not wet.

Step 4

Transplant to the garden or a larger pot in a week or two when plants resist a light tug.

Division

Step 1

Divide herbs like chives, mint, tansy and sweet woodruff that grow in bunches. Cut down as deeply as possible into a clump with a sharp garden spade. Lift growing shoots and roots together with your spade or a garden fork, which will keep more roots intact.

Step 2

Dig a hole 1 1/2 times as large as the herb clump and line it with compost or peat moss to provide a lighter medium to new roots as they make their transition.

Step 3

Trim any damaged or broken roots and cut back about a third of the herb's top growth. Trimming roots stimulates their growth and pruning the top reduces transplant stress.

Step 4

Set the plant in, fill the hole loosely with garden loam and water well. After the water has drained through the soil, add soil if the fill has sunk and mulch lightly. Keep soil continuously moist until top growth resumes.

Layering

Step 1

Pull leggy branches of soft-tissue plants like mint, lemon balm and thyme down to the ground so that 4 to 6 inches of growing tip bends up.

Step 2

Remove the leaves from the nodes on the section of the stem that touches the ground. Cover with good garden loam and weight it down with a stone or a rigid clothes pin to hold and mark it.

Step 3

Make a cut between the mother plant and offspring when the branch tip stands upright and begins growing again -- usually after a week or two. Transplant the new plant to a pot or new place in the garden.

Tips and Warnings

  • Clean tools between uses and disinfect with a solution of 50 percent bleach or 70 percent rubbing alcohol and water to avoid transmitting fungus or disease on them. Contain offspring of mint, lemon or bee balm and other invasive herbs with sunken cans or pots.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden shears or scissors
  • Garden spade and garden fork
  • Hand trowel
  • Pots or milk carton bottoms
  • Sterile potting mix
  • Compost and peat moss
  • Water
  • Garden gloves

References

  • Propagate Herbs Now for Yearlong Enjoyment
  • The Culinary Herb: Cutting and Layering

Who Can Help

  • Growing Herbs in the Home Garden
Keywords: growing herbs, propagating herbs, cuttings divisions layering, home garden

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.