Plant Parenthood: An Intro to Propagation

Written by: Summer Graham 


So, you want to get started on a native plant garden, but you aren’t sure where to get your plants. You can always check out our native plant nursery locator on the “Where to Buy” resource page, but what if you don’t live very close to a nursery, or your budget for starting a garden is smaller than you would like?


Plant propagation is a great way to grow your own plants from already established native plants. These could be plants from a friend or family members native plant garden, or from a rural landowner in your area. Please, ask for permission before taking plant cuttings or seeds from any private property, and don’t remove native plants from conservation areas, nature reserves, or municipal, provincial, and national parks!


Sexual Propagation

Sexual propagation involves the collection of seed once a plant has been pollinated. This method is different for each plant, so be sure to look into methods of seed collection and germination. If you plan on saving the seeds, look up how to properly store them and how to break dormancy when you are ready to plant. Propagation by seed collection is especially popular for native prairie and savannah restoration projects to help increase the chances of successful germination.


One relatively easy seed to collect and grow is the acorn, or the seed of native Oak trees (Quercus sp.).  There are many different species of Oaks across Canada, so try to collect an acorn from under a tree you know to be native, and then follow these steps to germinate:


  1. Collect acorns in the fall, just after they fall to the ground. Collect more than one, as this increases your chances of getting a viable (able to germinate) acorn.
  2. Test your acorns to make sure they are viable. This is done by placing them in a cup of water. Acorns that are no longer viable will float to the top.
  3. Acorns can be stratified over the winter by placing them in ziplock bag with some damp sand or paper towel, and placing them in the refrigerator (~5 deg C) for 3-4 months.
  4. Your acorns may germinate (start to grow) in the fridge in early spring, but if they don’t, don’t worry! Plant your acorns in early spring and watch for the emerging tree
  5. When deciding on a place to plant, think of the natural growing conditions for the species you have (where did you collect it from?), and use the Network of Nature database for help!
    Since they are a tasty snack for deer, you might want to protect your new oak tree from browsing for a few years, to help it grow.


Asexual Propagation

Asexual propagation involves taking cuttings of a specimen plant, and effectively creating a “clone” plant. Here are some tips for collecting native plant cuttings:

  1. Research what time of year cuttings are best collected for the species you have. For many woody species, this is in the dormant season (late fall/winter).
  2. Use clean, disinfected pruning shears to avoid spreading disease between plants.
  3. Remove flowers and flower buds from cuttings so any stored energy is directed towards developing roots so you can establish your plant.
  4. Use a rooting hormone to promote rooting on cuttings.

For some native plants, rooting before planting isn’t even needed! Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) and many native willows (Salix sp.) can be propagated through stem cuttings in very early spring before budding, and then almost immediately planted or “staked” into suitable habitat. For more tips on this method of live staking, see this  Nature Conservancy Canada blog post.


Now that you know a little more about plant propagation, go forth and multiply (your native plants)!



Native Plant Network Propagation Protocol Database 

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre – Species specific propagation information often available 


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