Most of us think of planting seeds to grow plants, but there are other ways, and spring is the best time to start.
One of the most satisfying methods of getting new plants is from cuttings. Spring is the best time to root herbaceous cuttings - lengths of pliable new stem growth. You can easily grow a new tree, vine or shrub from such a start, and it will be identical to the "parent."
Say, for instance, you have one shrub and you want two of that exact kind. After spring growth starts, you'll notice that at the end of a woody branch, part of the branch is green and flexible. Cut, pinch or break off that green part, use a single-edge razor blade to trim it so the cut isn't ragged, dip it in rooting hormone, then place it in damp planting mix, out of direct sunlight for a day or two. Then you may tent the pot containing the new cutting with clear plastic wrap that doesn't touch the cutting.
I've had best luck with cuttings no more than two or three inches long, with at least a couple of small leaves at the upper end. It's tempting to take a longer cutting, but remember there are no roots yet to feed the plant, so long cuttings easily fail.
I use a powdered rooting hormone called Rootone and flick off excess before putting a cutting into a hole created by a large chopstick or pencil.
There's no expiration date on Rootone and perhaps other brands of rooting hormones, but I've been told the hormone is only viable for about six months.
Some folks don't use a rooting hormone, but instead use water that willow or forsythia cuttings have recently soaked in, since they contain a natural hormone for propagation. I've had the best luck using Rootone, however.
I don't use the plastic wrap tent, but many people do. Watch closely for mold to develop and give the planting air and sun if that happens.
I give a new cutting dappled light or indirect sunlight for a few weeks until a gentle upward tug on the cutting indicates it has started to form roots. Don't let the planting mix dry out completely, but don't drown it either. It needs a little moisture to remain viable, but you shouldn't create an environment for mold.
If someone has a shrub or vine you'd like a cutting from, good manners (and legality) require you ask for and receive permission to obtain a cutting. Some plants are patented, so taking a cutting for anyone but the owner would be illegal, or the plant owner may have already promised too many cuttings to others.
Propagation is also possible with woody cuttings, but that's usually best done during the dormant season, when cuttings may be planted in a box of sand to root, or in the site you want that woody plant to grow.
Folks usually use a horizontal cut for the bottom of the cutting and a slanted cut for the top end for both the hardwood and softwood cuttings.
It's very easy to confuse "up" and "down" on a cutting, and it's a fatal (to the cutting) mistake.
Some multiply grape vines using cuttings obtained in February when they prune. All cuttings should be at least the diameter of a pencil, and contain two or three nodes shorter than about seven inches that will develop leaves or branches.
A former extension agent from the University of Idaho, Tony Horn, advocated rooting grape prunings by burying them vertically upside down for a few weeks before setting them upright in pots of planting mix. By putting them upside down to begin with, growth hormones would move to the upper end in a couple of months. Those cuttings would then have the active hormone at the true bottom to stimulate rooting.
When we had our back fence replaced, we had to severely cut back a grapevine given to me by my late friend, Ross Hadfield. It had been lightly pruned in February and hadn't yet leafed out, but I made cuttings and thrust them into my garden soil in full sun. All four cuttings rooted and grew.
Another propagation method for shrubs is layering. Take a pliable branch that's near ground level and slice into it (but not completely through) on an angle on the bottom of the branch. Then peg the branch tightly to the ground so the cut part makes contact with soil.
Better yet, put the branch into a small trench and cover it with soil. It may take a few weeks or even a couple of months, but the site where you cut into the branch should grow roots. After rooting begins, you can cut the branch loose from the mother shrub, and plant the new little shrub or vine in a new location.
Some plants, such as begonias, peperomia and African violets, may be propagated using just a leaf and part of the stem thrust into a sifted grit and peat mix at a shallow angle. Grit alone also works.
A computer friend in the East babied seeds and cuttings of plants she wanted to reproduce, failing to get growth. Then at the edge of her gravel driveway, she spotted volunteer seedlings of the plant she'd been trying to grow from seed in rich potting soil.
I think grit is sold by farm supply stores as "chicken grit" or "turkey grit."
Margaret Lauterbach's gardening column appears every Friday in the Statesman's Life section. To contact Margaret, email her at email@example.com or write to Gardening, The Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.