Growing Herbs From Seeds and Cuttings

Ilona

The General Information On Propagating Herbs

There are three popular ways to increase your herb plants:

  • Cuttings
  • Division
  • Seeds

I would like to tell you more about the two ways to create the largest numbers of plants, which are the methods of taking cuttings and planting by seed.

Which method will work best for you?

It depends on the desired outcome. If there is an important trait, like variegated leaves or hybrid vigor, then the only way to be sure those are passed to all the progeny is through “vegetative” cuttings. You may have fewer plants through one effort, but they will all be just like the plant they were taken from.

Seed may carry traits, such as certain “strains”. If they are hybrid seed they will revert when seed is collected. Of course, hybrid seed is available, but at greater expense. Some plants are tricky to grow from seed.

Seeds will be the most economical, and even the easiest if you sow directly into the ground.

Of these techniques, which will you try for more herbal harvests this year?

Click here to learn more

Quickest for many plants is by planting seeds, easiest way is through the division. Cuttings fall somewhere in between, taking time to grow the roots, and preserving all the qualities of the parent plant, while holding the possibility of making a quantity of plants (without disturbing the parent too much).

Some plants are difficult to propagate properly by seed. Most can be multiplied through cuttings, which also retain all the qualities of the parent plant (not always true of seeds).

What Is Division?

The easiest way to think of it:

Take a plant apart into pieces. Each part should have some rooted stems . Quickly plant the pieces into prepared soil will give you a reasonable number of new plants with the greatest chance of success. If you need to delay, don’t let the portions dry out.

Best plants from division:

  • Thyme
  • Mints
  • Yarrow
  • Monarda

What Are Cuttings?

Cut a small piece of stem from a “mother” plant, anywhere from a few inches long to six or more. (Although the shorter pieces are more manageable). There should be some nodes on the piece of stem.

Rooted in water, or in soil, with or without the help of rooting hormone, the cuttings will be ready to plant. Place the rooted pieces into a pot for growing on. Can also be directly placed into the garden soil where they are to grow.

Best plants from cuttings:

  • Lavender
  • Scented Geranium
  • Salvias

Growing From Seed?

Purchased or saved from existing plants, seed growing covers the gamut of gardening skill levels. It can be extremely easy or very difficult, ranging from a high level of expertise (when growing your own hybrids) to beginner’s throwing some seeds into a bit of soil.

Everyone should try growing something from seed ! It is an experience of life and nature that is available to all of us.

…It might possibly make you happy.

When I wanted lots of marjoram to make little kitchen wreaths, I planted seeds. In years when I only want enough to flavor soups and stews, I purchase a couple of transplants. Figure your needs and plan the tasks of increasing plants, accordingly.

Best Plants From Seed:

  • Marjoram
  • Chervil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill

What I’ve Done and How I Did It

Thyme
Some of the first herbs I multiplied were my variegated lemon thyme. At first I divided the plants, then started new ones by removing small pieces that had a little root attached, and finally found that soft cuttings taken in spring could easily sprout a new plant.

The main thing is to keep the cuttings moist through the rooting process. Sometimes that was achieved through placing a rock at the base ( to keep moist and cool), and sometimes covering the cutting from the sun for a day or so. Too long, and that does more harm than good.

Lavender
Later, I used the springtime cuttings of lavender with good success. This became the main way to multiply Lavender plants in my garden. I plant them directly into the soil, but I believe that if I took cutting sin the fall and grew the plants over winter, this would give me larger ones to plant out in spring.

Lavendula needs pruning for best growth, so this is an ideal time to have a large number if cuttings which you can use for making new plants. If you are prepared with pots or garden soil ready for planting them out… you can’t find anything easier!

I have also used the technique of layering, which does not sever the stem from the mother plant. This is a limited way to increase plants, but it works well to make more in proximity to the original lavender bush.

Making New Lavender Plants

Growing From Seed

Herbs that I love to grow from seed include some that are incredibly easy, like marjoram, dill, and cilantro. Cilantro was accidental. I let a purchased transplant go to seed int he vegetable patch and have had Cilantro sprouting in that area ever since. Dill is similar.

Bronze fennel goes wild in my front yard beds, where I planted it for ornamental reasons.

Some herbs are more persnickety, but I’ve always grown them from seed:

  • Parsley
  • Borage
  • Basil

Basil needs indoor starting and hardening off. I learned this the hard way and had gorgeous seedlings that burnt up in the sun. That was my very first experience in growing indoors from seed, several decades ago. The disappointment gave me a lesson I have never forgotten: the importance of hardening off your seedlings before planting outdoors.

Spring Or Fall?

Take cuttings in the spring. This is the most likely time to have success, when the plant naturally starts to have a growth surge.

Cutting How-To

Cut 3˝ – 4˝ from growing tip, strip the lower leaves, submerge in growing medium. Keep  moist, and it is that easy. Details on how to propagate lavender from cuttings (the way I do it) in the Lavender post.

Lightly fertilize once roots develop.

Sowing Seed How-To
new seedlings

Baby plants sprout

Seeds depending on the type:

Cool Weather or Tender

Cool weather plants can reseed, like dill or cilantro. Tender plants like marjoram or basil need to be planted after all chance of frost is gone. Basil needs a head start indoors. You can get all the information you need from the seed packets,usually, but it helps to have a resource book on herbs or seed starting; additionally you can look up information online if you know which plant you want to grow.

There is a window for growing seeds that depends on your climate. Seedlings need moisture, and when there is intense sun and dry weather, it will wither unprotected sprouts which have not yet rooted deeply enough support the plant’s growth. That is why spring is the ideal time to start from seed.

Keep new plants moist, not wet.

If you are growing from seed you might want the resource I put together of online seed propagation articles.

 

2 Most Important Tips

Check Your Seed Packet

When growing from seed be sure to follow the instructions on the seed packet. This will give you the maximum success. There are many variations in planting times according to hardiness zones, and conditions for germination. It also helps to have a resource book to consult, if you are just beginning to grow a particular plant.

Hardening Off

This is the process to follow if you started your seeds inside or in a protected place like a greenhouse. The seedlings must slowly be introduced to the sun and wind conditions of outdoors.

This is a schedule of ever increasing time outside, each time bringing plants back into the protective spaces.

Over about 10 days, beginning with only an hour the first day, increase outdoor time until the plants can take a full day outdoors. Then they are ready to plant in the garden.

Would you like to know more about growing herbs? Here are the many articles I’ve written on the topic.

Plant profiles describe the herb and give cultivation information:

Lavender, Fennel, Dill, Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Marjoram, Chives, Rue.

My Ten Favorite Herbs, About Herbs, As Companion Plantings

From simplest dooryard patches to intricate Medieval knot gardens, herbs can be part of your landscape. Fresh cooking ingredients to cutting garden materials, they are useful and beautiful.

The Herb Garden | Medicinal Plots | A Garden of Simples | Starting a Simple Herb Garden | On The Windowsill

The beautiful picture of the windowsill of herb cuttings featured at the top of the page is by mannewaar on Flickr.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.