Soaking in boiling water
1. Place seed in a jar/cup/container.
2. Pour water which has been brought to the boil over the seed.
Cover the seed generously.
3. Stir gently.
4. Leave soaking for 24 hours (Water is allowed to cool. Do not keep it boiling).
5. Remove and discard any floating seeds after the 24 hrs (the floating seed will not usually germinate).
6. Any seed that has not swelled (but has sunk to the bottom of the container) can be re-treated in this
7. Sow the remaining (swollen) seed.
Species to be treated this way include those from the genera Acacia, Hardenbergia, Cassia,
Kennedya, and Hovea
. A few wattles have softer seed coats and can be damaged by this treatment
(ie. Acacia harpophylla, A. stenophylla). These types can usually be determined by pushing the coat of
the seed with your fingernail. Soft coated Acacias should be sown without any treatment.
Stratification (Moist chilling)
This is a method of handling seeds, which require a period of after chilling to mature the embryo. The
following is one method of stratification that can be used:
Mix seed with slightly moistened peat moss, sphagnum or vermiculite (1 part seed to two parts
Place the mix in a polythene bag, label and tie. It is important that you use polythene as it is much
more permeable to oxygen than some other plastics, but will retain moisture preventing the seeds
from drying out. The seeds can be dusted with a fungicide powder to help protect them.
Place the bag in the bottom of a refrigerator (not the freezer). The temperature should be in the
range of 1 – 5 degrees C.
Check periodically to ensure the mix remains moist.
At the end of the required period remove seed and sow.
Species that may respond to this type of treatment include those from alpine and sub-alpine regions
such as the Mt Kosciusko area, for example, Eucalyptus regnans, E. delagatensis, E. stellulata, E.
kybeanensis, E. nitens and E. pauciflora. Banksia canei, B. saxicola
. Most require at least 3 weeks,
while some such as Eucalyptus regnans need 6 to 10 weeks.
This method has also been used successfully for non-alpine plants such as Anigozanthos species.
Some seeds often germinate best after a fire has passed over them (eg. Actinotus helianthi). This
effect can be recreated on a small scale by sowing the seeds in a fireproof container such as terracotta
pot and covering the propagation media with a small heap of leaf litter. Ideally this litter should be
derived from species associated with the area from which the particular seeds you have sown are
native to. The flame should be maintained for 2-3 minutes then put out. The ash is allowed to cool, and
the pot is watered and treated as for other seed trays.
Smoke has been shown in recent times to enhance the seed germination of many species, in
particular, many Australian natives from fire prone areas, such as species from the following genera:
Calytrix, Conostylis, Dianella, Eriostemon, Geleznowia, Lechenaultia, Philotheca, Pimelea, Stylidium,
Much of this knowledge is based on research done at Kings Park Botanic Gardens in Perth. They have
isolated many of the individual components of smoke, with the aim of producing commercial
preparations that can be added to water, and simply watered into trays of suitable seed to increase
germination rates. One method they have used is to soak seeds for twelve hours in a 9:1 water:smoke
- water solution. The smoke-water can be made by bubbling smoke through a container of water for
around an hour and then frozen until it is needed.
Some seeds have a chemical inhibitor that prevents or delays germination. This can sometimes be
removed by leaching the chemical out of the seed by placing such seeds in muslin bags or similar
material in running water for 1-2 weeks.
SOWING YOUR SEEDS
When to sow
Some natives can be successfully germinated at anytime of the year, however most are best
germinated during the warmer months. If you are using greenhouses or other facilities where higher
temperatures are being maintained then you can extend the time you can readily germinate particular
species. For many species temperatures need to reach above 20 degrees C each day. For those from
cooler climates the daily temperature may only need to reach 15 degrees C, while for plants from
tropical areas the daily temperatures may need to reach 25 degrees C or more.
Seed from many of the fleshy fruited species needs to be sown as soon as possible after harvesting.
Most native plant seeds, particularly those plants that naturally inhabit drier regions, prefer a
propagation media that provides good drainage and aeration. Commercially prepared seed raising
mixes are readily available from nurseries, garden supplies, etc. Alternatively you can make your own
mix. A simply prepared propagation mix that can be used is:
1 part moist, finely sieved peat moss to 3 parts of coarse washed river sand (which is commonly
sold as propagation sand).
The ratio of peat to sand can be altered to suit the seed being sown for example seeds that prefer a
little more moisture can be sown in a mix of one part peat to two parts sand.
NOTE: Peat is becoming more and more expensive, and its harvesting causes a lot of environmental
damage. An alternative for peat is hammered coconut fibre which is readily available.
Another way in which the mix can be altered to suit your particular requirements is the addition of
perlite, a product created by heating the mineral mica to a high temperature. It is light-weight, inert, and
helps improve drainage and aeration in a growing media.
One example of such a mix is:
1 part coarse washed river sand: 1 part sieved peat moss: 1 part perlite
Avoid the use of soils where possible. These are a major source of pest and disease problems. In
addition they often become sticky when wet, or stay waterlogged, or dry to form hard crusts.
All media ingredients should be thoroughly mixed, and the mix ideally pre-moistened prior to use,
ensuring all parts of the mix are moist.
Containers for sowing seed
Suitable containers for seed propagation should have the following properties:
Ideally be inert so that they don't release any toxic chemicals (some wood preservatives for
example can be very toxic), or salts.
Not be made of to porous a material that results in moisture being absorbed from the propagation
media into the walls of the container.
Have sufficient drainage holes to allow good drainage.
Be able to retain the propagation media without it washing out of the bottom (i.e. through overly
large drainage holes).
Have sufficient depth to allow for good root development of the germinating seeds.
Seed sown into trays
Seed is commonly sown into plastic trays, for example standard size propagation trays. Other plastic
containers such as butter or margarine containers can be used but make sure you make sufficient
Any containers used should be thoroughly cleaned first. Wash off any dirt, debris, etc. in warm soapy
water. Then soak them in a solution of household bleach (20ml of the concentrate to 1 litre of water).
Wash off any disinfectant of soap with clean water.
Sowing directly into pots
Seed of quick germinating and growing species, and whose seed is big enough to easily handle, can
be sown directly into small pots (commonly 50mm diameter tubes). Generally two or three seeds are
placed in each pot, depending on how much seed you have. When the seeds are germinated the
strongest seedling is left and the others removed.
How to sow your seeds
The selected container should be filled with propagation media until it is nearly full. The container can
be lightly bumped to consolidate the mix. The surface of the mix can be levelled using a flat piece of
wood. Firm lightly but not too hard. Water carefully, to minimise any disturbance of the soil. Let the
container sit for a while to allow excess water to drain.
The seeds can then be sown evenly over the surface of the tray. Try not to waste seeds by missing the
container, and be careful that seed doesn’t blow into, or get accidentally sown into other containers you
may have prepared, and have standing nearby. Avoid sowing too densely as this encourages disease,
and seedlings don’t have sufficient room to grow strongly.
Seed can be sown directly from the hand, or out of a small containers such as a pepper pot (good for
small seeds), mixed with fine white sand (so you can see the seeds and where you have sown the
Once the seed is sown it should be lightly covered with fine sand, propagation mix, or fine sieved
vermiculite. Only cover to a depth equivalent to the thickness of the seed. Make sure that the container
is labelled showing what type of seed was sown, when it was sown, where it was collected from, etc.
Carefully water the tray with a fine mist from above, or place the tray into another container with water
in it so that when the seed tray is sitting on the bottom of the other container the level of water in the
larger container is only a couple of centimetres deep. Leave the seed tray sitting there until you see
water rising to the top of the propagation mix. Carefully lift the tray out and place it on a bench so that
excess water quickly drains away.
The trays can then be placed in a suitable position, such as on a bench in a greenhouse, in a cold
frame, in a spot covered by shade-cloth, underneath shrubs that provide filtered sunlight and light
breezes, or in a protected position on a veranda. Make sure they are not exposed to bright, direct light
(ideally 50-80% shade), and exposure to drying winds. Avoid placing seed trays directly on soil as this
increases the likelihood of diseases problems.
Also make sure moisture levels in the propagation mix are suitable. This will vary according to the
species sown but most natives prefer a mix that is always moist, but excess water can freely drain
away. Do not let the mix dry out. Most trays will need watering at least once a day, more on hot days.
Water using the bottom tray method: or overhead using a fine mist. In cooler conditions reduce
watering to prevent over-watering.
The major cause of losses of germinating seeds and new seedlings are fungal diseases. They might
appear as rotting stems
, as small patches of dead seedlings, and as leaf spots. Good hygiene
throughout propagation is the best way to reduce the likelihood of such diseases occurring. If you do
see evidence of fungal problems they must be treated urgently, as they can rapidly spread. Drenching
with a fungicide such as Benlate or Fongarid will often help (these products may not be registered for
use in your country). Other methods are to increase ventilation around the plants, reduce watering,
avoid watering later in the day, dispose of infected trays before the infection spreads, or a combination
of these things. If you find you are repeatedly suffering from these problems then you may need to alter
your potting mix to improve its drainage, and thoroughly drench your propagation areas with a
disinfectant such as bleach (sodium hypochlorite) or a quaternary ammonia solution.
Fertilising is not generally necessary, but dilute applications of liquid fertilisers can be misted onto to
the seedlings (this can be done during normal watering) about once a week, once the seedlings
The Bog method
This method is often used to germinate the very fine seed produced by Callistemon, Melaleuca,
species. Seed of these species will usually germinate easily, but the small
seedlings are easily damaged by overhead watering, or if the propagation mix is allowed to dry. With
this method a seed tray is sown normally, but the seed are not covered. The tray is then stood in an
ice-cream or similar plastic or glass container. Water is slowly added to the larger container until the
level reaches about halfway up the side of the tray. Leave the seed tray standing in the larger
container, and cover both trays with a large polythene bag (you might need to make a simple wire
frame to place it over). Top up the water every day or two.
About a month after germination remove the seed tray from the water and allow it to drain. Then treat
the tray of seedlings as for other trays grown in the normal manner, but making sure the tray is watered
from the bottom. If disease problems arise treat with a suitable fungicide (ie. Benlate, Fongarid) and
remove the plastic bag.
Also known as "pricking out" this is the transfer of the young seedling out of the seed tray into
When a seed first germinates the first leaves (actually seed-leaves not true leaves) are known as
cotyledons. Most trees and shrubs have a pair of cotyledons (this type of plants are known as
dicotyledons), while grasses, lilies, grass trees, orchids, and many other smaller plants only produce
one cotyledon (these are known as monocotyledons).
For dicotyledon types when the plant continues to grow it produces its first pair of true leaves, then a
second pair, then a small shoot. At this stage the seedling is ready to transplant into an individual
container. Casuarinas, which have a different growth habit, can be pricked out when they are about
Great care should be taken when pricking out seedlings. The mix can be loosened, and the seedlings
carefully lifted up using your hand, or a flat narrow tool such as a knife, or a dibble stick. Then gently
pick up the individual seedling by the leaf, being careful not to squeeze it. The seedling can then be
placed into position in a partly filled container and potting mix gently filled in around it. Try to ensure
that roots are not twisted, or bunched up during this process. This is particularly important for plants
that have a strong tap root system. The potting mix can be consolidated by gently tapping the pot onto
a hard surface. The transplanted seedlings should be watered as soon as possible.
Suitable potting mixes are best purchased from a reputable commercial supplier. A suitable fertiliser
mix will need to be added. Alternatively a coarse washed river sand and peat or peat substitute can be
made up at home. Generally a combination of a quick release soluble fertiliser and a slow release one
(eg. Osmocote, Nutricote) is used. Be careful using fertilisers with more than about 2 or 3 percent
phosphorus content as many natives are adapted to soils with low phosphorus levels (eg. Banksias,
Hakeas, Dryandras, Grevilleas
). Look for specially prepared “Native” fertilisers such as ‘Osmocote for
Natives’. Many natives are also prone to iron deficiencies – look for pale yellow new foliage, particularly
in members of the Proteaceae family.
Common containers used for the first potting up are:
50mm diameter x 75mm deep round plastic tubes: (commonly used for slower growers and fibrous
50mm diameter x 150mm deep square forestry tubes: (commonly used for quick growers with tap root
systems (eg. Eucalypts, Acacias).
The transplanted seedlings can be placed in a tray (or other suitable container such as a polystyrene
fruit box), and placed in a protected position out of direct sunlight. Watering is still critical. The
seedlings can gradually be exposed to more light as they grow and ‘harden up’. The seedlings should
be ready to pot up into larger containers or into the ground in 1-3 months
Keep a close eye out for pest and disease problems, and if sighted treat with a suitable control method
as soon as possible,
A cutting is a piece of vegetative growth (non-sexual - not the flower or fruit) which is detached from a
plant and treated in a way so as to stimulate it to grow roots, stems and leaves; hence producing another
new plant. Cutting propagation is most commonly used for shrubs, indoor plants and many herbaceous
perennials. It is the most common method of asexual reproduction used by horticulturalists. As a general
rule, it is rarely used to propagate most types of trees.
When a plant is grown from a cutting it is genetically identical to the parent plant. This is not necessarily
so when plants are grown from seed. Cuttings are the most widely used technique for reproducing "true
to type" plants. This ensures that the unique characteristics of the parent plant are passed on to the
Cuttings can often be used to propagate plants that:
Don't produce viable seed, or produce seed at irregular times,
Have seed that is difficult to germinate
Have seed that is difficult to collect, for example, plants that have seed pods that burst open
dispersing the seeds widely
Produce their seed at a time when seed cannot be collected, or collection would require a further trip
to the area (often very difficult for remote areas), or can only be collected with difficulty (e.g. plants
whose seed matures during wet seasons when access may be limited).
Cuttings can be useful as they may avoid the problem of juvenility in the newly propagated plants. Most
plants grown from seeds go through a juvenile stage, in which flowering, and hence seed production
does not occur. Some plants may take 5, 10 or even more years before they commence flowering. Once
a plant has flowered, plants propagated from that plant by cuttings will avoid the juvenile stage and flower
early, often within months of the cutting having struck.
Many plants also have undesirable growth forms when they are young. These include very vigorous
growth, thorniness, or unattractive foliage or form. By taking cuttings from adult plants these undesirable
characteristics can be avoided.
In some cases the juvenile form of a plant may have characteristics that are more desirable than those of
the adult form.
You may take cuttings from plants growing in gardens, pots, parks or in the wild; and you may
successfully produce new plants from cuttings taken from any source; however, you will always get much
better results if you carefully choose your source of cuttings.
If you know the cultivar name of the plant, you can be more certain of how to propagate it, and be
confident of the characteristics that will be demonstrated by the new plants.
If you take cuttings from healthy plants; they are more likely to develop roots faster, and produce
healthier plants quicker.
Despite all the difficulties that can be experienced with various techniques to propagate a plant, the
cutting technique still remains one of the easiest and cost effective techniques to produce a number of
new plants, whether that is for commercial or domestic production.
The home gardener will find that cuttings are easy, time effective and cheap; the rewards in watching a
plant produce roots and develop into a new plant encourages them to propagate even more plants, and
share them with friends etc.
Commercial production nurseries know the benefits of the cutting technique. Their profit and existence
relies upon using the right technique for the right plant. Improving their techniques can increase
production and hence increase profit.
Growing plants by cuttings can be a very rewarding exercise, and for commercial propagators may be the
most economically viable method for many plants.
How to propagate a cutting
Most cuttings are pieces of stem, often with some leaves left at the top of the stem. Some plants can be
grown from cuttings of other tissue (eg. a piece of leaf, or section of root, or even part of a bulb, with no
stem at all).
Cuttings are usually planted into a mix of materials such as sand, peat moss, perlite, rockwool or
vermiculite. Part of the tissue is usually below the surface of the mix, and some exposed above the
The cuttings should then be kept moist and other conditions such as light, temperature, humidity and
hygiene should be kept appropriate to the requirements of the variety of plant being grown.
Other things that can be done to enhance development of the cutting will either speed the rate of growth
or improve the percentage of cuttings that succeed.
Chemical hormones may be applied to stimulate the formation of either roots, or foliage/shoot growth.
Pesticides or disinfectants may be used to prevent diseases or pests. Heating may be used to warm the
root zone (ie. bottom heat), to encourage faster growth of roots; or periodic misting of the foliage to cool
the top of the plant, or prevent dehydration of the foliage.
If you want to get the best results from your cutting propagation, you really need to pay attention to
selecting the appropriate technique for the time of year, and type of plant you are growing. Different
types of plant tissues have varying abilities to sprout roots and shoots and turn into a new plant.
The ease with which particular tissue can grow as a cutting depends upon the chemical and physical
make up of that tissue. These physical and chemical properties can be extremely variable at different
times of the year, under different environmental conditions, and even between different varieties of the
same plant species; let alone from one part of a plant to another. To become more and more
successful at cutting propagation; you need to try and understand these subtle differences. In time, a
good cutting propagator can develop an ability to make informed guesses as how to propagate a wide
range of different plants.