Guest Review: Fine Gardening’s DVD on Propagation


by Claire Splan of Alameda Garden

It just seems like it should be simple: you plop a seed into some soil, cover it up with more soil, water it,Propgrafting

and something should grow. Well, that works fine for some things (weeds, for example) but with plants, as with humans, reproduction isn’t always the slam-dunk we think it’s going to be.

That’s probably why some gardeners have shied away from seed propagation or haven’t even contemplated some forms of asexual propagation such as grafting or layering. So for anyone who feels feint of heart on this topic, Fine Gardening has released a Propagation DVD containing 37 articles and 17 videos guaranteed to hold your hand through all the scariness of horticultural baby-making.

The articles are divided into three groups. The first group covers seeds—the basic techniques of seed starting, as well as processes like scarification and stratification, which are necessary for certain “special needs” seeds. It includes info on seed gathering and storage and care and feeding of tender seedlings.

The second group of articles covers general propagation techniques, including division, layering, cuttings, and grafting and budding, as well as equipment like indoor lighting and cold frames.

The third group finishes up with techniques for specific plants like mosses, ferns, and species roses. It also ventures into scaling (for lilies) and breeding gladiolus hybrids.

I was glad to see that more than half of the videos cover different kinds of plant division, something I’ve found to be not quite as easy or as obvious as it would seem. There were also several videos on seed starting and a few on cuttings. I wish there was a video on grafting, since this technique tends to intimidate a lot of people until they actually see it done, but maybe Fine Gardening is saving that for the sequel.

The only topic I could think of that isn’t covered on the DVD is tissue culturing, which can, in fact, be done at home with a minimal investment in some basic equipment to create a sterile work area. In my propagation class some students used a Rubbermaid storage box with the bottom cut out and duct-taped in a $30 HEPA filter from Target. It worked reasonably well.

Many of the articles and a couple of the videos are available on the Fine Gardening website, so spending $25 on the DVD may not seem really necessary. But if you’re serious about learning more propagation techniques, the amount of money you’ll save by propagating rather than buying plants will more than pay for the DVD in very short order.

For anyone who’s really gung-ho about plant propagation, I’d also suggest checking out the International Plant Propagators Society, which includes members with commercial and academic backgrounds, as well as a few serious hobbyists. This group is dedicated to sharing information about propagation and the wealth of knowledge among its membership runs very deep.

Editior’s note: We chose Claire to review this DVD for GardenRant because she knows the subject – a sometimes overlooked requisite for reviewers.  We thank her for her well-informed review, and for donating the DVD to the Hort Department library of Merritt College.  The photos (top, tissue culturing, bottom, layering) were taken by Claire during her propagation class.


  1. The biggest problem with sterile areas for tissue culture (plant or animal or bacteria) aren’t usually with the setup itself. Your rubbermaid box with a HEPA filter was probably as good as any multi-thousand-dollar laboratory system.

    The problems arise from two areas:

    1) Air flow. You have to keep the outside air from blowing into your setup. The biggest causes of stray outside air are drafts (easy enough to detect and control) and people walking by the setup while it is in use. People walking by cause huge air currents–you wouldn’t believe how much disturbance they unwittingly cause.

    2) Sterile technique: there’s a lot more to it than just wearing gloves. Everything in the hood has to be sterile, and that includes forearms and/or lab coats (arm gaiters are an easily sterilizable alternative). If UV lights are used to sterilize, they have to be the correct wavelength (about 285 nm–not 302 nm or higher). The lights also have to be less than 6 months old, and free of dust or other obscuring contaminants on the bulbs. The HEPA filter has to be clean–it also needs regular changing and servicing.

    That’s all in addition to not getting careless and failing to use proper sterile technique, not removing hands from the hood, not touching the work surface with arms or elbows, not sneezing or coughing into the hood, holding caps and lids down, removing wrappers from things correctly, and not moving too quickly within the hood (or in and out of it) because of the air currents generated.

    It’s really staggering the amount of work needed to keep even the most state-of-the-art sterile chamber or hood sterile during use.

    (Been there done that for nine years and it was the part of my job I liked least)

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