Mother Plants

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about how we choose the plants we want to propagate and why we cherish them enough to make more of them. Professionals call these plants ‘stock’, but the rest of us fondly dub them ‘Mother Plants’. Yes, they are the progenitors of generations of new plants but they bring beauty and inspiration in and of themselves. Sometimes they are stern and challenge us to be our best selves, to keep the rooting bench in good shape and be successful. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why we call them Mothers.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned from my Mother Plants.

  • Practice thrift. When I wanted a hedge of the low-growing but pricey antique Scotch rose, I tried digging up the little sprigs that came up next to the one in the garden. They were too green to root properly and the project was a flop. By taking cuttings from rather more mature wood, dipping each in Hormex #8, and rooting in ground bark, I was successful. My driveway now has a line of them that is so thick I use hedge shears to prune it. When you invest in one plant, you can propagate it for your own use in the landscape, for plant swaps, and for gifts. This Mother Plant has children all around the neighborhood – when someone admires it, I give them a rooted cutting. I always want more than one plant, for insurance against a loss if for nothing else, but cannot always buy as many as I need.  Thank goodness necessity is a Mother.
  • Hone skills. I’m sure every mother challenges her children as mine did. My children thought that cursive writing and thank you notes were terribly old school as was my insistence that they master both. In the plant world, it may seem passé to propagate since most desirable plants are readily available, like my African violets. Still, it is true of most skills that one must use it or lose it rather like cursive writing in an age of keyboards. Adaptations are important, too, as learning proceeds. That’s why I no longer dip leaf cuttings in powdered Hormex since I tried watering them with Hormex Liquid Concentrate (1T/gal) weekly for a month and got more results faster – lots of babies at the soil surface below the leaf!  I haven’t reared great cursive writers, but hopefully they will keep practicing and someday write me a thank-you note. Yes, I have been described as one tough Mother.
  • Spread oddballs around. Sometimes very fine plants are largely unknown or have become immensely unpopular over time. I confess to loving some of both and propagate them to persuade others to my eclectic taste. The green vine known as Malabar spinach, for example, brings at least something dark and leafy to summer salads. Saved seed are fine, but rooted stem cuttings make a meal much faster.  I watered 3 inch starts into a flat of sand with a drench of Liquid Hormex Concentrate mixed 1T/1gal. In 2 weeks the vines began to sprout and were ready for transplant in another fortnight. My love affair with the variegated wax begonia called ‘Charm’ began years ago with a 4 inch pot of the shiny, round, bright green and yellow leaves that soon added classic pink flowers hanging like earrings from every stem and tip. It has become one of my go-to plants, a cheerful presence always there when I need a smile. I dip green cuttings like Charm into undiluted Hormex Liquid Concentrate; they root in sand or potting mix and begin to grow in a month. Whether it’s greens or grins, these are the Mothers of my Invention.
  • Profit perhaps. A fellow I knew got deeply involved with angelfish and soon found his hobby expensive yet also fertile. He began selling the offspring and was able to fill his home with ever more exotic fish. If your plants are not patented, you can propagate and sell them to create your own Mother Lode.


Nellie Neal is a passionate propagator and owner of GardenMama, Inc. She advocates for gardening 24/7 at her website, Ask questions and comment about this blog on the Contact Us page of

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