Plant Propagation with Pat May

Image of plant propagation in water
Hobby Dabbler
Hobby Dabbler
Plant Propagation with Pat May

Back in 2007, I took my photography side gig to the next level – I quit my secure, government job and decided to run my photography studio full time. So, when my engineer friend announced recently that he quit his job to pursue his plant propagation passion full-time with an app he’s building, I was overcome with curiosity. I have a dozen or so house plants myself but I’ve never propagated anything so I had to see what the hype was about.

In this episode, you’ll hear about Propa but, if you’re coming back here to find the link, here it is: You can find my on Propa as vscress.

Speaker 1 00:00:09 Welcome to hobby dabbler, the show dedicated to exploring hobbies for people who wanna make their free time more valuable. I’m your host, Vanessa Cress. And today we’re talking about plant propagation with my friend, Pat May. So propagate is not a word I use in my everyday life, but I have a feeling we’re gonna say it a lot.
Speaker 2 00:00:29 We’re gonna say it so much. Okay.
Speaker 1 00:00:30 um, so I want the audience to count them up. the first person to comment with their correct count. We’ll get a rad hobby dabbler sticker, uh, and one from propa too. And you’ll find out about propa in a little bit, but now it’s time to welcome Pat May to hobby dabbler. He is here to explain how to become a crazy house plant person. Hi pat.
Speaker 2 00:00:52 Thanks for, Hey Vanessa. Yeah, it’s great to see you again.
Speaker 1 00:00:55 So I wanna start with you telling us about what plant propagation is and how it became your hobby. Then we’re gonna take a break and actually go propagate some of my house plans and then come back and talk about it more. Sure. Sound like plan. Okay, cool.
Speaker 2 00:01:09 So plant propagation is taking an existing plant and generally making a cutting from it, but creating a second plant from it, which is actually biologically identical to the first one.
Speaker 1 00:01:20 So it’s not like a baby.
Speaker 2 00:01:22 It’s not like a baby. No. And so a different way of having a plant, a new plant is from seed, right? Where it’s pollinated in some way from another plant generally. And it’s genetically unique in the world.
Speaker 1 00:01:37 That would be a baby.
Speaker 2 00:01:38 That would be certainly a baby. Okay. So plant propagation is making, uh, identical replica of that original plant.
Speaker 1 00:01:47 Okay. Oh, okay. So that’s kind of weird if it’s a single plant, but there’s actually like a hundred of them around the world.
Speaker 2 00:01:55 Yes. So, uh, plant propagation is everywhere and it’s a big way of how we get the same type of banana in every super more market in the world is all of these banana trees are grafted from a single one that was identified as being the one that we want to eat. And it’s all mostly the same DNA
Speaker 1 00:02:14 I never thought about this is like breeding kind of, this is like the, is this, is this not GMO though? It’s not genetically modified. It’s just selective.
Speaker 2 00:02:24 It’s selective non-breeding
Speaker 1 00:02:25 A nonreading technology. Like, like these are the winner ones. This is gonna, we want this one everywhere. Yeah. Okay. Well my lime and lemon, I have a lime and lemon plant and they’re grafted onto dwarf branches. Yes. Is that similar where it’s not like a complete unique thing? So the seeds from the limes wouldn’t be the same limes.
Speaker 2 00:02:45 So seeds are coming from sexual reproduction. And so you have new DNA introduced into the DNA of its offspring. Um, grafting propagation is going to be extending a plant’s DNA and then taking that cutting generally and growing it to a full plant. Okay. And so the grafts for your lime tree, um, it has the same DNA as whatever treatment came from, but now it’s growing as its own tree.
Speaker 1 00:03:11 Oh, weird. Okay. So that’s kind of like, um, artificial insemination. If I’m like doing my baby analogy, I’ll stop with the baby analogy. That’s gross.
Speaker 2 00:03:20 It’s more like a clone.
Speaker 1 00:03:21 Oh, okay. Okay. Um, so how did you, I mean, this, this is kind of a, I mean, I have house plants, right? Like I have a bunch of house plants and some do better than others and some love certain windows more than others and things like that. But like, how did you get into, like, I’m gonna cut up my plant and make more of it.
Speaker 2 00:03:42 I think I always knew that you could do that with a lot of plants, but when I really got into it, as I moved into a house that had a huge fig tree in the backyard and I really need to prune it down. And so it was growing aggressively and I started chopping it up and I still wanted a fig tree. I wanted it to be a lot it smaller. And so I was like, Hey, like how do I get another one? And I was introduced to the word propagate and it’s controlled my life ever since. Um, but each species has its own way of being propagated and, and there’s not necessarily a singular way how to do it, but ways increase your success. And so, for example, fig trees, it’s a hardwood. Um, a lot of hardwood, cuttings are best made in the winter when all the leaves have fallen off. And then you kind of like incubate them for a little bit in a high humid environment and they start growing roots. And then you, you slowly like build that up and eventually you have your own plant, but not all plants are propagated like that.
Speaker 1 00:04:38 Oh, weird. Okay. I thought it was cutting like all the time, just like cutting and dipping it in the hormone and putting it in water and waiting for, for tentacles to come out. Okay. Okay. But that’s like, it’s a specific time of year. You’re supposed to do it and all that kinda stuff. So you got into this and did you have to give up other hobbies to like really devote more time to propagation? You said it controlled your life or like to go your life
Speaker 2 00:05:05 well, it has since taken over my life. Um, at the time I was doing leather work, making love small leather goods. Um, so generally things like, uh, journal covers wallets. Um, my, my wallet is something I’ve made, uh, key fobs, things like that. And, and moving into the house, I’ve had to do some renovations myself. And so that took up a lot of time and I have dropped leather work, uh, since then. And you know, propagation is, is pretty, non-time consuming. It’s a very passive hobby.
Speaker 1 00:05:36 Oh, that’s true. So it’s more like other things had to get dropped. So you could do your house renovations and plant propagation is something that you’re not gonna stop. Cuz it’s just like, oh, I just did that. It took five minutes.
Speaker 2 00:05:47 It, it lets me dabble in other hobbies. Absolutely.
Speaker 1 00:05:50 Oh nice. Oh, I like that. That’s a good kind of hobby to have where you, it doesn’t take you away from other hobbies.
Speaker 2 00:05:55 It’s it’s one. I think everyone should adopt so
Speaker 1 00:05:57 Well, I’m about to try it. So let’s go, we’re gonna take a break and go cut up some plants. Um, and then we’re gonna come back and talk about my first plant propagation experience. And you’re gonna wanna stick around to the end and find out how to join a community of crazy plant people to find, share, and care for your beloved house plants. All right. We’re back from our break. We had so much fun cutting up my plant. Um, and actually this is the only plant that has a name out of all my house plants. His name is Seymour and he’s very healthy. He’s a pathos, pathos, pathos. I think, I think I, I call him pathos cuz it’s kinda like reminds me of crazy like pathology. What is, I don’t know. I should edit that now.
Speaker 2 00:06:52 It, it could be emotional, like caring for plants could be quite emotional
Speaker 1 00:06:57 anyway, his name is Seymour and now I have, um, more of Seymour. I dunno how I feel about that. Going back to like this human analogy, like it makes me feel weird that we just cut off part of Seymour. Maybe he shouldn’t have a name cuz it seems personal.
Speaker 2 00:07:13 This is one of the ways that plants naturally reproduce. This is part of what he’s been destined for. Okay. He’s been evolved over, you know, millions of years. Uh, this is what he’s about.
Speaker 1 00:07:26 Okay. And actually you’re right. Cuz you, you pointed out though these little, um, what are those little nubby things called
Speaker 2 00:07:33 Aerial roots.
Speaker 1 00:07:33 So these aerial roots, which are meant to then like root whenever they hit the ground or whatever reason, right.
Speaker 2 00:07:40 It depends on the species. They could go and, and cling to the bark of a tree. It can pull nutrients out of, um, whatever it’s touching to. And it can also, um, go into the soil and, and create roots there as well. Okay.
Speaker 1 00:07:54 So,
Speaker 2 00:07:55 You know, there’s no hard rules when we’re talking about plants. It, it really can very
Speaker 1 00:07:59 Wildly. That’s amazing. All right. So we’re gonna move into, um, something a little bit different. I want you to tell us about your most memorable experience of doing plant propagation. It could be good or bad, but I’m looking for a memorable story.
Speaker 2 00:08:15 Yeah. Let’s see. One of the things that really got me into the hobby. So I talked about propagating the fig tree earlier. Um, that was just kind of like, you know, a way I passed time. Um, what really drew me was with a Pilea peperomioides, which is the Chinese money plant that I’ve propagated to you.
Speaker 1 00:08:36 Yeah. It’s really cool. And it’s really loving my house.
Speaker 2 00:08:38 Yes. So it, it creates tons of pups. Um, that’s what people call them for that particular plant. And just the idea of like making these cuttings and growing them so easily into mature plants, um, is what really like enamored me about house plants. And the way I got this plant was not by going to the store and buying one off the shelf. Um, this was back in probably 2017 when everyone was looking for this plant, they couldn’t find it online. Um, and it was common in Europe, but couldn’t be found in the United States. And so what I did was I went to, which is Germany’s eBay. And I was able to find them for dirt cheap as opposed to being very expensive on And I convinced the, the seller in Germany that he could send these propagations to me in the middle of December and what I ever state they arrived in. I would still give him a good rating on eBay. Oh,
Speaker 1 00:09:39 That’s a nice guarantee.
Speaker 2 00:09:40 Yeah. Yeah. So he was very hesitant and he had labeled it like will not ship like into the United States. And I was like pretty please. And, and he did, and they showed up tattered on like a, a freezing rainy day and um, soaking wet in the middle of December. It was cold and I was able to nurse them back to health and it happens to be really Hardy species. Is this
Speaker 1 00:10:04 Part of the, is this the, the one that you propagated to me is from
Speaker 2 00:10:07 That? So I got five cuttings from that. Um, and they were already rooted, but they were propagations and uh, a propagation of a obligation and maybe one time on top of that, um, is what you have. Oh,
Speaker 1 00:10:21 Wow. That’s neat. So I thought you weren’t supposed to bring non-native species into a new country is that
Speaker 2 00:10:30 There are customs processes. And so this is something I did go through and I, I filled out the customs form, which you have to specify like what volume and what species you’re bringing in. There are certain species that are allowed to be imported. Um, and there’s different things that you have to do to, to import them. Um, and so I filled out this form and I sent it to him and he attached on the outside. And that was one of the reasons why it took so long to arrive that it went wow. The official customs process. So that was a good learning opportunity for me.
Speaker 1 00:11:01 Yeah. So you’re doing the whole like legit thing. That’s all that’s, that’s great. I did. And now are they more prevalent in the us
Speaker 2 00:11:07 They’re everywhere. Um, so now you can go to virtually any, um, store that sells house plants, uh, and buy these.
Speaker 1 00:11:14 Okay. I remember you told me about this the very first time we talked about plants, I think it was 2017. Um, and I remember thinking like, oh, that’s so cool to have something so unique. Um, but I guess it’s always gonna be a different trend of plants as, as time goes on and now like, oh, these ones are available. They’re still pretty cool. I think they’re gorgeous. Um, but I feel like, I mean, what’s, what’s the next, what’s the trending plant.
Speaker 2 00:11:41 Exactly. And, you know, as species become desirable because of Instagram or any other reason, um, people go crazy. They buy out, um, inventory, they resell them on eBay. Um, for crazy markups, uh, nurseries increase their prices to meet that demand. And one of the things that I like about propagations is a way to make these species more accessible to people who can’t necessarily afford mature plants. Mm-hmm , mm-hmm . And so these people who do have it, um, sometimes you just have to print your plant because you only have so much space or to keep it healthy or to have it grow in a certain manner. And so this is a way that people can get interesting species, um, without having to pay premium prices or going to, to stores that carry a wide variety of plants.
Speaker 1 00:12:30 Right. So that’s actually, I found that to be too through, I was looking for a big leaf plant for my lounge and which is I, I came across looking on Instagram actually. Um, and I think there was a Monstera am I saying that right? And then there was monster.
Speaker 2 00:12:49 Yeah. Don’t worry. I was it wrong? Maybe
Speaker 1 00:12:51 Don’t know if you’ve never that out loud. You don’t know these words. And I
Speaker 2 00:12:55 Found that confidence is key.
Speaker 1 00:12:56 Oh, okay. Oh, but I like monster, it just sounds more European to me, but anyway, I’ll, um, monster that sounds anyway. And then there’s, um, the fiddle leaf. So I was looking for these plants and the, um, monsters were sold out everywhere. I was so happy. You guys gave me a propag and when we went out to dinner last month, um, so thank you for that because they’re hard to find right now they
Speaker 2 00:13:19 Are. And, uh, and, and it’s neat to have these different types of plants, right? Um, some of these are beautiful and they grow in really interesting ways. And the, the monster, particularly each leaf is, um, different and, and the way it unfolds, it’s kinda like this big reveal and it unfolds over the, the course of a week and you get to see what type of design you get at that.
Speaker 1 00:13:40 Oh, that’s fun. Okay. So we were talking about the pronunciation of all these different plants. I don’t pathos paths, monster, monster, whatever. So aside from the pronunciation of the names of the plants, is there any lingo that people get into this as a hobby should be aware of or any words that maybe would be a faux pas if you used it with other plant enthusiasts,
Speaker 2 00:14:04 None come to mind immediately. Um, there is terminology where some people call the cuttings of particular species pops. Um, you have props, which is short for propagate. Um, you have the term prop lifting, which is, uh, people go to home depots or other uh .
Speaker 1 00:14:26 I know where you’re good out here. Oh my gosh.
Speaker 2 00:14:29 If you’re familiar with the word shoplifting anyway, so prop lifting can be done ethically. And, and so typically it’s succulents, um, which prefer really arid, um, climate, uh, very little water. They will naturally have leaves fall off. Yeah. Um, and you can take those leaves and place them on top of soil and spritz them with water occasionally. And they will grow into, um, a mature plant. That’s the way that they reproduce a sexually.
Speaker 1 00:14:56 So that’s how I bought, I have some succulents in my master bathroom and they love the window, but, um, when I ordered them and they said, oh, we promised a variety of several different ones, whatever. And, um, yeah, they were like leaves. And I was like, what? This is, is it, this is what I got. Yeah. But they’re like, just stick it in, in soil and do this and it’ll work. And they’re like little plants now.
Speaker 2 00:15:17 Yeah. So prop lifting when done ethically is you’ve taken leaves that have fallen into the ground. And you’ve asked, uh, a clerk there, if you’re able to remove them from the ground and take them home. And many times the clerks really don’t care. Um, and in fact, they
Speaker 1 00:15:32 Probably don’t know,
Speaker 2 00:15:33 They probably sweep them up at the end of every day. And so if you’re willing to clean them up for them, then they’re not going to protest too much. Wow. Prop is unethical to remove them from plants, um, without permission.
Speaker 1 00:15:45 Okay. Are there any other, um, ethics issues that is that I should be aware of if or the, the hobby he was getting into plant propagation to be aware of?
Speaker 2 00:15:55 Um, poaching is, is something that some of the people I’ve come across are, are very concerned about where interesting species are at a conservatory or some sort of botanical garden. And people take illegal cuttings that way, and it can hurt the plant, the, the original plant. Um, and it it’s a problem. Uh, and so that’s a major ethical concern. Um, but generally, like if you own the plant, uh, you know, it’s yours to, to chop up however you want.
Speaker 1 00:16:27 Okay. So what is something about plant propagation that people don’t understand?
Speaker 2 00:16:34 Um, I think the word propagation is foreign to most people, um, like, uh, the word propagate can be used in a technical context. And so like, sound can propagate. Um,
Speaker 1 00:16:46 Yeah, I looked it up yesterday actually, because I, it’s such a fun word to say, and it’s not just, I mean, the number one definition, how to do with plants. And I think that number two was more just like spreading, um, information or yeah, just, just the spreading of things. Yeah.
Speaker 2 00:17:05 And it has the same root words, uh, propaganda. Right. That’s what it is. Well, so, um, yeah, I think I a, I think most people realize that you can take cuttings and create plants, all those, um, maybe not, maybe I’m just a plant person, but, uh, it, it, it’s very easy. Um, and you have to do a little bit of research, propagating different species can be different and, and the time of year can matter for some things. Um, but for the most part, it’s, it’s a very passive hobby and it’s pretty straightforward and it’s extremely affordable. Um, provided you have access to a mature plant to begin with. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:17:45 I, I would say like, out of all the hobbies I’ve ever tried, this is probably the lowest entry level of like skill, uh, cost. I mean, I don’t know why I wouldn’t have started with a hobby like this, especially like in my early twenties. Um, instead I’ve tended to just dive into hobbies and get all the stuff, and that’s why I’m like hobby exhausted because then I don’t end up not doing it and I’m overthinking every thing. Um, hence the show. Um, so it, but it does, it seems like an organic hobby that was kind of unintended, but I don’t think you can go to like a Michael’s craft store or a home Depot and buy a plant propagation kit. What do you recommend for people just starting out plant propagation?
Speaker 2 00:18:27 You don’t need that much. Um, if you have a knife and a plant, you can start your hobby that way. Um, there are ways that you can expand that hobby. Um, and so, uh, getting rooting hormone, which is also very affordable, um, really increases your chances of success in getting roots growing. And then when you transplant, um, from to soil, there are a lot of, um, propagation stations that are being sold right now where, uh, you have like very attractive kind of test tubes in some sort of attractive Mount. And that’s where things start getting to be next level is when you have a lot of propagations being sure that they get the appropriate amount of sunlight. And that they’re somewhere where they’re going to get knocked over by a pet, or they’re just not creating clutter on the countertop. Mm-hmm , um, that’s when you start spending money. And so you start having like wall mounted things or winter mounted things or shelving for these things. But typically if you’re, if you’re into house plants, then you’re having this type of problem with your, your mature plants.
Speaker 1 00:19:35 Yeah. My, my window still is already full. My favorite window sale. The plants just love it there. Uh, so I, I definitely can relate to that one. Um, but it also sounds like it could be a fun, like decorative hobby to get into if you’re, I mean, cuz the one watching the roots come out, that’s kind of neat. And then having all these beautiful plants in your house, like, I don’t know if I was a decorator, I would wanna be in on this very passive, inexpensive hobby.
Speaker 2 00:20:01 Yeah. It is. It’s a nice way to brighten up a wall. Yeah. If it has the right sunlight, for
Speaker 1 00:20:05 Sure. And so normally I would ask my, uh, hobby host, which is what you are and hobby doubler, your hobby host. Um, if you use their, your hobby as a way to make money, like a side gig, cuz I know in all the things I’ve like done maker type things, I’m like, oh I could sell this. Or like I see something for sale at a craft place. And I’m like, I can make that. So I know that you have done something different here. So tell us about your recent venture into making plant propagation, your full-time gig.
Speaker 2 00:20:37 Yeah. So I’ve recently jumped away from my full-time job as an engineer and I’ve created propa, which is an app that helps people propagate their plants and share these cuttings with other people. And so that way getting access to the variety of plants that you’re looking for and plants that might be rare or inaccesible in the stores that are close to you becomes a lot easier.
Speaker 1 00:21:04 So you’re making money from, this is the idea. And so obviously this is probably one of those dual-sided I think in the business world, I forgot to call it like dual market or
Speaker 2 00:21:14 Two-sided
Speaker 1 00:21:15 Market. Yeah. Um, so you have people like me that would use the app to learn and share and um, brag and cause I, I, so I downloaded the beta version on my Android phone and I have been keeping up with it. Um, and I know there’s a lot, it’s, it’s pretty easy, uh, to use as far as like the user friendliness or whatever, but just going through all the pictures and yeah. So it’s, it’s helpful, but what’s the other side, like how are you making money on this?
Speaker 2 00:21:46 Yeah. So we want to partner with retailers and you know, we provide ready access to plant cuttings and these are things that retailers might not carry or people might just be hesitant to spend $40 on a new plant if they’ve never cared for a plant. So they want the aesthetic, but they don’t want to like risk that money. And so we believe that propagations are a very low barrier of entry to where you can like, you know, gain confidence in your ability to care for a plant over a long period of time. And we want to develop these people and to people who are very comfortable buying mature plants so we want to partner with retailers to, um, connect users to those retailers to say, Hey, this is a good place to buy mature plants and also to give users, um, a familiar place to go to meet people and also to buy the supplies. Oh, so pots, right? Like you can’t propagate a pot,
Speaker 1 00:22:43 Right? yeah. And actually that’s a, that’s a good business. I just bought some pots for, um, a local, uh, nursery. And um, I really want those plants to survive cuz I bought them for those plants. So I have like a, the fiddle leaf fig. That’s not doing so well right now, but I love the pot for it. I, I just don’t want it to survive. It’s so it’s a pair so I’m committed. Right? Like I, and I, I did, I went to my local nursery and invest there. Um, the fiddle leaf fig I did have to have ordered online cuz they’re a little bit harder to find. Um, especially I was looking for kind of a more mature plant. So I did have to find that one. Um, but definitely the pots I got locally, that was fun. um, so what’s what is, what’s the next step?
Speaker 2 00:23:27 So the next step is developing. Our user are base right now we have a bunch of people who are posting their entire collections and adding species to their wishlists and it’s getting enough data to understand and detect trends and house plans. And so we want to be able to prepare retailers with the next plant that everyone’s gonna be looking for. And then also working up the supply chain to make sure that not only that they know what these plants are, but that they can actually source them through their, their channels.
Speaker 1 00:23:56 Oh, that’s neat. Yeah. I definitely saw when I was looking for what I large leafed plant I wanted in my lounge, I definitely saw Instagram famous people with their large plants cuz it’s trendy. Yeah. Um, or that particular plant was trendy. And then I went to find it online and I could not even find it online, let alone a local nursery who I trust and they could give advice and they’ll have two conversations with you about this kind of stuff. Um, so that’s a great idea. That’s exciting. Um, so go ahead and tell our friends where they can find out more about propa and how to follow you on social media.
Speaker 2 00:24:32 Yeah. So everything is get propa. You can follow us, um, on Instagram or Twitter @getpropa that’s P R O P A and then you can also, um, find the links to download our app at
Speaker 1 00:24:45 Okay, great. Well, I appreciate you spending time to talk with us and I’m stoked that this is a new hobby of mine too. Cause I mean I’ve had house plans, but now knowing that I can make more house plants out,
Speaker 2 00:24:56 There’s so much more you can do.
Speaker 1 00:24:57 Yeah. Um, so hopefully the listeners try it. Uh, I guess that anybody can contact me or, um, for, for questions about my plants, if you’re little, we can do a little trade, um, get on the app and find people in your local area who have propagations to share or if you wanna share yours with them. Uh, it’s pretty, pretty exciting. So thanks for coming out, pat. I appreciate it.
Speaker 2 00:25:18 Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1 00:25:21 Thank you for listening to this episode of hobby dabbler. I hope you’re inspired to become a crazy house plant and don’t forget to subscribe, leave a note in the comments and tell us what you think or drop me a line at Vanessa hobby dabbler. Be sure to follow us on Insta Atler of underscore official and
Speaker 4 00:25:59 Hey it’s Vanessa. Leave me a message.
Speaker 5 00:26:02 Hey Vanessa, pat, um, I don’t know if it’s too late or not, but I was wondering if I could tack on a public service announcement to our podcast and I, I just want people to know about, about pH photo dermatitis also called margarita burns. Um, so as you probably know, I got some line juice on my hands and then sat by a pool for a couple hours this summer. And I got crazy second degree burns on my hands. We’re talking blisters boils. It was awful. And three months later I still have some discoloration. And so I just want everybody to know about this it’s bad. Um, you just have to wash your hands really diligently to make sure you get all of the lines used off, but uh, you know, avoid lines and sunlight. And so, uh, you know, if I can help someone avoid the margarita burn, then that makes me happy. Thanks. I hope to see you soon.

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