propagating lambs ear by cuttings?

mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)May 5, 2011

I have a large clump of Lambs Ear, so thought I'd bring some to the swap to share. I planned on digging up some of it and separating into small plants to pot up. But I've ruffled through the leaves to find where to start digging, and all the leaves seem to be coming from the main crown of the clump (rather than having smaller satellite clumps). I don't want to damage the mother plant, so am wondering if I'd be successful in snipping off some leaves and trying to root them.

Has anyone had success propagating Lambs Ear by cuttings?

If cuttings won't work, then I may wait until fall before I try to dig and separate it. I bought this plant last summer and planted it in my front garden. It has grown like crazy, but never bloomed. I'm hoping it will this year and that's why I don't want to disturb it too much!

Any tips on how best to separate the clump?


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In my experience, you can just pull (dig) some out of the ground; it spreads by rhizomes so you should find it rooted in various areas of the clump.

Just a small warning about lambs ear; I find it somewhat invasive in my garden. I started with one plant and now have it popping up in quite a few areas in my garden. The bees love the flowers so I don't want to get rid of it but it does seem to be taking over in several places in my yard!

Anyway, it definitely has very fertile seeds; if you do share some at the swap, make sure you forewarn whoever wants some to make sure they deadhead it if they don't want it to spread everywhere!


    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 11:55PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

"Any tips on how best to separate the clump?"

With as new as your plant is, I think your best "tip" will be to wait till the Fall Swap--or possibly even the next Spring Swap! From what you've described, it sounds like yours hasn't spread enough to be able to dig up sections that are already rooted--and that doesn't really surprise me. I got a small one at a swap a couple years ago, and this is the first year it's really looking good and looking like I MIGHT be able to get some rooted pieces off of it by the Fall Swap--possibly! I've tried cutting "stem sections" off at the base multiple times, and have been totally unsuccessful at getting them to root! Suggest you don't even try that for now at least, and just enjoy it as it is for now! Depending on your soil, by next year you may be able to remove rooted pieces. Once it gets going really well, I think you'll find it's easy to remove rooted sections to bring to swaps! When it gets to that point, when you "lift up" on some of the outermost "shoots," you should be able to tell if they're rooted or not, and when they are, don't dig the whole clump, just remove as many of the outer rooted shoots as you want to. Be careful to not overwater them when you're getting them going in pots! They really don't like water at all!

I know some people like the "flowers" on the blooming ones, but mine is the "flowerless" kind ('Helen Von Stein', a/k/a 'Big Ears'), which I requested because I don't like lamb's ear flowers at all! Because of that, I don't need to worry about having it reseed. If you decide you don't like the flowers on yours when it starts to "bloom," just snip out the flower stems all the way down to the soil, and it will come back with pretty new, pet-able, foliage.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 1:32AM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

Thanks Skybird and Holly. Skybird - if YOU didn't have luck with rooting cuttings, then it probably won't work for me!! I may try it anyway, because the leaves are hanging over a couple of other plants so I'd like to trim it back at least. I looked again, and it still seems like the leaves are all coming from one crown and not from outside rooted sections.

Interesting there is a variety that doesn't flower! I don't think I saved the tag off of mine, so not sure which variety it is. If mine does flower, I'll be sure to catch the seeds before they fall so I don't end up with a whole bed of it - I like it, but not THAT much ;^)


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 7:01PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Misty, if you're gonna cut off those outside shoots, cut them almost the whole way down to the bottom--maybe a half inch from the bottom. It'll have the effect of "pinching" the plant, and and it'll produce two or more shoots to replace the one you cut off! If yours flowers, cutting the flower stems all the way down--whenever--will have the same effect. The blooming lamb's ear tends to lose a lot of it's basal foliage when it blooms (part of the reason I don't like the blooming ones), and when it comes back after cutting it down, it'll be real pretty again! If yours didn't bloom last summer, you may have the flowerless kind.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 8:20PM
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Skybird - I didn't know that lambs ear came in a "non-flowering" form. To be honest with you, I don't know that I would grow it if it didn't flower; despite my annoyance with its tendancy to spread via seed, I rather like the flowers and the bees absolutely love them. Anything that attracts bees and makes them happy is more than good in my book. Each to her own, of course. :-D


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 9:10PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Works for me, Holly! :-) It tends to be one of those love it or hate it things. When I sold them some people would really like them and others would go, what's that? I didn't know they attracted bees! But, speaking of bees, I seem to be noticing way more in my yard already this year than I did for most of the summer last year. Hope they hang around!


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 10:26PM
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mstywoods(z5, Westminster, CO)

So I went out to snip some of the leaves as you suggested Skybird and noticed that one of them had a small root at the bottom of the stalk. And then as I was about to snip another one, it gave way as I was kind of tugging on it, and noticed more roots on that stalk. So then I just went around the clump, putting my hand as far down as I could on the stalk and tugged the rest of them out. I ended up with quite a few that had several roots on them!

So I've potted most of them up, along with a few that didn't have roots (used root tone on those), and hopefully at least the rooted ones will take and I can share them at the swap :^) A few of the leftovers that had fewer roots I stuck out in my back yard where it would be nice to have some growing. We'll see what happens!

I'm thinking these may actually be the kind that flowers, because the description I've read in googling says the non-flowering is very slow growing. Judging by how much mine has grown in less than a year, I wouldn't describe mine as slow!! But again, we'll see what happens!


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 10:46PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Glad you found some with some roots, Misty. I think they should take just fine for you. I'll be interested in finding out if the ones with no roots make it--maybe you have the magic touch! Since yours is spreading enough to get rooted pieces off of it already, I agree that you probably have the kind that blooms. If yours is spreading/rooting like that already, I'm thinkin' that by the Fall Swap you're gonna be begging people to take them! ;-) Let us know, too, which way you vote on the flowers when it blooms. Definitely a personal preference.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 11:19PM
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Let me try this again. Not sure my first post was successful. I was curious if I might successfully propagate my Lamb's Ear cuttings, with root growth hormone, or trying to pull out the little stems with some little roots, pot them up and place them under my flourscent grow lite system indoors? I hear it's light intensity not spectral intensity that cuttings and seeds need. Anyway, anyone think or have success with propagating this way?

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 1:22PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi John,

Whether or not you can root them depends on what you're calling a cutting! If you mean individual leaves, I don't believe there's any way at all to root those. If you mean you're cutting off the stems (with leaves attached), theoretically it should be possible to root those, but I've tried it two or three times and like I told Misty, have been totally unsuccessful so far--which REALLY surprised me!

As I suggested to Misty, above, the quickest and easiest way to start new individual plants from an established lamb's ear is to remove some of the individual shoots that are already well rooted or obviously starting to root and stick them in small pots till they're rooted to the bottom of the pots, and then plant them outside--after hardening them off if it's still cold out! To get the rooted shoots, gently dig around the outside of the plant to loosen the soil and then kind of dig around a little bit with your hands, lifting up on some of the outside shoots, and you'll probably see right away some rooted stems that you can cut off--or just pull/break off.

If you decide to try rooting some completely unrooted ones, when you cut them off, cut them almost the whole way down to the crown of the plant. That will force new growth to come up from the base of the plant, rather than getting multiple shoots coming out of the end of a stem that's already several inches long, which would just make the plant look all leggy and floppy! If you manage to root some unrooted pieces, please come back here and tell us about it! I'd love to find out if it really is possible!

I looked thru my (many) pics in hopes of finding a couple lamb's ear ones that might explain what I mean by the "outside shoots," but I don't seem to have taken many lamb's ear pics over the years! Here are a couple--that may or may not help! The first is my plant the year after I put it in--a very small plant I had gotten at one of the swaps. You can't see the base of the stems, but you can see the tips of all the different individual shoots that make up the whole plant.

The second one is a couple years later when it's just starting to grow in spring, after I've cleaned all the old ratty foliage off from the previous year. Because the leaves are still small, you can see all the way down to the bottom where the individual stems are going into the soil. Those individual stems are what you want to gently lift up far enough to see if they're adequately rooted to be able to remove them to successfully start them in a pot. [Click on the pic to open it in WebAlbums, and then you can click on the little magnifier on top, wait for it to load, and then click the + in the top left corner to get it as big as possible and then drag it to see the area you want to look at.] In this pic it's easiest to see where the individual shoots are going into the soil on the top left corner of the plant!

Mine is considerably bigger now than in either of those pics, but I have the flowerless kind, so they don't spread as much as the blooming kind. If you have the kind that blooms you should have new shoots coming up all over the place, and you should very easily be able to remove rooted shoots to start more.

Fluorescent lites, in my opinion, are the best things you can use for growing inside. They're inexpensive, and they don't burn plants even if the plants grow right up into the bulbs, and since keeping the source of the lite close to the plants is important, using something that doesn't burn them makes it a lot easier. I used to use cool white, but I don't think it makes any difference what type they are!

Good luck! Let us know how it works out for you!


This post was edited by skybird on Sun, Mar 2, 14 at 16:05

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 3:59PM
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Thanks for those thoughts sky bird! I plan on attempting to gently harvest some lamb's ear stems with some little roots, pot them up in some well amended soil, maybe dip some of them in root growth hormone some not, and stick em under my fluorescent growing system and see what happens! I will indeed let you all know in a week or so how well or...not so well, I did!
My Master Gardener class is wishing for some luck as well, as we're hosting a plant sale early May. If this works, Lamb's Ear will be a good addition to the lot. Thanks. John

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 8:36PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi again,

If you're going to do it, here are a couple more suggestions.

You say "well amended soil," so I'm not sure if you're planning to use your outdoor garden soil with amendments, but if you are, when you're starting things in pots you'll have much better luck if you use a good quality store-bought potting soil/mix. That means it will be composed mostly of Canadian peat and it will feel "light and fluffy" when it's moist. Garden soils can have pathogens in them that could really mess with the plants you're starting. Growing thing in pots is very different from growing things in the ground. Don't, under any circumstances, use Hyponex brand! Bad stuff--for anything! I recommend against Miraclegro because they seem to have no "quality control" and what you get can be different in every bag (unless they've changed recently, they don't even list the ingredients on the bags), but if it's the only thing you can get, go for it and keep your fingers crossed you get a good bag!

After you have them potted up, saturate the soil and then don't water again till the soil is about 80% dry, all the way down in the pot. That will help new roots develop as the few existing roots need to "look deeper" in the soil for moisture as the soil dries. If in doubt, don't water. Under watering won't do serious damage. Keeping them too wet can kill them.

If you're starting with shoots that already have at least "some" roots, rooting hormone probably won't help--probably won't hurt anything either!

And it's gonna be more than a week for you to know if you're successful or not. Probably 2-3 weeks before you'll be able to tell if they're actively growing. Be sure you start them in "small" pots. If the pots are too big the soil will stay wet too long and they'll struggle, at best, or die, at worst.

Trying new things is fun! Will be looking forward to your report of success,

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 11:27PM
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Again.. Skybird, thank you for those sound tips to help with my success in starting my cuttings and new rooted stems! Your timing, from my first help post, has been remarkable. From soil recommendations to moisture control and "when to do things in a particular order" are so appreciated in my infancy of "potting mania!" I know we all start somewhere and your input has given me that jump with confidence!
Thanks again Skybird!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 8:52AM
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Hey Skybird,

Well I think you're right, I was not able to grow roots using root growth hormone but you're suggestion on separating the roots and transplanting in smaller pots or seedling pots, did very well! Thanks for the encouragement to even try.
Enjoy the pix.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 6:17PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Thanks so much for coming back to give us an update on your progress, John. It's really nice when folks come back at some point to let us know if they succeeded--or failed. Either way it helps everyone learn! And thanks for the pic too! It's fun to see what's actually going on!

If you start more lamb's ear in the future using stems that already have at least some roots, try burying at least a couple of them deeper in the soil. I'm not sure about this, but I think if they already have some roots they'll root pretty easily at the leaf joints further up the stem--and you'll have a shorter, more compact plant. I don't want to mess up what you're doing now since you want to use them to sell, but if you want to try it now with one of them, remove one of them from its cell, keeping the soil as much intact as possible, and replant it deeper in a deeper pot--still not too "big," but deep enough to try it.

And there's one other thing you could do to get some compact, "pretty" plants, but I don't think there's time to do it before your sale this time. When they're rooted to the bottom of the pot/cells they're in now, cut the existing long stems down to about a half inch above the soil--and then wait! If you try that be sure to let the soil dry almost completely before you re-saturate it--with no foliage/stem they'll be using virtually no water. Cutting them down will force new--and more--growth from the base of the plant and it'll wind up being a really nice looking little plant--especially for sale purposes! (but it'll probably take at least 3-4 weeks for the new basal growth to get going much!) If the plant you have in your yard is getting leggy looking, you can cut that all the way down too! It'll come back nice and short and full. Mine is already all cut down for this year. If it makes it nervous to cut it all the way down, cut about half of the stems down first and wait for them to start growing back, and then cut the rest of them down.

Never ever be afraid to try new things in your Potting Mania! Many things will work, some won't--but even if they don't you've had some fun playing! If it's something you really want, don't give up on the first failure! Some things won't root in spring, but will root like crazy in fall--or summer! You never know! I tried rooting unrooted lamb's ear cuttings three times before I gave up--and it was something I didn't really care about that much! I had to try three times (years) to try to germinate Penstemon seed I had collected along the road in Utah--and now I have seedlings of it coming up all over the place! That one I really did want and I would have kept trying till I ran out of seed! (But I'm not at all sure what I think of all the seedlings!!!)

Have fun playing, and good luck with your sale,

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 10:25PM
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Nearly any plant can be rooted from cuttings if you acknowledge the things that inherently inhibit as well as foster root development. My bag of tricks include: 1.) Configure your cuttings, ie remove the apical/growing tip as the terminal meristem will dictate growth regulation. The cutting should be 3 -4 nodal segments long. 2.) Store your configured cuttings in a dark enclosure for 1-2 days. This will do two things. It will allow cut surfaces to heal thereby reducing disease penetration into the vasculature. It will also deplete the starch reserve within the plant tissues and that will promote a renewed metabolism in the cutting. 3.) A rooting medium containing a fair percentage of vermiculite or sand allows for better oxygen penetration to the submerged tissue and reduces the chance of too wet of conditions. 4.) Plant surfaces will influence rooting compound efficacy. A pubescent (hairy) surface is often better addressed by employing a liquid form of the rooting compound. Exposure times are usually determined by trial and error. It may require as much as a 5 minute dip of the cuttings' base.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 9:58AM
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