Unum de multis: Horticultural Multiplication

Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’


Unum de multis:  Out of one, many…

That is one of the wonders of the plant kingdom!

It took several trips and quite a few hours of shopping to finally source a few little variegated English holly shrubs in the fall of 2017.  Although these were clearly labeled as Ilex aquifoliumn, as it turns out, they are actually Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’.

I accepted the plants at face value, believing the big name label on the shrubs that identified them as English holly.  It was a very knowledgeable reader of Forest Garden, California Horticulturalist Tony Tomeo, who pointed out the error and set me on the path to a correct identification of the shrubs.

Sometimes known as ‘false holly’, Osmanthus is a beautiful and useful evergreen shrub from Asia.  This particular shrub is called ‘Goshiki’ because the leaf exhibits five different colors during its development:  pink, cream, yellow, orange and white, in addition to green.  It is a beautiful plant in growth, with the new growth showing the most color.

I’ve grown this plant over the past several years and have it elsewhere in the garden.  It goes to show how quickly we will believe and accept how things are labeled, that I didn’t recognize the error in labeling right away.  It took Tony’s nudge for me to compare the two leaves side by side.

Out of the several plants finally located, two survived that very cold winter and finicky spring to live on into 2019.


Our shrub newly planted in 2017


My several attempts to locate  small English holly shrubs for planting projects this fall proved unsuccessful, and I ended up substituting other plants late into the season.  It goes with the territory that available plants change season to season and year to year.  A gardener can never take for granted that a particular plant will be available when needed.

That is why it pays to learn how to propagate your own plants, so that once you have one of some special something, you can generate more as needed.

Now, it isn’t technically difficult to propagate most plants.  But depending on what you are trying to grow, and the time of year, some special equipment may be necessary.  Without a greenhouse, propagation box, heat mat, lights or misters, it can be challenging to achieve the results that commercial growers can produce.



Yet it is amazing what you can do at home, with little equipment, once you understand some basic principles.  A great resource for all types of propagation, including sowing seeds, is Making More Plants by Ken Druse.  This is a clearly written, beautifully illustrated guide that teaches me some new trick each time I re-read it.

There are several types of stem cuttings one can make, and their advantage is that a rooted stem eventually grows into a clone of the parent plant.  Stem cuttings are generally low-tech, easy and quick.  And I have learned a few little tricks that increase my chances of success without a greenhouse or fancy set-up.

Simply put, the challenge of a stem cutting is to have the stem strike roots while the leaves continue to live, and before the stem begins to rot.  That means that plants with large leaves need enough water flow through the stem to support the leaves, even before roots begin to grow.  And, the rooting has to occur in a way that doesn’t allow the stem to clog up, or begin to decay, before the roots can grow.


This method of rooting stem cuttings is nearly 100% successful for Christmas cactus cuttings.


Most commercial growers place stem cuttings into a damp, soil-less medium to root.  They then put the stems into a heated, lit, enclosed space for a few weeks while roots form.  Enclosing the stems increases humidity, which benefits the leaves.  Bottom heat speeds the process, and adequate light is required for photosynthesis.

Getting an herbaceous stem to root in a water is a bit easier.  Water is more easily available and so the leaves are well-supplied.  But, water grown roots are structurally different from soil-grown roots.  The plant will need to quickly re-grow new roots once it is planted in soil.


These coleus cuttings had been rooting in water for not quite two weeks.


I am using a hybrid method to get my little holly cuttings to root.  The container is a recycled aluminum loaf pan without any drainage holes.  There is a half-inch of clean, fine aquarium gravel in the bottom of the pan, topped with some clean peat based potting soil, and then topped off with fresh vermiculite.  I watered this well to wet all of the soil and also create a shallow reservoir in the bottom of the pan.

After pruning the shrub I want to clone, I trimmed the cuttings to only a couple of inches long and set then into a shallow cup of water.  A smaller cutting can be more successful because there is less plant tissue to support while it grows roots.  Remove the bottom couple of pairs of leaves from the cutting, dip the cut end into powdered rooting hormone,  and stick the cutting into the pan so that the exposed leaf nodes are in the soil.


A clear dome holds humidity so the cuttings won’t wilt while they root. Make sure to vent the dome each day to allow fresh air inside.


Take care that the cuttings don’t touch one another and that their leaves don’t touch the soil.  This helps limit any molding or transmission of disease.

Once all the cuttings were trimmed and stuck, I put the pan into a re-cycled bakery cake container that has a clear, domed lid.  I set the container on a low table beside a window that gets strong morning light. There is also a fluorescent bulb burning in a nearby lamp.  There is no bottom heat provided, but the room is warm and the sun provides additional warmth.

I expect these cuttings to strike roots sometime this month.  The best way to tell that roots have developed is when new growth appears.  One can also tug lightly on the cutting, expecting to feel a little resistance once roots form.  Tugging too soon might damage newly forming roots, so it really isn’t smart to try this too soon.

Once the cuttings have an inch or so of new roots, each can be potted up into a 3″ or 4″ nursery pot and set outside in sheltered, shady spot.  It is important to keep the new shrubs well watered through their first few years so they never completely dry out.



Another method, for herbaceous or very soft woody stems, involves a wine glass and a little bit of gravel.  Again, using relatively small cuttings, rest the cut end of the stems in the spaces in the gravel and add only enough water to cover the bottom portion of the stem.  Maintaining shallow water allows roots to form without exposing much of the stem to potential rot.  The wine glass itself helps enclose the stems, increasing humidity for the leaves.

Again, work with short tip cuttings of stems, trim the bottom leaves from the stem, and dip each cutting into rooting hormone before placing it in the glass.  Make sure the water stays fresh and at a fairly constant level.  If ever the water looks cloudy, rinse out the glass, rinse off the stems and replace the water with fresh.



This glass of Spanish lavender cuttings sits near a sheltered window where the cuttings will get indirect light all day.  I expect roots to form so these can be potted up by early March.  The mother plant is one I search out each year and only sometimes can find.  It is a hardy perennial and one of the earliest lavenders to flower each spring.  Once these stems root, I expect to start another batch of this particular lavender.


This is Spanish lavender, L. stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ with its ‘rabbit ears’ atop the flower.


Once you get the knack of stem cuttings, you can beg a cutting from a gardening friend and ‘grow your own.’  You can create multiples of the plants you enjoy most in your garden, or produce clones to pass on to others.  A neighbor populated her yard with beautiful Azalea shrubs she started herself from cuttings decades ago.

There is tremendous satisfaction in knowing how to create several new plants from a single original.   It empowers the gardener, saves a great deal of cash, and allows us to have more of those plants we most enjoy.



Woodland Gnome 2019

More on planting pots with shrubs, bulbs and perennials for winter


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

29 responses to “Unum de multis: Horticultural Multiplication

  1. Goodness! I read that wrong and needed to stop. I thought it said ‘Umunhum’, which is the resting place of the hummingbird (which I think refers to any hummingbird who happens to stop by). Anyway, I wish I had not stopped by.
    I believe that your cuttings are not from variegated English holly, but from Goshiki holly olive, Osmanthus heterophyllus, ‘Goshiki’, which is not really a holly at all.
    Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’ in an excellent cultivar, but ‘Argenteo Marginata’ means ‘silver lining’. (‘Argenteo’ means ‘silver’. ‘Marginata’ refers to the ‘margins’.) Yours is instead spotted with gold.
    You might want to find some pictures of ‘Goshiki’ holly olive, and compare them to what you have there. One clue is that the holly olive is not as ‘prickly’ as English holly is.

    • Tony, thank you for this observation. I love Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ and actually have some little plants I’ve been patiently growing for a number of years. It is a slow grower for us here. I am going to photograph it later this morning and post the photos side by side for you.

      If the plant in this propagation post ends up to be the same, I’ll gladly re-label it. And I understand what you are saying about silver margins. However, I bought these plants from a large chain hardware/home improvement store in late autumn of 2017 clearly labeled as Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’. They had a large display of them similarly labeled, and I bought a total of 6 shrubs from two different locations, all labeled as English holly. Now, the grower may have made an error. But I had originally hoped to purchase the Osmanthus for these pots, and found them prohibitively expensive. A trusted nurseryman explained to me that the Osmanthus costs more because it grows so slowly.
      So I would agree with you that my shrub that I’ve taken cuttings from may be another holly cultivar- mislabeled for sale. I’ll be very surprised if it ends up to be the Osmanthus, though I trust your knowledge of these things, Tony. I’m also going to have another look at the 2017 article in Gardens Illustrated UK which inspired me to seek out English holly for pots in the first place! Maybe I’ll find a photo that matches my cultivar….
      Thanks for your comment, Tony, To be continued…

      • Well, there are many cultivars of English holly that I am not familiar with. I sort of prefer the holly to the osmanthus. It just seems to be more traditional. I am just guessing that it looks more like the ‘Goshiki’ osmanthus than English holly. Hopefully it is some other type of English holly.
        Some of the ‘various’ aloes in my garden were purchases as genuine Aloe vera. They were all labeled as such, and I purchased them because they did not look like any of the other aloes that I already have that obviously were not Aloe vera. Yet, without exception, they have all matured to be some other species. They are all quite nice aloes, but none are what they were labeled as. They were just something that was easy to grow and sell.

        • Tony I believe it happens quite often- I’m still on the lookout for a great variegated English Holly. They are very hard to find around here in smaller pots, and I simply can’t dig a huge hole in this yard with so many tree roots everywhere. There is a better selection wholesale, of course- but even at the best wholesaler in our region, I couldn’t find a good English Holly this fall.

          • How funny. When I wanted green English holly, I could only find variegated cultivars. Now, where I work, English holly is a naturalized exotic that we try to get rid of if it shows up where it is not wanted.

            • Chinese holly is more likely to naturalize here. Very funny indeed. Who wouldn’t expect a lot of English holly available around Williamsburg?? One downside to the Osmanthus: no bright berries.

              • I can not explain it, but I just do not like osmanthus much. I really do not know why. It was my colleague Brent’s very first English holly! He insisted that it was what it was, and did not believe me otherwise.

    • Ah- forgot to offer up the link to the original post when I bought these little shrubs. There is a link to the article about English holly embedded in this post. https://forestgardenblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/fabulous-friday-winterizing-pots/

    • Tony– you are right. i held a cutting of the Osmanthus beside this rogue shrub and it is an exact match. I have photos to post- just ran out of time to post today. Thank you again for setting the record straight on this- wg

      • Oh cuss! I am sorry to have ruined it. It would have been better to believe that they were English holly of some sort, although osmanthus is easier to handle.

        • Tony, you didn’t ruin anything. If you recognized those shrubs right away as Osmanthus, others would, too. Then I’m left with a bit of egg on my face. Thank you for your observation and comments. Besides, I can grow them in more shade as they mature than I could a holly, which will make them easier to site when its time to move out of the pots. I will care for them better now that I know what I’m dealing with! Truth always Trumps ignorance 😉

  2. this is such a nice tutorial (and you wrote so clear) – I understand more of the process of rooting a lot more – and Ken’s book sounds good
    Be back later to finish a the last few sections of this informative garden post

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