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Top Tips On Growing New Plants from Cuttings.

Cuttings are a good way of increasing your stock of plants or replacing those that have become old and woody. There are several methods of taking cuttings – softwood, semi-ripe or semi-hardwood, ripe or hardwood, leaf and root cuttings. The cutting method used will depend mainly on the source plant material. The time of year also determines the type of cutting you are taking. However, if you’re looking to increase your plant stock, the following advice might prove to be useful if you are growing new plants from cuttings.

Cultivating cuttings:

Normally cuttings are rooted in free-draining compost made with a high ratio of sharp grit, sand or even vermiculite. The main criteria are that it is free draining and well aerated. No nutrients are required, as the roots will form better and stronger if they have to search for these. Many cuttings, like dianthus, tradescantia, fuchsia, busy Lizzie or African violet, will also happily form roots if simply suspended in a jar of water. Once rooted, cuttings can then be potted up in good-quality compost.

Softwood cuttings:

  • Choose a healthy tip or side shoot and cut it cleanly with a sharp knife just below the leaf joint.
  • Sever the lower leaves on the shoot and dip the cut end of the stem in hormone rooting powder.
  • Make deep holes in a fresh pot (or seed tray) of free draining compost and insert the cuttings, firming the soil around them.
  • Keep moist in a propagator in the greenhouse or cover with clear polythene bag.
  • Place in a well-lit position but out of direct sunlight.
  • Provide a constant temperature of around 18°C (65°F) or higher to encourage rapid rooting.
  • Once rooted, gradually acclimatise the new plantlets to normal growing conditions and pot them on.

Hardwood cuttings:

Hardwood cuttings are best taken in October and November once the new summer growth has gone woody, and are ideal for propagating most woody shrubs. Hardwood cuttings, however, are very slow to form roots: so don’t expect them to root fully until at least the following spring. Once the cutting is well-rooted, it will sprout strong shoots and grow strongly.

  • Taking hardwood cuttings is simply achieved by partially burying a severed piece of stem, vertically, in free draining soil or compost and leaving them in the ground to get on with the process of forming roots.
  • The cutting material should be much longer than that used for soft and semi-ripe cuttings, at least 20-30 cm (8-12 in) or more.
  • Choose straight stems and cut back to just below a pair of leaves or buds. Remove all leaves from the lower part of stem that is to be buried in the soil.
  • Make a sloping cut at the top and a straight cut at the top so that you know which way-up the cutting should be planted. The sloping cut at the top also allows water to drain off and helps prevent the tops from rotting off.
  • Unlike soft and semi-ripe cuttings, hardwood cuttings do not require bottom heat or a moist atmosphere. Simply dig a slit trench half the height of the cuttings and fill the bottom with sharp sand or grit.
  • Insert the cuttings vertically, to a third to half of their length and back-fill the soil, firming them in.
  • You can use a hormone rooting powder, but this is generally felt to be unnecessary. Water well and label the cuttings so you know what they are. A cold frame can be placed over the top to encourage faster rooting if required.

Root cuttings:

Root cuttings of perennials and shrubs are best taken in winter or early spring (November to February) when the plants are dormant. This is because most of the energy of the plant has been drawn down into the roots for storage over winter.

  • To take root cuttings, carefully lift the plant, or dig soil away from larger plants or shrubs, then select suitable roots of good length and cut them from the parent plant.
  • Cut large, fleshy roots into 5 cm (2 in) sections, and bury them vertically in free-draining compost, in trays or shallow pots. It is important that they are pushed into the soil the right way up.
  • In order to identify the correct orientation of the roots when planting, cut an angle at the bottom end of each root cutting as you prepare them, and cut the top straight across.
  • The upper face of the cuttings should just visible in the surface of the compost. Finer, more delicate roots can be separated into single strands, and placed, horizontally, on the surface of the compost. Cover the roots with no more than 1 cm (0.5 in) of compost.
  • Lightly water the pots or trays and put them in a cold frame or greenhouse. New shoots should appear in spring.

Leaf cuttings:

By taking a leaf cutting you can cultivate a whole new plant from a single leaf or ever a small section of a leaf. It’s the perfect method for cultivating plants like the African violet: what’s more, the same method can be used on many other house plants with fleshy leaves – plants like begonias, peperomias and gloxinias.

  • Propagate by cutting a healthy newly matured leaf (with its stalk attached) from the parent plant.
  • Sever the leaf at the base of the plant.
  • Place it in a seed tray or pot filled with a mixture of peat and sand. If several leaves are to be propagated together, make sure they are well spaced out and not touching each other. The leaf stalk is the only bit that is buried, leaving the leaf blade exposed.
  • Leaf cuttings are vulnerable to both drying out and rotting before they root, so use a little bottom heat to speed up the rooting process. Cover with a propagator lid or polythene bag and mist occasionally to keep the air around the cuttings moist.
  • Once the young plants appear, they can be potted up separately into a compost containing nutrients to meet their growing needs.

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