Taking Cuttings - plants for free
There’s something deeply satisfying about taking cuttings of plants and making new ones. Seeing roots develop on a cutting and potting the new plant up into a container seems to confirm you’re a proper gardener and not just someone who does a spot of weeding and prunes a rose occasionally.
Buying plants is an expensive business, so making new plants for free is a great way to fill your borders. Some plants have a tendency to become woody as they get older and as a result they produce fewer flowers, so taking cuttings is a great way to create vigorous young plants. Tender plants such as salvias and heliotrope need winter protection in the UK, either in a frost-free greenhouse or on a windowsill indoors. Sometimes they don’t survive and having a back-up of rooted cuttings is a good idea if you want to ensure you have these plants for next year.
Now is a good time for propagating as cuttings will have time to form roots and put on a bit of growth before winter. Cuttings taken at this time of year are known as semi-ripe cuttings because the top growth is still bendy but the base of the cutting will have become woody.
Plants to propagate now:
- Tender and borderline hardy salvias
- Remove healthy, non-flowering shoots from the parent plant. The cuttings should be 10-15cm long.
- Trim the base of the cutting just below a leaf or set of leaves.
- Remove the lower leaves and snip out the leaf tip.
- Dip the base in hormone rooting powder.
- Fill 9cm pots with a 50:50 mix of compost and perlite, then insert the cuttings around the edge of the pot. Depending on the size of the cuttings you should be able to fit a couple in each pot.
- Water and place a plastic bag over each pot to keep the cuttings in a moist environment, which will prevent wilting. Every day remove the bag for 10 minutes or so, then turn the bag inside out and put it back over the pot. This will prevent excess moisture building up, which can lead to fungal diseases and rot.
- Place on a bright windowsill out of the midday sun.
- If you have a heated propagator place the pots on this as it will help to speed up root formation.
- When you see roots appear at the bottom of the pots, carefully tip out the cuttings and tease them apart. Each cutting that has rooted can then be planted up into individual pots.
- Keep these young plants somewhere bright and frost-free over winter.
You can also try rooting plants in water. Raid the recycling bin for small glass jars, put them through the dishwasher to make sure they are thoroughly clean, then fill with a couple of cms of water – just enough so that the base of each cutting is submerged. Prepare the cuttings as above then place them in the water. It can take a couple of weeks for roots to develop and it’s a good idea to refresh the water every couple of days. Once the roots are 2.5–5cm long pot up the cuttings into individual 9cm pots filled with compost.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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