7 Easy Steps to Taking Plant Cuttings: Gardening for Beginners
Making New Plants From Cuttings
Did you know that plants can be cloned? Yes you can make duplicate plants for your garden by taking cuttings. The new plant will have identical properties to the original plant and you can repeat this process lots of times. For many plants, the steps are simple and only takes minutes to do. This guide concentrates on taking semi-ripe cuttings from plants. These are pieces of new season growth from plants which are at the transition stage from softwood to hardwood.
I have concentrated here on on taking fuchsia cuttings because these plants are easily and successfully propagated using this method. Many other shrubs such as buddleia and laurel are easy to grow from cuttings.
What Is a Cutting?
A cutting is simply a short branch/stem cut from the original plant. The end of the stem is pushed down into a sand/compost mixture in the ground or a container. Depending on whether the cutting is a softwood or hardwood type, it will develop its own roots within weeks or months, respectively, under suitable conditions.
How are Plants Propagated?
Propagation is the process of creating new plants from an existing plant. There are several methods of propagation:
- Cuttings - The new plant retains the genetic make-up and properties of the parent plant. Since the cutting can be quite long, the plant can have a head-start on a plant produced from seed. Unfortunately not all plants can be propagated by taking cuttings.
- Seeds - Many plants can be reproduced from seed and this technique is used when breeding new varieties of plants. However many plants won't breed true when propagated using this method because the seed carries genes from both parents. So for instance if you sow the seed of an apple, you may just end up with a tree which produces crab apples! Garden flowers grown from seed may also revert to their wild versions.
- Grafting and budding - These are techniques commonly used to propagate fruit trees and roses respectively. A bud or stem from the donor plant is spliced onto what's called a rootstock. A rootstock is a root and section of stem, usually derived from the wild variety of the plant. e.g. wild rose. The wild variety of the plant has the advantage of being more vigorous and hardy than the artificially bred plant which is attached to it. Grafting is also necessary because some plants simply wont sprout roots if cuttings are taken from them, e.g. rhododendron.
- Layering - The stem of a flexible plant is pinned down onto the ground and covered with soil. Roots sprout from the submerged section. Some plants propagate naturally this way.
- Division - Shrubs, herbaceous perennials and bulbs can be propagated this way in the fall or spring (depending on the particular plant). The outer sections of the root clump are split up and replanted. This also gives the sections new vigour. Bulbs multiply in the ground and can be replanted.
Many shrubs are easy to grow from cuttings. Shrubs such as fuchsia, buddleia (butterfly bush) and laurel are particularly easy to grow.
How to Take Fuchsia Cuttings
- Secateurs. If you don't have one of these you can use a sharp knife, scissors or wire snips (side cutters).
- Flower pot. Alternatively you can use a scissors to cut and use the bottom section of a milk container, soda bottle, etc.
- Potting compost and sand.
- Clear or semi-clear plastic bag (e.g. vegetable bag from store or freezer bag).
- Rubber band.
Step 1 - Cut a Section From the Plant
The length varies and depends on the plant/flower. Google the specific details of the plant in question. When I'm taking cuttings from a shrub, I generally cut a piece from 6 to 8 inches in length. Make a clean cut with a secateurs about 1/4 inch below a leaf joint. Don't just break off the stem as this will leave a ragged break which can become infected and the cutting may fail. Alternatively use a sharp knife, loppers or wire cutter/snips. Roots sprout from the nodes where the leaves meet the stem so its advantageous to get as many of these nodes at the lower end of the cutting. Cuttings can be taken in mid-summer or when growth is semi-ripe. Semi-ripe means that new growth has hardened somewhat and is not quite as soft and lush as early in the season, but hasn't acquired the hardness of the previous years growth.
Step 2 - Remove the Lower Leaves From the Cutting
Remove the leaves from the lower 1/2 to 2/3 of the cutting.
Step 3 - Mix up the Compost
Mix equal amounts of sand and potting compost together. I just use my own home made compost. Sand increases drainage and prevents the mix becoming overly moist which can result in cuttings becoming infected and rotting. Fill the pot with this mixture to a level just below the rim (to facilitate watering).
Step 4 - Push the Cuttings Down into The Compost
Some plants are fussy and need some encouragement to root. You can use hormone rooting powder/liquid as an aid. You simply dip the end of the cutting in water, tap off the excess water, insert the end into rooting powder, tap off the excess powder and then push the cutting down into the compost in the pot. Fuchsia however is in no way fussy and cuttings are eager to produce roots so no rooting hormone is required.
Depending on the size of the pot, you can fit as many cuttings as possible into the available space. I usually fit about 8 cuttings into a 4 inch pot. Push them down so that about half the length is below the surface or you hit the bottom of the pot.
Step 5 - Water the Cuttings
Water the cuttings. Allow excess water to drain away (don't put anything such as a saucer under the pot)
Step 6 - Cover the Pot With a Bag
Plants unlike animals don't have a blood circulation system. So a process called transpiration is used to transport water and minerals throughout the plant. Heat and light acting on leaves causes water to evaporate via pores on the surface of the leaves. Water rises via the stem and roots to replace this evaporated water. This is known as capillary action. This is somewhat like the way a candle works and molten wax rises up the wick to replace wax burned in the flame. (or water rises in a piece of paper towel dipped in water).
When a cutting is taken from the original plant, it loses its roots. Without a source of water it can rapidly dry up. So its important to keep it in a humid environment until it sprouts roots.
Cover the pot with a clear or semi-clear plastic bag, held in place with a rubber band. Make a hole in the top of the bag. This allows some ventilation, prevents the air from becoming overly humid, and discourages mold growth on the leaves.
Step 7 - Place the Cuttings in a Suitable Location, and Wait.........
Locate the pot and cuttings in a northerly facing location (or southerly facing for Australian readers and the rest of you in the southern hemisphere!) out of direct sunlight. This helps to prevent them drying out and the air within the bag from becoming overly hot and humid. Depending on the plant, temperature, humidity etc, cuttings may root in as little as 2 to 3 weeks. Once 2 weeks have passed, check the bottom of the pot every few days. Eventually you will see roots poking out through the drainage holes in the bottom. At this stage, the cuttings can be carefully removed and the roots teased apart. Plant them into individual pots and allow them to grow on until they become pot bound and lots of roots start appearing from the bottom of the pot. Once this happens, the plants can be planted out to their final location.
The Complete Book of Plant Propagation by R.C.M. Wright and Alan Titchmarsh
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