A beginner's guide to growing from cuttings

A beginner's guide to growing from cuttings

There’s nothing quite like getting down and dirty in the garden, stomping in muddy puddles and splashing murky brown water up legs, walls and fences. Gardening isn’t all grubby knees and soggy leaves though – it takes mud, sweat and tears to get things growing outdoors!

Growing from cuttings, however, is a great way to add plants to your outdoor space without spending a fortune or breaking too much of a sweat. Can’t promise you won’t be scooping congealed bits of soil from under your fingernails for the next week though.

But exactly how do you take a cutting from a plant? Follow our step-by-step guide to learn how to cut, grow and care for plant cuttings.

Tip

Wrap the cuttings in damp Plenty kitchen towels when transporting them. The household paper is strong and absorbent enough to help keep cuttings fresh in transit, and breadcrumb trails of mud to a minimum.

How do you take a cutting from a plant?

You can take softwood or hardwood cuttings, and it’s a little more complicated than a simple snip, snip. The technique is slightly different for each, but you’ll need the same basic equipment, which includes:

  • Pruning shears
  • A bag of potting compost (this will get mucky, so keep a roll of Plenty kitchen paper on hand)
  • Pot/container
  • Hormone rooting powder
  • Clear plastic bag or heated propagator (for softwood cuttings)

 

How to do cuttings from softwood

What? Plants that respond well to softwood cutting propagation (from current season growth) include deciduous shrubs and tender perennials like:

  • Choisya
  • Fuchsia
  • Hebe
  • Hydrangea
  • Lavender
  • Pelargonium
  • Penstemon
  • Petunia
  • Rosemary
  • Salvia
  • Verbena.

When? New shoots are produced in the warmer months. They’re soft and flexible yet firm enough to be removed and grow roots once potted in damp compost. Spring to early summer is the best time to start growing from cuttings – although your hot and sweaty pits might not agree!

How? You’ll want to pot your softwood cuttings by mid-summer, as they’ll need to have developed strong roots to last through winter. Here’s how:

  1. Cut a section of non-flowering side shoot from just above a bud (do so early in the morning, when it’s full of fluid). You’ll want to end up with 8-10cm in length, so cut a longer section first.
  2. Cut the bottom just below a leaf node, and remove all lower leaves plus fleshy upper leaves.
  3. It’s not essential, but you can dip the base in hormone rooting powder (and tap off any excess) to encourage root growth.
  4. It’s time to take a sniff of that pongy compost whiff! Place the cutting/s in compost in a pot or container, with the first leaves just above the compost. To promote rooting, you can mix in horticultural grit or cuttings compost.
  5. Water the cutting, and let it drain and the leaves dry before moving onto the next step.
  6. Put the container in a clear plastic bag held in place with an elastic band and place in a warm, bright spot indoors (but not in direct sunlight). Remove the bag daily to shake out moisture and allow air to ventilate. Or you can use a heated propagator.
  7. Make sure the compost is kept moist, and after six to eight weeks the cuttings should root.

 

How to plant cuttings from softwood

Once you’ve cut and grown them, you’ll want to know how to plant out your softwood cuttings. A couple of weeks after the roots have developed, you can pot the cuttings individually into 9cm pots to grow on. You’ll want the roots to grow out into a strong rootball. Then you can transfer your new plants into your garden in spring.

 

How to do cuttings from hardwood

What? Deciduous shrubs, climbers, fruit bushes and trees that are good to grow from hardwood cuttings include:

  • Buddleia
  • Cornus
  • Forsythia
  • Honeysuckle
  • Jasmine
  • Poplar
  • Rose
  • Fruit bushes like currant, fig and gooseberry.

When? Autumn to mid-winter is the best time for hardwood cutting propagation. Do it in the dormant season, after their leaves fall, but avoiding frosty periods. And you may want to save time for the clean-up: playful householders (four-legged or otherwise) will want to join you in trampling around the garden in the soggy autumn leaves, and then stomping back to the through the house stuck to your feet and paws.

How? Unlike softwood cuttings, you don’t need to keep hardwood cuttings in a moist, warm environment, but you’ll need to wait until the following year to see roots and shoots. Here’s how to take hardwood cuttings:

  1. Cut a healthy, well-ripened shoot the thickness of a pencil from below a bud/node/leaf joint. You’ll want to end up with a cutting around 20cm long, so cut it longer to begin with.
  2. Remove the soft growth at the tip above a bud, cutting at an angle. Cut it at the bottom horizontally below another bud or node.
  3. Dip the bottom in hormone rooting powder.
  4. Put the cutting in compost in a pot so that two thirds of the cutting is under the surface (great options are loam-based cuttings compost, or potting grit mixed with compost). Make sure at least one node is above the surface.
  5. If planting multiple cuttings, keep them 10-15cm apart.
  6. Water the cuttings well and you should see shoots the following spring.
  7. Leave them in a sheltered position for at least a year before moving.
  8. If the winter is very cold, you might need to use a cloche/cold frame.

With your newfound knowledge on how to plant cuttings, your garden will be the perfect home for all sorts of wildlife, so watch where you step – or your shoes turn might turn into poo-es! And why stop there? When you’ve mastered the garden, you can turn your green fingers to growing an indoor jungle, too!


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