A simple approach to propagating in your own garden

A simple approach to propagating in your own garden


Life & Style
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Late winter is the perfect time for taking root cuttings.

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Mahonia aquifolium has glossy, holly-like leaves and deliciously scented flowers in July.

Mahonia aquifolium has glossy, holly-like leaves and deliciously scented flowers in July.

Late winter is the perfect time for taking root cuttings.

I love propagating from roots because it's fast, easy and virtually foolproof.

It's highly rewarding, especially now when I like having plants up my sleeve as protection against loss from drought.

Root cuttings are made from chopped up roots that you insert in potting medium and keep damp, exactly like any other cutting.

Plants with large, fleshy roots are the simplest and most obliging.

We all know those obstinate perennials that are totally impossible to get rid of when they've outspread their welcome: horseradish, oyster plant (Acanthus mollis) and that handy ground cover, dwarf comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) spring to mind.

No matter how deeply you dig, a microscopic sliver of root is guaranteed to elude your spade, lurking underground before springing to life when you're not looking.

This otherwise irritating attribute lends itself to root cuttings.

Plants are dormant in late winter, but their roots are plumping themselves up with carbohydrates in preparation for their spring growth spurt, which means they're in the right frame of mind to root and shoot in a pot.

The process of taking the cuttings depends on a plant's size.

With a small perennial it's easiest to dig up the entire plant and remove some of the firmest roots, taking care to leave enough on the plant for survival.

Lie them pointing the same way in a plastic zip lock sandwich bag and quickly replant the parent.

Cut the roots into five-centimetre lengths, being careful again to keep them facing the same way, and tie into a bundle.

New roots will only sprout from the end of the cutting that was nearest the parent plant.

If the bundle is planted vertically they will sprout from the top, but upside down they will curl round and up, and snap off more easily.

Root cuttings are made from chopped up roots that you insert in potting medium and keep damp, exactly like any other cutting. - Fiona Ogilvie

Put a layer of potting mix in a pot, balance the root bundle on it the correct way up, and fill in with more potting mix, firming down a layer on top.

Fresh shoots appear in early summer although new roots may not yet have formed.

Plants should be ready to pot up or plant out the following autumn.

Root cuttings are most useful for perennials that are tricky to pull apart and propagate by division, like sea hollies (Eryngium bourgatii), the non-invasive type of plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) and sea lavender (Limonium perezii).

I've also used it for penstemons, Japanese anemones and cranesbill (Geranium) 'Rozanne'.

The thinner roots of some trees and shrubs will also produce new roots from cuttings.

These roots are laid flat, so the direction isn't important.

With a large shrub or a tree, scratch round its base, cut off the roots using secateurs and replace the soil.

Scented, winter flowering Mahonia aquifolium, hardy Hibiscus syriacus, autumn colouring staghorn sumach (Rhus typhina) and roses on their own roots all reproduce readily by this method.

The only plants to avoid are those with variegated leaves, as they will revert to green.

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