Propagate with purpose

Propagate with purpose | In Fiona's Garden

Life & Style
Hardy variegated weigela (W. florida Variegata) has pink, trumpet shaped flowers in spring and summer and is easily propagated from tip cuttings.

Hardy variegated weigela (W. florida Variegata) has pink, trumpet shaped flowers in spring and summer and is easily propagated from tip cuttings.

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When choosing plants to reproduce, always select the youngest, a cutting is a clone and starts life at its parent's age.

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SPRING is here, time to organise my propagation corner.

You can produce new plants at any time of year, but warmer weather is guaranteed to push me straight to the propagating bench.

I love the whole process, especially taking cuttings from the garden, apart from anything else it's so exciting creating something from nothing.

Many shrubs and hardy perennials reproduce easily from cuttings. From now until early summer, tip or softwood cuttings can be taken from new growth.

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Soft growth forms roots more easily than older wood, so the good news is that softwood cuttings tend to root faster, sometimes in as few as 10 days.

You don't need special equipment apart from shade and a nearby tap. At a pinch you can push cuttings into the ground but they're easier to look after in containers.

If you're short of pots, food containers with drainage holes punched in are fine. Either buy ready-made potting mix or make your own.

Use coarse grade sand to provide drainage, mixed half and half with perlite or a peat substitute. Cuttings don't need nutrition in their early stages, they need encouragement to put out roots to look for it.

If you have left-over plants from the past few months sitting about, plant them now or pot them on for autumn. Like a tidy desk, a tidy propagating area keeps your mind clear. When choosing plants to reproduce, always select the youngest, a cutting is a clone and starts life at its parent's age.

After deciding on a plant, water it in the evening, then take cuttings early the next morning when they're at their plumpest and dampest.

Cut branch tips or side shoots about 10 to 15 centimetres long, directly below a node.

Cuttings must never dry out, this is fatal, so put them straight into a ziplock plastic bag, whizz over to your propagation place, pick off the lower leaves and put the stems into a pot, thickly spaced but remaining leaves not touching.

Storing pots on the ground helps to keep contents damp from capillary action. Otherwise, cover them with a plastic bag or sawn-off plastic drink bottle.

Check every couple of days and water when necessary with your hose on its finest spray. New shoots mean new roots, usually from 10 to 21 days.

I haven't found that commercial cutting hormone speeds things up but it certainly produces big, strong looking roots. Check its use-by date, it's useless unless fresh. Tip the amount you need into a separate container, as dipping cuttings into the bottle may contaminate the contents, though sterilising secateurs in 1/10 bleach/water mix before taking cuttings helps keep them pest and disease free.

Cuttings can generally go into permanent pots about a month after root formation. Some will be big enough to plant next autumn, some will have to wait another year.

Weigelas, buddleias, salvias, Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), sedums, silvery dusty miller (Senecio), curry plant (Helichrysum), rock roses (Cistus) and sun roses (Halimium) are all easy from softwood cuttings.

But anything is worth a try, after all, experimenting is half the fun of gardening.

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