River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Garden Talk

November 2001

Plants for Free

This has to be the cheapest way of producing new plants although it is slow and can take as long as a year.

The type of plants that can be propagated by hardwood cuttings include trees like Salix (willows) and Poplars, shrubs such as Cornus (Dogwood), Forsythia, Weigela, Escallonia, Vitis (grape vines), Tamarix, Ligustrum (privet), some Viburnum such as Viburnum 'tinus' and of course roses which are quite easy to root but will grow more slowly than grafted but they will not sucker.

Harwood cuttings should be taken from late September to early November; they can be done at other times but the material will not root as well. The cuttings must be taken from the current seasons growth, that is to say growth that the plant has made this year - not old wood. The older the material the less it is able to produce roots and subsequent plants do not grow on as well either. The stems selected should be the thickness of a pencil; this is to make sure that it has sufficient food reserves to keep it alive until it has produced roots.

Hardwood cuttings can be put direct into the soil of the garden, but results will be better if they are in a sheltered spot or even better in a cold frame. Improving the soil will also help to improve results; use sand to help drainage and open up the soil. Also well rotted compost or waste potting compost are good soil improvers.

If you are unable to insert cuttings into the soil, a grow bag can be used - either a new bag or one previously cropped (be careful of transferring diseases when re-using compost). However, this may be too big an area so a deep pot can be used, filled with open and free draining compost.

Prepare cuttings of deciduous material by selecting fully mature current seasons growth of pencil thickness. Each cutting should be 20 - 30 cms (8 - 12 ins) long and the tops should be removed where the growth is thin. This will help to produce healthy, bushy plants. Remove all the leaves that have not already fallen off naturally. Hardwood cuttings should be cut with a slanting top just above a bud (node) and a straight cut at the base, just below a bud (node). This will help you to remember which way up they should be put into the medium (any cutting put in upside down will not grow). Insert the cuttings at least half way into the medium but not more than two thirds.

Evergreen hardwood cuttings are prepared in a similar way to deciduous ones. However, you only remove the leaves from the lower two thirds of the cutting. Evergreens will need to be in a cold frame or protected in some way from water loss from the leads. Remember, it is important to remove any flowering buds.

During the spring, cuttings should start to produce new growth and leaves will appear. This is a good sign but they will not have rooted sufficiently to plant out until autumn.

The range of plants that can be propagated in this way is huge but, as a rule, it is the more common shrubs that work best. If you are not sure, why not give it a go and swap cuttings and plants with friends?

Martyn Davey

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