Plants for free

Carol shows how to make more of your favourite plants in the first of a three-part se­ries un­lock­ing the mys­ter­ies of prop­a­ga­tion. This month she ex­plains soft­wood cut­tings

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

In the first of a three-part se­ries, Carol ex­plains how to take soft­wood cut­tings

Soft­wood cut­tings root faster – you’ll soon have an army of young plants

Mak­ing new plants from cut­tings you’ve gath­ered in your own gar­den is thrilling. Putting strong, young plants into your gar­den that have been grown ‘ to or­der’ is far more sat­is­fy­ing than buy­ing plants and a lot cheaper, too. Be­ing thrifty is sec­ond na­ture to many gar­den­ers, but pro­duc­ing a plant for free – nur­tur­ing it as a cut­ting, pot­ting it up and pre­par­ing it to take its place in the gar­den – is par­tic­u­larly grat i fy­ing. In the process, you learn more about the plant, its na­ture and its needs than you could from any text­book or tele­vi­sion guru. Septem­ber is the per­fect time to take soft­wood cut­tings. Many plants, in­clud­ing shrubs and ten­der peren­ni­als, have pro­duced fresh green growth over sum­mer, which can be used now to make new plants. These types of cut­tings root faster than hard­wood cut­tings and you’ll soon have an army of young plants, ready to plant out when spring ar­rives. These can also act as in­surance for any ten­der plants that don’t make it through win­ter.

Why cut­tings?

Why not just sow seed? It’s the eas­i­est way to make more plants, it’s al­most al­ways suc­cess­ful and you can pro­duce hun­dreds of plants. Cut­tings take more care, you make fewer plants and, un­less you’re an ab­so­lute whizz, it’s a slower process. But seedlings aren’t clones of their par­ents. They may well be looka­likes, but the prog­eny of some plants can vary enor­mously. Cut­tings are a re­li­able way to get ident ical plants. You might want to make a new hedge, with plants such as box or laven­der, or per­haps edge a for­mal bed uni­formly with a coloured leafed sage or pen­ste­mon. If you grow laven­der from seed the re­sults will be hap­haz­ard. To make sure your hedge be­comes a thing of beauty – con­sis­tent in flower colour, habit and even scent – then it must be grown from cut­tings and these cut­tings must all come from one plant. Tak­ing cut­tings also makes it pos­si­ble to

prop­a­gate a range of plants that won’t grow from seed, be­cause they are ster­ile hy­brids or they don’t set vi­able seed.

Choos­ing ma­te­rial

You can try tak­ing cut­tings from any shrub that has suit­able shoots. Al­ways use new, young shoots – soft­wood and green­wood cut­tings are ba­si­cally the same and are easy to dis­tin­guish by their green colour, rather than the brown of older wood, and their bendi­ness. There is noth­ing com­pli­cated about the dif­fer­ent types of cut­ting – the de­scrip­tions soft­wood, green­wood, semiripe, ripe and hard­wood sim­ply de­scribe how ripe or old the wood is. Some shrub cut­tings are eas­ier to root than oth­ers, but there will al­most cer­tainly be sev­eral that will root and turn into fine shrubs. Try fuch­sias, lavat­era, philadel­phus, physo­car­pus and vibur­nums, as well as hy­drangeas and salvias. Many of these can also be grown from hard­wood cut­tings, which we’ll talk about next month. I’ll fol­low that up by show­ing how to grow new plants from root cut­tings, in Novem­ber. These are all re­li­able, easy meth­ods of fill­ing your gar­den with more of your best-loved plants. Though we usu­ally as­so­ciate tak­ing cut­tings with prop­a­gat­ing shrubs, there are many other types of plants you can make more of at this time of year. Apart from laven­der, other sub- shrubs such as

Soft­wood cut­tings are easy to dis­tin­guish by their green colour and bendi­ness

he­lichry­sum, rose­mary, sage and san­tolina are good can­di­dates, as well as climbers such as clema­tis, hon­ey­suckle, roses and many peren­ni­als. At Glebe Cot­tage, we grow sev­eral asters and though many can be di­vided in spring, if I’ve missed the boat I make up for it by tak­ing short side shoots from them in Septem­ber. Most of the va­ri­eties we grow are close to the species from which they were se­lected or bred, and are strong and healthy, such as Sym­phy­otrichum (the new name for asters) ‘Lit­tle Car­low’. Short side shoots can be gen­tly pulled away with a ‘heel’ (small piece of stem) from the tall main stems. The heel can then be ti­died up with a sharp knife, the lower leaves cut off and any po­ten­tial flower buds re­moved. You can use the same method with shrubs. Try other asters, too, such as ‘Coombe Fishacre’ – a favourite of mine that has pale, laven­der­pink f low­ers with bronze cen­tres – or cul­ti­vars of Sym­phy­otrichum eri­coides and S. no­vae-an­gliae. Many of the slightly ten­der daisies – such as ar­gy­ran­the­mums and os­teosper­mum

– can be in­creased in this way, though with the most ten­der va­ri­eties, they must be kept well above freez­ing. My mum’s kitchen win­dowsill would be throng­ing with such cut­tings through­out the win­ter. Last year, when film­ing our ‘ plant fam­i­lies’ strand at RHS Rose­moor, we took soft­wood cut­tings from a moss rose. They rooted very suc­cess­fully and though, com­mer­cially, roses are usu­ally bud­ded or grafted, the roses you root your­self are usu­ally strong and ro­bust. They are now sit­ting hap­pily in their own pots wait­ing to be planted out into the gar­den. There’s a great joy in see­ing new white roots pro­trud­ing from the drainage holes of your pot of cut­tings and strong new growth bursting out at the top. Get started now and soon your young plants – the off­spring of so many favourite shrubs and peren­ni­als – wi l l be grow­ing in your gar­den, all cre­ated for free.

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