Plants for free
Make more of your favourite shrubs and trees for free, by taking hardwood cuttings. Carol shows which plants to choose and how to guarantee results
Carol shows how to make more of your favourite trees and shrubs
We take so many cuttings here at Glebe Cottage, that somet imes plants are queuing up to be propagated. Once the leaves begin to fall from trees and shrubs, it’s time to concentrate on one of the easiest, most laidback methods of making new plants for free – hardwood cuttings. Don’t let the name persuade you that this is something compl icated and technical – it simply means cuttings that you take when the stems have become hard and woody. One of the challenges when taking other types of cuttings is making sure that they don’t lose so much moisture that they shrivel before they have had time to root, while ensuring they’re not so sodden that they rot. They need to be kept in a moist atmosphere, so that they will root rapidly and become strong young plants capable of going it alone. With hardwood cuttings, taken in late autumn or in winter, this is never a concern because they are taken at or just after leaf fall when they have no leaves to lose moisture through – therefore they dry out much less quickly than cuttings taken earlier in the year. Also, the stems are already so mature they can fend for themselves and are less susceptible to rotting. You do have to be patient though, because they take months, not weeks, to root and produce new plants. While they may take longer than other types of cuttings, they are among the most successful cuttings. What’s more, they get on with it on their own.
Which plants work?
Ideally, the shrub or tree that you have planned to take cuttings from would have been pruned well during the
The stems are already so mature they can fend for themselves
previous winter or early spring, to help it make vigorous new growth, but this is not essential. Almost any shrub, including fruit bushes, can be propagated in this way – those that make good strong straight stems will produce the best shaped plants. Blackcurrants, dogwoods, shrub roses, viburnum and physocarpus are good examples, but there is little to lose by experimenting with almost anything. Spireas, forsythia, hydrangeas, deutzias and weigela are certainly worth trying as are a few large shrub and tree varieties: elders, poplars and willows are the most likely to succeed. However, take care with willows ( Salix varieties) – if you leave your cuttings in the ground too long, the willow in question might make itself completely at home. We recently needed a digger to take out a gargantuan willow that grew from a branch that we had initially used as a stake for some long-lost shrub. Although we’d coppiced the willow several times, or perhaps because we had, it had developed huge roots and was growing in the wrong place. Having said that, you can exploit this ebul l ient behaviour should you want to create a willow arch or tunnel. If you’re taking willow cuttings, make sure, unlike me, that you think it through first – once it’s there, it’s likely to stay.
I believe we should grow more native hedges, not just in rural gardens, but in towns and cities too. They are fantastic for all manner of wildlife, even if they are just a short run. And taking hardwood cuttings is a great way to make one virtually for free, enabling you to include a wide assortment of shrubs and climbers. Raid your own plants for suitable cuttings materials, but you could also ask friends and neighbours. Take long stems from plants such as willow, viburnum and cornus, then, as soon as you get them home, cut them into shorter lengths (see above for details) and plunge them into the ground, spaced 45cm apart, in a zigzag pattern. Most of these could be left in situ to grow into your hedge. Once they are well rooted, you can lift some of the plants to make way for others that can’t be grown from cuttings but which would enrich the mix. You often come across selfsown seedlings of hawthorn, hazel, beech and even oak, which could all be incorporated, or you can try growing them from berries, nuts and acorns. While you’re at it, why not try taking
Raid your own plants for suitable cuttings materials, but you could also ask friends and neighbours
hardwood cuttings of a few climbers? Honeysuckle roots well and, to decorate fences and walls, ornamental climbers such as vines, jasmine and Virginia creeper ( Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and roses make successful candidates. The downside to hardwood cuttings, of course, is that they take a long time to root, and so they occupy space in the ground for a long time. It may be that you don’t have enough room to grow all the cuttings you want. Or perhaps you’re planning on moving house and want to take some of your favourite plants with you? In such cases, hardwood cuttings can easily be reared in pots. Always use deep pots and loam-based ( John Innes) compost with plenty of grit added that will both provide nutrients and ensure sharp drainage. They may need separating and potting on sooner than their fellow cuttings in the ground, but if you give them plenty of room or even a pot to themselves, there should be few problems when it’s time to transfer them. Taking hardwood cuttings is easy, straightforward and rewarding. The only skill you need to master is that of patience, but the excitement of seeing your cuttings come into leaf in the spring and knowing that new, strong roots are forming, makes the wait completely worthwhile.
Taking cuttings now is the easiest way to raise new plants
Put cuttings in pots to give to friends, or take with you if you’re moving house