Autumn is a good time to propagate plants from cuttings
Almost all the plants in Willene van der Merwe’s garden arrived as free cuttings because, according to the centuriesold gardening principle: One should ask, and one should give. Autumn is a great time to propagate cuttings to give away. This is how.
ne of my grandmothers never walked through a garden without a large handbag… She was simply too afraid she might encounter a plant that would entice her to take a piece of it home. Coincidentally, she also believed it is only pinched cuttings that would grow, which I don’t necessarily agree with.
My earliest childhood memories include joining my gran on her walks through her garden, and I’m told I was able to pronounce Bellis perennis before I could even twist my tongue around a lollipop. I still think of my gran whenever I see an English daisy.
She would stop at every plant in her garden and tell me where she had acquired it and, while she was at it, she would describe the family and the place, too. Many of the donors had long since passed away, but they lived on through the plants that grew in her garden.
My other grandmother had an entire nursery of cuttings that still had to start growing, and for this she drew on an array of clever plans and traditional advice. I’ll never forget how the gardenia cuttings were always covered by a large upside-down preserve jar, while these days we simply use plastic bags to create a beneficial microclimate. Cuttings that grew more readily were placed in jars filled with water, which made it easy to notice when they were developing roots, and succulent leaves were laid out on newspaper to develop roots before they were planted out in the garden.
I still choose my grandmother’s glass jar. My parents continued with this tradition, and I would like to teach it to my children and grandchildren. I’m afraid that today I am the one who always ventures into the garden bearing a large handbag and pruning shears but, unlike my grandmother, I’m not too shy to ask if I spot something
I really want. (Do contain yourself when begging for cuttings – you shouldn’t request one from a plant that is still too small to be divided… Rather make a mental note to ask again later when the plant is older!)
I am just as enthusiastic about giving away plants as I am about collecting them, and when I have too many to hand out, I plant them in the small park near my house where we are trying to reduce the size of the lawn and expand the plant beds. When you have to prune plants, it makes far more sense to turn them into new plants rather than treat them as “waste” that need to be disposed of. (If they are small enough, you can add them to your compost heap or shred them to use as a mulch.)
Give and take
If you’re anything like me and prefer to get something free rather than pay for it, cuttings are not a bad idea at all. The recipient gets plants at no cost, and the giver breathes new life into the parent plants in their own garden.
When you buy plants at a nursery, always choose ones that look healthy and could even be developing new shoots, or may already be big enough to give you cuttings.
The vegetative propagation of plants is as old as time – whether we do this by collecting seeds (today’s heirloom seeds) or pieces of the parent plant from which we grow new ones. Cuttings deliver the best results: not only do they grow much faster than seeds, but you can also be sure that they will be 100% identical to the parent plant. And you don’t have to wait anxiously to see whether or not something is in fact going to sprout.
There’s a great many plants that grow easily from cuttings, so we selected just a few easy growers that don’t need much water and will create an attractive habitat for birds and bees. It’s a bonus if they’re indigenous plants – but a rosemary bush is essential! >
Take cuttings early in the morning when it’s cool and the plant contains plenty of sap, otherwise they will wilt fast. Keep at hand a small bucket or other suitable container with a little water in it, and place the cuttings in the water immediately.
Always select healthy stems, free of pests and diseases, and preferably also without flowers (or snip them off).
The majority of new plants are grown from tip cuttings – the top 5 cm to 8 cm of the stem – taken from immediately beneath a leaf bud. Strip off the leaves at the bottom of the cutting before you place it in water or plant it in a pot.
Below are other essentials for your cutting forage: SECATEURS A good pair of pruning shears with a replaceable stainlesssteel blade is a good investment. Taking cuttings is so much easier when you aren’t battling a blunt pair of shears.
It’s important to clean your shears after you’ve used them. Scrub them clean with dishwashing liquid and a brush to remove all traces of dirt. Lightly oil the shears once they have dried completely.
And do keep your shears nice and sharp: you can use a whetstone for this purpose, but if you take care of them properly they should remain sharp for a long time.
Do not try to cut stems that are too thick for the size of the blade, and never cut through wire. Sterilise your pruning shears regularly (with a little bleach) so that you do not unwittingly transfer a disease or louse from one plant to another unintentionally. >