Alan’s guide to win­ter cut­tings

Tak­ing hard­wood cut­tings is a sim­ple way to make more plants for free and the per­fect task for a win­ter day. Alan Titch­marsh shows how to make more of your favourite shrubs

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

Of all gar­den­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, root­ing cut­tings is one of the most sat­is­fy­ing. Snip­ping a piece from one plant and see­ing it turn into a new one, not only pro­vides a great sense of achieve­ment but it also saves you money. Plants for free! What could be bet­ter? You might think that spe­cial equip­ment is needed to root cut­tings – such as a prop­a­ga­tor – and that the cost of pro­vid­ing heat to en­cour­age roots to form speed­ily is ex­pen­sive. But with hard­wood cut­tings that are taken at this time of year and rooted out­doors, all those con­cerns evap­o­rate. You’ll need no equip­ment apart from a pair of se­ca­teurs and a large plant pot, and even that can be dis­pensed with if you have a spare patch of well- drained soil. Tak­ing such cut­tings is the per­fect way of blow­ing away cob­webs on Box­ing Day – and it makes a change from sow­ing cham­pi­onship onions! Hard­wood cut­tings are, as their name im­plies, taken from fully ma­tured and hard­ened stems. The fact that they are rooted out­doors at a time of year not noted for its sear­ing heat means that care and at­ten­tion is kept to a min­i­mum – wa­ter­ing is sel­dom an is­sue in the first few months. After that, any cut­tings root­ing in the open ground need min­i­mal care – sim­ply wa­ter­ing when the ground be­gins to dry out and kept free of com­pe­ti­tion from weeds.

Root­ing is ob­vi­ously slower at this time of year, but the fact that the plants are dor­mant and the sap stream has slowed al­most to a stand­still means that they will sit con­tent­edly through the win­ter months with­out wilt­ing or des­ic­cat­ing. They will be­gin to grow next spring and by the fol­low­ing au­tumn they will have a de­cent-sized root sys­tem, which means that they can be dug up, trimmed back to en­cour­age branch­ing out and trans­planted to their fi­nal spots in the gar­den. ( Those gar­den­ers with the ul­ti­mate eye to fes­tive econ­omy might con­sider that they will make good Christ­mas presents in 2019 and 2020!) The tech­nique is mainly used to prop­a­gate de­cid­u­ous shrubs, but some ev­er­greens re­spond too, as do sev­eral climbers and fruit bush es. Ap­ples, plums and pears are best avoided be­cause they are usu­ally grafted onto a dif­fer­ent root­stock to con­trol their growth, since their own root sys­tems may be too fee­ble to sup­port them or too vig­or­ous for your space.

While you wait

Hard­wood cut­tings are for the pa­tient gar­dener. They are not go­ing to root in a mat­ter of weeks. In­stead, the lower cut sur­face will cal­lus over dur­ing the win­ter, and roots will be­gin to emerge in spring

and early sum­mer so that the plants have a well- es­tabl ished root sys­tem by the fol­low­ing win­ter. Think of it as a yearly cy­cle and you will come to ap­pre­ci­ate this time-hon­oured way of in­creas­ing your stock of shrubs with­out hav­ing re­course to a green­house. While this type of cut­ting re­quires very lit­tle ef­fort or at­ten­tion from the gar­dener, I wouldn’t want you to think that hard­wood cut­tings can be to­tally ig­nored once they have been com­mit­ted to the ground. Aside from wa­ter­ing next spring and sum­mer in times of drought, and re­mov­ing any com­pet­ing weeds, look out for rab­bit and deer dam­age if these beasts are reg­u­lars in your gar­den. Small tun­nels crafted from chicken wire and po­si­tioned over the cut­tings will de­ter ma­raud­ing mam­mals. After se­vere frosts – which cause damp ground to ex­pand, of­ten leav­ing roots dan­gling in mid air when the thaw comes – firm the earth back around the cut­tings with your boots ei­ther side of the row. Fail­ure to do so can re­sult in the cut­tings dry­ing out, even in what you might think is a soggy time of year. But this is a sim­ple task that can be speed­ily per­formed and the cut­tings then left to get on with it. If you don’t have spare space in the ground, or you are tak­ing cut­tings to take with you when you move house, use a large pot. Hard­wood cut­tings that are rooted in

large pots rather than in the open ground will need a closer eye kept on them when it comes to wa­ter­ing, and when the weather turns re­ally cold in the depths of win­ter, the con­tain­ers will be best po­si­tioned in a shel­tered spot along­side a house wall to pre­vent the com­post from freez­ing solid. Bub­blewrap round the pot can be used in se­vere cold snaps but, gen­er­ally speak­ing, the cut­tings will take what­ever the weather throws at them with­out turn­ing a hair. It is of­ten hard to re­sist pulling a cut­ting out to see if it has rooted the fol­low­ing spring, but if you sim­ply can’t wait to dis­cover if your prop­a­ga­tion has been suc­cess­ful, it’s bet­ter to gen­tly prise up a cutt ing from the open ground with a fork, rather than just tug­ging at it, which may break off any em­bry­onic roots that are form­ing. With cut­tings in pots you can gen­tly tap the pot away from the com­post to check root growth, which should be vis­i­ble on the outer edge of the com­post. But there re­ally is lit­tle point in do­ing this un­til the shoots are grow­ing away in mid­sum­mer and you are con­fi­dent that the cutt ings have sur­vived the win­ter weather. Re­mem­ber, too, that some cut­tings take longer to root than oth­ers – for ex­am­ple, wil­low ( Salix) is much faster than dogwood ( Cor­nus). Come next au­tumn, dig up the rooted cut­tings from the open ground, and tap out

and sep­a­rate those that have been rooted in pots. No mat­ter how good a gar­dener you are, there will be a few – hope­fully not too many – that have sim­ply sat there and not rooted (pop them back in if you want to prove a point!) or else turned brown and died. This of­ten hap­pens, which is why it is al­ways worth­while tak­ing more cut­tings than you need. Those that are well rooted will sel­dom re­sent the dis­tur­bance as long as they are re­planted in their new lo­ca­tion or pot­ted up with­out de­lay. Any that are sur­plus to re­quire­ments can be given away, or taken to plant sales the fol­low­ing spring. When it comes to plant­ing out your cut­tings, snip back any newly grown shoots by about half to en­cour­age your new plants to bush out and form a bal­anced frame­work of branches in their first full year of growth as an in­di­vid­ual. Plant them out in soil that has been en­riched with a gen­er­ous help­ing of well­rot­ted ma­nure or gar­den com­post and they will set­tle in dur­ing the au­tumn and win­ter to grow away lustily the fol­low­ing spring. And that’s the point when you will f ind your­self bask­ing in the glow of sat­is­fac­tion that comes from grow­ing a new plant from a twig.

Alan chooses healthy, pen­cilth­ick dogwood stems for cut­tings

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