By: Heather Rhoades
Many people say that shrubs, bushes and trees are the backbone of garden design. Many times, these plants provide structure and architecture around which the rest of the garden is created. Unfortunately, shrubs, bushes and trees tend to be the most expensive plants to purchase for your garden.
There is one way to save money though on these higher ticket items. This is to start your own from cuttings.
There are two types of cuttings to start shrubs, bushes and trees — hardwood cuttings and softwood cuttings. These phrases refer to the state the wood of the plant is in. New growth that is still pliable and has not yet developed a bark exterior is called softwood. Older growth, which has developed a bark exterior, is called hardwood.
How to Root Hardwood Cuttings
Hardwood cuttings are typically taken in early spring or early winter when the plant is not actively growing. But, in a pinch, hardwood cuttings can be taken anytime of the year. The point of taking hardwood cuttings in non-growth periods is more to do with doing as little harm to the parent plant as possible.
Hardwood cuttings are also only taken from shrubs, bushes and trees that lose their leaves every year. This method will not work with evergreen plants.
- Cut off a hardwood cutting that is 12 to 48 (30-122 cm.) inches long.
- Trim the end of the cutting to be planted just below where a leafbud grows on the branch.
- Cut off the top of the branch so that there are at least two additional leafbuds above the bottom leafbud. Also, make sure that the area left is at least 6 inches (15 cm.) long. Additional buds can be left on the branch if necessary to make sure the branch is 6 inches (15 cm.).
- Strip the bottom most leafbuds and the topmost layer of bark 2 inches (5 cm.) above this. Do not cut too deeply into the branch. You only need to take off the top layer and you do not need to be thorough about it.
- Place the stripped area in rooting hormone, then put the stripped end into a small pot of damp soilless mix.
- Wrap the whole pot and cutting in a plastic bag. Tie off the top but make sure the plastic is not touching the cutting at all.
- Place the pot in a warm spot that gets indirect light. Do not put in full sunlight.
- Check the plant every two weeks or so to see if roots have developed.
- Once roots have developed, remove the plastic covering. The plant will be ready to grow outdoors when the weather is suitable.
How to Root Softwood Cuttings
Softwood cuttings are normally taken when the plant is in active growth, which is normally in the spring. This will be the only time you will be able to find softwood on a shrub, bush or tree. This method can be used with all types of shrubs, bushes and trees.
- Cut a piece of softwood off the plant that is at least 6 inches (15 cm.) long, but no longer than 12 inches (30 cm.). Make sure that there is at least three leaves on the cutting.
- Remove any flowers or fruit on the cutting.
- Trim the stem to just below where the bottom most leaf meets the stem.
- On each of the leaves on the stem, cut off half of the leaf.
- Dip the end of the cutting to be rooted in rooting hormone
- Put the end to be rooted into a small pot of damp soiless mix.
- Wrap the whole pot and cutting in a plastic bag. The plant will be ready to grow outdoors when the weather is suitable.
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Rooting softwood and semihardwood cuttings
1. Prepare containers first. Use cleanpots or flats with drainage holes. Fill them with a half-and-half mixture of perlite and peat moss, or with perlite or vermiculite alone. Dampen the mixture.
2. Gather cuttings early in the day, when plants are fresh and full of moisture. The parent plant should be healthy and growing vigorously. With a sharp knife or bypass pruners, cut off an 8- to 12-inch length of stem.
Prepare the cuttings by removing and discarding any flower buds, flowers, and side shoots. Then slice the stem into 3- to 4-inch pieces, each with at least two nodes (growing points). Make each cut just below a node, since new roots will form at this point. Strip the lower leaves from each cutting.
3. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder, if desired. (Many kinds of plants will root without the use of hormones.) Tap off excess powder.
Using the end of a sharp pencil, make holes in the rooting medium an inch or two apart then insert the cuttings. Firm the medium around the cuttings and water with a fine spray. Label each container with the name of the plant and the date. Set containers in a warm spot that’s shaded but not dark.
Enclose each container in a plastic bag, fastening the bag closed to maintain humidity. Open the bag for a few minutes every day to provide ventilation.
4. Once the cuttings have taken hold and are growing roots, they will begin to send out new leaves. To test for rooting, gently pull on a cutting if you feel resistance, roots are forming. At this point, expose the cuttings to drier air by opening the bags if the cuttings wilt, close the bags again for a few days.
When the plants seem acclimated to open air, transplant each to its own pot of lightweight potting soil. By the next planting season, the new plants should be ready to go out in the garden.
Cuttings - Taking Softwood Cuttings. How to take softwood cuttings from plants.
Taking softwood cuttings from your hardy garden plants is a good way to increase your stock. It is not the easiest method of taking cuttings, but the main advantage is the fact that because softwood cuttings are taken early in the growing season, they have a long time to get established as young plants before the onset of the following winter.
The main period for taking softwood cuttings is spring and early summer - though they can be taken for most of the growing season. Once you master the technique - just a matter of a little bit of care - you will be well on the way to being a provider of plants for friends and plant fairs. Who knows where it will take you? It will certainly broaden your circle of friends!
A well rooted cutting from a Cape Daisy - Osteospermum.
Moisture Content and conservation.
Many garden shrubs and hardy plants can be propagated by the softwood cuttings method. It is also used for increasing stock of garden chrysanthemums, dahlias, pelargonium geraniums, and fuchsias . (Geraniums can also be grown from seed).
Softwood cuttings can be started in a greenhouse, a kitchen/bathroom widowsill, a heated - or unheated propagator, or even in a suitable container outdoors.
An important point to bear in mind, is that by its very nature, a soft wood cutting is taken from a rapidly growing part of the plant. As such, it will be dependent upon moisture in order to survive. This is not so critical with ripe or hardwood cuttings!
At all times in the process of taking and striking your soft wood cuttings, you should do all you can to preserve the moisture content of the section of the plant that you have removed from its moisture supply!
Softwood cuttings are best taken in the early morning - though can be taken at any time with care. Early morning cuttings are usually turgid and not flagging because of moisture loss as is sometimes the case with cuttings taken later in the day. Evening time - about 1 hour after the sun has gone down is also a good time.
When taking your cutting, place them into a plastic bag - tied at the top until you are ready to place them in their propagation positions.
Taking the Soft Wood Cutting.
Use a sharp knife - a craft knife is ideal, but be extra careful about how you use it!
Most soft wood cuttings are between 2 and 4 inches long. Longer cuttings are harder to keep, owing to the increased foliage area, and lack of roots to supply the foliage with water. Ideally, the cutting will have 3 4 pairs of leaves. More than this will cause problems as the lack of roots will cause the plant to wilt as the excess leaves transpire (sweat) therefore losing moisture. However, leaves ARE necessary to provide the food for building the root system.
Generally, the cut should be just below a leaf joint. A clean cut - maybe by placing a larger portion of the shoot on a bench and cutting down onto a suitable surface. This is where the sharp knife comes into play. (The cutting material can actually be collected from the parent plant by cutting off a shoot with a pair of secateurs. The softwood cutting can then be taken off that portion of the shoot.)
Some plants - such as chrysanthemums, geranium, fuchsias etc, are normally bought into early growth in a greenhouse in late winter/early spring. Cuttings are taken off the host plant as an when they appear. It is possible to obtain many cuttings over the course of a month by using this method.
Gently insert the gutting into the compost, using a dibber - or pencil - to make the hole in the compost.
Use rooting hormone powder or gel if you wish. It DOES help, but do NOT overdo it.
Make sure that you remove any dead or fallen leaves on a daily basis, but do not leave the cover off for too long. Again. early morning or evening is best for this.
Once the cutting is inserted into its position, then drench it and the compost with a general fungicide. This is probably all the moisture that it will need before it starts to root - as long as the propagating container is airtight.
Compost and Containers for softwood cuttings.
Cuttings such as fuchsias, shrubs and perennials can be inserted into normal pots - 4in is suitable for maybe 4-5 cuttings inserted around the edge. The main thing is that the pot should then be covered as soon as possible in an airtight container. A clear plastic bag tied at the top will do the trick ok.
Special propagators will also be suitable, but make sure that you get one with a clear lid/cover that is high enough to cover the cutting without 'sitting' on it. Most propagators are designed for seedling production - so a cover just a couple of inches high is suitable for that. Not so for growing cuttings.
Heated propagators supply gentle heat to the base of the cutting - in the compost - and assists rooting considerably. Pots placed on a greenhouse stage with a heater underneath (GENTLE heat) will also serve this purpose.
A novel idea I have seen recently, was by the use of a plastic mineral water bottle! The bottle was cut in two - about 4in (100mm) from the bottom, compost and cuttings inserted, and then 'welded' back together with a strip of waterproof tape. Insulation tape normally does the trick! The screw top is kept in place, until the new roots are observed, then the top is taken off to allow some air to enter, then the fastening tape gradually removed over a few days to allow the new plant to acclimatise to the outside environment! A perfect rooting environment!
The compost to use is a matter of choice. Ordinary multi-purpose compost is normally ok - but best if also mixed with either vermiculite or sharp sand. 25% sand/vermiculite to 75% compost. Professionals ten to use 50/50 peat to sharp sand or vermiculite mix. In this case, there is no feed in the compost, so light feeding will need to take place as soon as rooting of the cutting takes place.
Light and Environment.
The cutting will require light to perform its task of putting roots on for you. However, the cutting should not be placed in a position of bright sunshine - especially if you are taking later cuttings in early summer. Clear plastic cover is usually best, and if made airtight around the cutting, a mist will form on the inside if the plastic. this will help to diffuse the direct rays of the sun.
Alternatively, a milky white plastic cover can be used if in full sunlight.
The main aim is to keep the cutting in a humid environment. Air circulating inside the propagating container will certainly lead to the cutting dehydrating - resulting in certain loss.
Experience will normally tell you how long your cuttings will take to root. If you do not have that experience, then do not be tempted to take off the cover every day to see how it is doing. Most cuttings will take at least three weeks before rooting. A sure sign that the cutting has started to root, is if the part above ground starts to grow new leaves and shoots.
If your cover is airtight, then the cuttings will not require regular watering. Removal of the cover should take place in early morning or evenings, and if the compost is dry, then watering - again with a fungicidal solution - will be necessary. Do not flood the compost.
After there are signs of rooting, then the cover can be removed gradually to allow the new plants to get acclimatised to their new environment. Do this over a few days and gradually. The cover can normally be completely removed after 6-8 days.
Do not leave your cutting too long after rooting before you pot it into its first pot. It should be removed and re-potted before the roots become entangled with the other cuttings.
Water well about 1 hour before you remove your rooted cutting. Do NOT do it in full sunshine. Treat gently, and tease the roots out of the pot or compost. Pot into a pot that will be suitable for a couple of months - normally a 4in (10cm) pot is suitable for this, then on into a larger container when necessary.
When first potted, keep the new plant out of direct sunshine and away from draughty spots until established. The newly potted plant is best given a weak feed of tomato liquid fertiliser to get it off to a good start, and also a feed of osmocote, to keep it nourished for the first growing season. Osmocote type fertilisers do not start releasing their life-giving nutrients for around 2-3 weeks.
To successfully propagate plants from cuttings, a number of challenges must be overcome. Once a cutting is severed from the parent plant, it can no longer take up water, and excessive water loss will result in death. The wound from the cut makes it susceptible to diseases. New roots must be formed as rapidly as possible if the new plant is to survive.
Decreasing Water Loss
Start with cuttings that contain as much water as possible. Water the plant well the day before and take the cutting before the heat of the day reduces water content.
Once the cutting is harvested, excessive water loss must be prevented. To minimize water loss:
1. Process the cutting immediately. If this is not possible, stand the cut end in water or place the cutting in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and store out of direct sun. If the plant is frost-tolerant, store the bagged cutting in the refrigerator.
2. For a stem cutting, remove some of the leaves. Most of the water will be lost through the leaves, so by decreasing the leaf surface you also decrease the amount of water loss. A general rule of thumb is to remove 1/2 to 2/3 of the leaves. Cut remaining leaves in half if they are large.
3. Once the cutting has been prepared and placed in the rooting mix, enclose the pot in a plastic bag. Insert straws or wooden sticks around the edge of the pot to hold the bag away from the cutting. Place the pot in a bright area, but out of direct sunlight, so the leaves will receive the light they need but the plant will not get overly hot. The plastic bag insures that humidity around the leaves remains high, which slows the rate of water loss.
Take cuttings only from healthy plants. To prevent the spread of disease, use clean tools and pots (clean with 10% bleach, rinse, and let dry thoroughly). Use fresh soilless potting mix since garden soil can harbor plant diseases.
Encouraging Root Formation
Just like leaves, the roots of plants need air to live. Rooting mix that is continuously waterlogged is devoid of air and cuttings will rot rather than form roots. A mixture of 50% vermiculite/50% perlite holds sufficient air and water to support good root growth, but any well-drained soilless potting mix is acceptable. If your cuttings frequently rot before they root, you know the mix is staying too wet. Add vermiculite or perlite to increase its air- holding capacity.
Cuttings use energy to form new roots. If the cutting has leaves, most of the energy comes from photosynthesis. Expose these cuttings to bright light, but not direct sunlight, during the rooting period. If you use hardwood cuttings that have no leaves, the energy will come from reserves stored in the woody stem. For best results, select shoots that are robust for the species. Since you want all the energy to go into the new roots, make sure you cut off any flowers or fruits that would compete for energy.
Auxin, a naturally occurring plant hormone, stimulates root formation. Several synthetic forms of auxin are sold as “rooting hormone.” Though some plants will root readily without treatment, application of rooting hormone to the base of the cutting will often improve your chance for success. Two synthetic auxins, IBA (indolebutyric acid) and NAA (naphthaleneacetic acid) are most frequently used. They are available in several concentrations and in both liquid and powder form. 1,000 ppm (0.1%) is used most often for herbaceous and softwood cuttings 3,000 ppm (0.3%) and 8,000 ppm (0.8%) are used for semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings. Liquid formulations can be used at low or high concentration for softwood or hardwood cuttings, respectively. To determine the appropriate concentration for your cutting, follow the instructions on the product label and the general guidelines just given, or consult the references listed at the end of this publication.
To use rooting hormone, place the amount needed in a separate container. Any material that remains after treating the cuttings should be discarded, not returned to the original container. These precautions will prevent contamination of the entire bottle of rooting hormone.
Cuttings will root more quickly and reliably in warm rooting mix. Keep your cuttings between 65°F and 75°F, avoiding excessive heat. If your area is too cold, consider a heating mat or cable especially designed for this purpose.
A Guide to Propagating Herbs: Softwood Cuttings
Herbs and other perennials can be propagated by taking a cutting from the stem of an existing plant. You can take softwood, semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings, but softwood cuttings—taken from the plant’s soft, new growth—are the easiest to do and the fastest to root.
Best candidates: Stems or tips of either herbaceous or woody plants root well using this method, so the group of potential candidates is quite large. You can take softwood cuttings to propagate lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary, santolina, scented geraniums, sages and thymes. Certain groundcovers and vines, as well as many shrubs and trees, also root easily this way.
When: Take softwood cuttings from the new growth (soft, succulent tips or stems) of healthy plants in either late spring or early summer, when growth is most active. You might also try taking softwood cuttings later in the season although these later cuttings won’t root as easily, they will be less prone to wilting and drying out than earlier cuttings.
How: You’ll need clean pots or flats with drainage holes, a rooting medium, sharp scissors or pruners, label markers, and a clear plastic dome or plastic bags. The rooting medium should be porous but also able to retain moisture. Common rooting media include perlite or coarse sand equal volumes of peat moss and vermiculite peat moss and coarse sand or vermiculite and perlite. Rooting time will vary by plant some plants root in days while others take weeks.
1. Fill containers with slightly damp rooting medium of choice (See options above.)
2. Take 3- to 5-inch cuttings early in the morning, using a sharp knife or bypass pruners. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle, about 1/2 inch below a node, where a leaf emerges from the stem. Remove any flowers or buds as well as leaves from lower part of the stem.
3. Place cuttings in prepared containers, several to a pot, leaving the top part with leaves exposed. (Softwood cuttings will root without the use of a rooting hormone.) Label each container with the type of plant and date started. Firm the moistened medium around cuttings and water with a fine spray. (Click here to see an illustration.)
4. Set containers in a warm, semi-shady to semi-bright location and cover with a clear plastic bag or dome. Keep medium moist but don’t over-water. Be sure to open the bag or cover for several minutes every day to provide ventilation. (Click here to see an illustration.)
5. When cuttings send out new leaves and roots have formed (test by pulling gently), remove the bag or cover and repot each plant in its own pot filled with potting soil. Allow the new plant to put on some growth before transplanting to the garden.
A frequent contributor to The Herb Companion, Kris Wetherbee grows and propagates herbs in the hills of western Oregon.
Taking softwood cuttings is most effective in the spring, when succulent new growth is getting ready to take off. This method works well with woody plants such as azaleas and magnolias, perennials and even houseplants. Cuttings should be collected early in the morning and should be roughly six inches long.
Put a moist paper towel in a plastic bag and store the cuttings in the bag if you're not planting right away. Strip the leaves from the lower half of each stem, and place the cut end in rooting hormone. Shake off the excess powder, and place the lower third of the cutting into the potting mix, firming gently.
Water the plant well with a mister, and cover the container with a plastic bag. Within two to four weeks, the cuttings should be well-rooted and ready to pot. In the meantime, ventilate the plants to prevent them from rotting. Continue watering as needed to keep the potting mix moist, and remove the plastic bag once a day for about an hour.
Caring for New Rose Cuttings
While your cuttings take root, keep them covered and moist. In a garden bed, a simple DIY mini greenhouse does the trick. Just place a bell jar, a garden cloche or an overturned mason jar over the cutting. A clear plastic bottle with the bottom cut out and the cap removed works, too. Water the soil regularly to keep it moist, but not soggy. Your mini hothouse will keep the humidity high inside.
If your cuttings are in containers, just insert a few decorative twigs around the edge for support and fit a clear plastic bag over the top. Mist and water your cuttings, as needed, so they stay hydrated and soil stays moist. Be sure the plastic doesn't rest on your cuttings.
Most softwood rose cuttings will root within 10 to 14 days. 1 To test their progress, tug very gently on the cuttings. You'll feel a slight resistance as the new roots form and grow into the soil. A gentle fish- or kelp-based fertilizer during this time provides beneficial nutrients. Once roots are established and plants show strong new growth, you can transplant your new roses to more permanent garden homes.
Some roses root easier than others — old-fashioned heirloom types often root better than modern hybrids — but don't let that keep you from trying your hand at replicating garden favorites and sharing your love of roses and gardening with family and friends. RootBoost™ and GardenTech® brands are here to help you learn and succeed in all your gardening projects, so you can experience all the joys of gardening.
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1. University of California-Davis, “Softwood Rose Cuttings," UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.