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annual gardening, annual garden design
Taking Cuttings the Easy Way

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Jennifer Moore
You need this in your perennial border.

This is that time of year when we take cuttings of our beloved plants. These are the indoor plants that grew too big over the summer months, the perennials we would like to increase in numbers rather than dividing, or from bringing in an entire annual plant from outside.

Taking cuttings isn't difficult, some simple steps are needed though, to ensure the least amount of casualties happen. First, before taking the actual pieces from a plant, you need to gather all the materials needed. You will need sharp pruners or an exacto knife to take the cuttings from the original plant, containers to put your cuttings in, the soil which the cuttings grow their roots, the rooting hormone, water and light.

The containers to put your cuttings in can range from Styrofoam cups, or used, clean yogurt containers, to purchased plastic cell packs. The number of containers needed depends on how many cuttings you are planning to do. If you are doing a large amount of cuttings, a bottom tray is essential, as this prevents movement of your cut stems when you need to move them. You also need a covering to keep the moisture level high while your cuttings are trying to root; either a purchased clear plastic dome or a dry-cleaner bag work well.

Second, you need the soil that they will root in. It is best to purchase a sterilized potting soil, as this will prevent any disease from attacking the cutting, as well as providing the needed amount of aeration to the growing roots. You can re-use old potting soil from other sources, but it will need to be sterilized again, as well as any nutrients will be gone.

An easy method for sterilizing your own pre-used soil, is to pour boiling water through the soil several times. The pot of soil is placed into a sink and the boiled water is allowed to drain through. I tend to stay away from this; it is easier to purchase a sterilized bag than to re-sterilize and clean up, as well as it is not guaranteed that it will be completely sterilized. I do, however, use the pre-used sterilized soil in the bottom half of pots when I am upgrading a smaller plant into a larger pot. These plants already have their roots established and the odds are less that they will succumb to any viruses.

Thirdly, a rooting hormone is helpful, but not essential. Rooting hormones are powders that the cut end of the plant is dipped into, before they are inserted into the soil. These powders are a very mild acid that

activate the plant into thinking they need a stronger root base, thus roots are grown. I have had great success when not using rooting hormones before, but have had even better results when I've used them.

Rooting hormones come in different strengths; Number 1 for softwood types of cuttings, Number 2 for semi-hardwood types and Number 3 for hardwood types. Most cuttings taken from average gardeners are softwood and therefore Number 1 is the most used. Number 1 is for plants such as geraniums and plants with a green stem. Number 2 is used for plants that are more woody in nature and have a brown tone to their stem and Number 3 is generally used for tougher stems, such as shrubs.

Lastly, for any plant to grow, water and light are needed. Water given to any cutting should be at room temperature, as cold water can shock the cutting. Light is needed from a reliable source; either a sunny window that is preferably south facing, as this is the strongest sunlight, or from artificial grow lights, usually a fluorescent light fixture. Other artificial lights are available, but more commonly used by commercial growers as they are more expensive to use and purchase.

Once these items are gathered together, it is time to get them organized. Set up your containers on your tray and fill them with your potting mix until they are three-quarters full. Don't fill them to the very rim, as you need space for your water to sit before it is absorbed into the mix, as well as room for your cutting stem to be inserted.

Next, lightly water your containers just enough to get it moist, not wet as you don't want to rot your cutting or encourage any fungus growth. An easy test to see how well you have moistened your soil, is to hold the moistened soil in your hand and close your hand tightly. If water seeps through your fingers then the mix is too wet. If the mix holds its shape when you open your hand it is the perfect consistency and if it falls apart, then it is too dry.

Now it is time to take your cuttings! There are many plants that are easy to take cuttings from, such as annual geraniums, various ivy, trailing verbena and various perennials.

Cut one of the stems of your plant to a length of 4-5 inches just above a set of leaves. With your new cutting in your hand, remove the very end of your stem to the very bottom of where the next set of leaves appear. This removes the unwanted stem because the new roots appear at where the leaves are. Next, remove all of the leaves except three to four at the very top. This is done to help the plant make new roots, as well as keep itself alive without having to keep so many leaves active.

Once this is done, lightly insert the cut end about one-quarter inch into the rooting powder and shake off any excess. Next, gently insert the cutting into the prepared soil containers 1 to 1.5 inches deep. If you have difficulty inserting your cutting, make a hole with a pencil first then insert the cutting. Lastly, gently firm the soil around the cutting with your fingers. Do this procedure until you have taken all of the cuttings and place your plastic lid or bag on top. If using a plastic bag, use sticks that keep the bag from touching the leaves on your cuttings. Keep your covering on your cuttings for 2-3 weeks then remove it in gradual time periods for a few days to allow it to get accustomed to its new air climate. After a few days the covering can be removed completely.

That is really all there is to it! Keep watering regularly or spray with a misting bottle and don't forget if you take a lot of cuttings to label them with a waterproof marker on a plastic or wooden tag.

In 4-6 weeks after taking your cutting, you should see new leaves appear. Wait at least 10-12 weeks before moving your rooted cutting into a larger pot. To see if it is ready to be moved into a larger container, turn the container upside down and look for a lot of new roots. The roots should be white and healthy looking, if they are brown in any area, then they are dead from either not enough water or too much water. Look at how often you water and determine which of the two you are doing. Once the cuttings have been moved into a larger pot, give it regular feedings of a mild fertilizer and enjoy your new plants!

TIP

If you are taking cuttings from one plant to another, it is best to dip your cutter into a mild bleach and water solution to prevent disease.

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