Monday, 12 March 2007

Food Gardening For Beginners Part 7

Taking Cuttings - Not Just Food Plants.

These are my notes for a presentation I made at our Garden Club last year. I have included photos here. At the presentation I actually took the cuttings so people could understand the process.

They had requested information on how I took the cuttings that I have been supplying them with for the last 8 years. So this is that information. You or anyone else might do things differently.

Why Take Cuttings?

  • You may want to give that plant to others; they may have asked you for some of that plant
  • Having survived in your garden cuttings are a way of extending the ‘good’ qualities of that plant i.e. hardiness, frost tolerance, drought tolerance etc
  • To prevent the plant species from being lost or extinct; at least in your garden


Cuttings may be divided into three classes-

  • Leaf cuttings - African violets, begonia, kalanchoe will grow from a piece of leaf placed on the surface of the soil. A new plant should grow from this point
  • Root cuttings - digging up a piece of parent root and planting it in a sandy well drained mixture
  • Stem cuttings - what this information is all about
  • Division of clumping plants yarrow, mints,
  • Another method of duplicating plants is by runners eg strawberries and spider plants

The method of stem cutting chosen will depend on the plant:-
  • Hardwood cuttings eg deciduous plants and conifers (small bushy conifers rather than trees)
  • Semi-hardwood cuttings eg older shoots that have ceased active growth and become woody camellias, diosma, lavender, daisies.
  • Soft-wood cuttings from fresh recent (not flowering) growth, root more quickly need more attention to temperature and moisture levels

Some Basic Botany

Plants grow in soil. (most do anyway)
Plants obtain most of their needs water/nutrients from soil via roots
Plants obtain a little nutrient/water via their leaves
Plants transpire through their leaves i.e. lose water

When taking cuttings you are severing a piece of plant from its parent plant, which means its food supply. The aim of taking cuttings is to make that piece of plant become a plant in its own right. That means growing on its own roots to supply its own food. Roots also support the plant and stop it falling over.

Soil for taking cuttings

Consider the growth habits of the plant.
Plants that like dry conditions probably don’t want to be waterlogged and would rot off in such conditions. (eg. herbs rosemary, sage, thyme and some native Australian plants) these would probably strike roots in coarse sand.
Plants that like very wet conditions will often strike roots sitting in a glass of water (Bog land plants, mints, spider plants, wandering jew).
Middle of the road plants would usually strike roots in a normal well drained potting mix as long as they get enough moisture to their leaves.
Do not add fertiliser to striking mix the aim is to make the roots grow faster in search of food.

The main things to remember are:

The cutting has no roots and therefore no means of feeding itself.
You have to become its food (mainly water) source…
By misting its leaves and keeping the sun/wind off it to minimise transpiration. Some people use plastic bags or bottles to shelter their cuttings. I don’t. I place my pots of cuttings in a shady area or shade house with a misting system in place (when water restrictions allow)
…until there are signs of growth.
This is usually, but not always, new leaf growth, sometimes roots can be seen growing from the bottom of the pot or you can carefully remove the contents of the pot to actually have a look.

Once new growth has started separate the new plants into individual pots and begin feeding them via food in the potting mix and/or liquid feeding via the leaves.

I use a mixture of sandy loam and cocoa peat. The ratio would depend on the plants more sandy loam to peat for ‘dry’ plants and more peat to sandy loam for ‘wet’ plants equal parts for middle of the road plants.

The process of taking cuttings:

Side Cuttings I use this method for most cuttings I take.

1 Select plant pieces for cutting. I often trim/prune plants a few weeks prior to taking cuttings this way to encourage side growth.

2 Remove sections of plant where they are attached to the main stem.

3 Trim off two thirds of the leaves to minimise transpiration. If the leaves that remain are large cut them in half.

4 At this point some people use a growth stimulant Root Hormone Powder, Honey, Aloe Vera juice or even Willow Water (see below). I rarely use any of these unless I have difficulty striking a particular plant but I haven’t noticed any real benefit.

Make a hole in damp potting mixture with a pencil or piece of wood and carefully put the cutting in place burying about one third of it in the potting mixture.

Sometimes I will take a tip cutting of soft wooded plants or soft new growth.

1 Select material from the top of the chosen healthy plant.

2 Take a piece about 10-15cm long if possible.

3 Trim cutting to just below a leaf node (where the leaves are attached to the main stem).

4 Trim off two thirds of the leaves to minimise transpiration. If the leaves that remain are large cut them in half.

1 Make a hole in damp potting mixture with a pencil or piece of wood. It is important that you do not push the cutting into the potting mix as you may damage the ends or even break a tender piece.

2 Carefully place the cutting in the hole.

3 Gently firm the potting mixture around the cutting to secure it.

Remember to label the pot with the plants name, flower colour, the date and any other information you think will help identify that plant later. Some cuttings take months to strike and you won’t remember which is which when you find the pot at the back of the shade house!!

Make sure you water your cuttings immediately. Misting is helpful in dry times as it gets the water to the leaves where they are loosing it through transpiration by raising the level of humidity. Our water restrictions mean I can no longer use the misting system in my shade house so I use a hand pump misting bottle for this purpose.

The most vital part of taking cuttings is after care.

Remember YOU have to give that new plant all its water/food needs.

YOU become its parent!!

Willow Water

Willow trees are some of the easiest plants to propagate and hormones found in willows can be used to help promote root growth in other plants. Willow water is a concentrated solution of these hormones.
To mix up some willow water make an infusion of
any type of willow stems.

  • Cut a few stems of willow branches about the diameter of a pencil that are green and supple.
  • Cut the branches into small pieces and smash them with a hammer.
  • Next, bring a pot of water to a boil, drop the willow stems into the water and remove from the heat.
  • Allow the mixture to steep, stirring occasionally.
  • Once cooled, it is ready to use.

Do not keep it for more than a week or so, make a fresh batch.
Dip the ends of the plant cuttings you want to root into this solution before putting them in to the striking mix.
In addition to using willow water for rooting cuttings, you can also pour it around young transplants to help accelerate their root development.
When I first tried making Willow Water I just placed stem cuttings in water and let them sit. Guess what! I had a lot of Pussy Willow cuttings that year! All those stems grew roots. :)

More information:

Truncheons are another method of taking cuttings with large pieces of trees, while Marcots are air layered cuttings.

Click here for a fact sheet about these methods from ABC’s Gardening Australia.

Check out Food Gardening For Beginners Part 8 - Companion Planting For Fruit Trees


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