Monday 9 July 2012

Cutting remarks

I nearly forgot to take cuttings this year. With all the unseasonably cold and wet weather, it's been hard work just keeping the weeds down and taller plants staked against the wind. Late spring to early summer is the best time for taking softwood cuttings: creating new plants from the green stems and tips of this year's growth. Rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, fuchsia and hydrangea are all easy to propagate this way. This year I've concentrated on rosemary and lavender as I want to restock the herbal bed at the allotment next spring.

1. Choose your cuttings. Snip non-flowering growing tips from the plant. Cut cleanly using a sharp knife or very sharp small scissors just above a leaf node. You don’t want to be leaving a long bare stalk on the plant which will be prone to rotting or admitting disease.

2. If you can’t use them straightaway, put your cuttings in a polythene bag and seal (zip-lock is ideal).

3. Use modules, tall and skinny better than flat and wide.

4. Fill the modules with cuttings compost, not too finely textured. Firm the tops lightly, and water thoroughly. Leave to drain.
5. Prepare your cuttings. Trim the stem just below the bottom leaf nodes. Remove the bottom leaves so that you have 3-4 leaves left at the top. Don’t peel or tear the leaves away: again, cut as cleanly as possible.
6. Take a dibber – my ‘dibber’ is a pencil, which is about the right width – and dip the pencil into the compost in each module to a depth of about 2cm.

7. Drop each cutting into the hole left by the dibber. Don’t bury the leaves - they should remain clear of the compost.

8. Use your fingers to firm the compost around the cutting.

9. Label your cuttings.

10. Place the potted cuttings in a seed tray or propagator. Cover with a clear plastic lid. Or a polythene bag secured over the cuttings will do, so long as the polythene doesn’t actually touch any part of the plants.

11. Move the tray or propagator to a spot out of direct sunlight for 2-3 days to give the cuttings a chance to recover, then move to a warm light, sheltered spot indoors.

12. Resist the temptation to check and pull at your cuttings. Take a look every so often and if there is any sign of wilting give the propagator some ventilation (punch a small hole in the polythene bag).

13. After 3-4 weeks, have a look at the bottom of the modules. If there is any sign of roots poking through, you can remove the lid altogether.

14. Leave the rooted plants to form a string root ball before potting up into small pots (about 8 weeks).

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