TGT: Plant Propagation by Cuttings

Here is part 12 of The Home Garden's Series on Gardening on a budget (aka Thrifty Gardening Tips or simply cheap gardening!)

Propagating plants by cuttings is by far the most common way I propagate plants. When you take a cutting from a plant you are making an exact genetic duplicate of the original plant. Essentially it's a clone. No you won't see any George Lucas movies about plant propagation (I don't even want to think about weeds using the Force. The dark side might win out in our yard!) These clones are taking advantage of the natural plant ability to produce more roots. In nature many plants make roots naturally through layering but by taking cuttings we can encourage the process on a larger scale.

Taking cuttings is a simple process but there are a few terms you should know. Do you know what a node is? That's the spot where the leaves emerge from along the stem. That's important so you can tell the difference between nodal and internodal cuttings. Can you guess what they might be? You got it, nodal cuttings are taken just below a node and internodal cuttings are taken between the nodes! Now what about stem tip cuttings? OK I probably don't need to elaborate but just in case, stem tip cuttings are taken from the tip of the stem! I hope you were sitting down for that definition. Can you guess where basal stem cuttings come from? If you answered from the base of the stem or from the top of the root crown you would be correct!

Now what did I leave out? Greenwood, semi-ripe and hardwood cuttings. These three terms usually refer to the age of the wood. Think of a new stem or branch growing on a plant. It starts off fresh, green, and happy then gradually changes and matures to become a denser and stronger branch with a hard outer surface. In the beginning it was greenwood and toward the end it became hardwood. Can you guess what it was in the middle? Yep semi-ripe! Think of semi-ripe wood like a banana. You buy it at the store when it's not quite ripe, with a little yellow and just a little green. It's not quite ripe, it's semi-ripe!

Depending on what type of cutting you are taking there are some general guidelines for when to take them. Greenwood does best early in the growing season so try these kinds of cuttings in the spring and early summer. Semi-ripe cuttings should work well in summer while hardwood cuttings tend to do better in fall and over winter. These are just general guidelines and may not hold true for every plant. Most cuttings seem to do best from the first year's growth.

One thing to always watch out for when taking cuttings is diseased material. It's a good bet that if you take a cutting from diseased material that the cutting will fail to root or the plant will be diseased as well. To avoid this take cuttings from good quality branches that show no signs of diseases. Also make sure you have clean pruners for your cuttings! A 5% bleach-water solution should clean your tools and keep them from transferring diseases from plant to cutting or plant to plant. This is a good idea to do periodically after pruning shrubs and trees anyway.

I wrote in a post a while back about the basics of propagating plants by cuttings so I won't touch on that now but I can offer you a few tips that may help.
  1. Don't get frustrated. Many cuttings will fail and some will succeed. If one fails just toss it in the compost bin and try again.
  2. Always take a few more cuttings than you need. This will help to offset some of those failures. If you end up with extra plants give them to a friend, neighbor or take them to a plant exchange!
  3. Label the cuttings. If you're only working on one or two kinds of plants you may not need to worry about it but I've found that when I have several varieties of the same plant I forget which is which.
  4. Use a notebook to track what you've done. You can keep track of your success and failures, how you did things, and even write down the name of your favorite blog so you don't forget to check back. (Hopefully it's this one!)
  5. Once the plants have rooted try bottom watering. Just put the pot in a second container capable of holding some water. I've found that old store bought cake tops work good but you could do the same with cheap plastic ware. Then water into the outer container allowing the water to ease up into the pots from the drainage holes. It encourages deeper roots which is a good thing!

Plants you can propagate:

There are a huge number of plants that you can take cuttings from successfully. Way too many to list but if it has a stem with multiple nodes it can probably be done. Some plants are easy and other are difficult. Experimentation for me has been a lot of fun and very educational. Here's the list of plants I have successfully propagated so far:

Crape Myrtle
Firethorn Pyracanthus augustofolia
Variegated, Oak Leaf, Mophead)
Japanese Dappled Willow
‘Hiroku Nishiki’

Purple Leaf Plum
Red Twig Dogwood
Russian Sage Perovskia artriplicifolia
Salvia nemorosa
Salvia x farinacea
Sedums (several kinds!)
Silver mound (Artemisia)
Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’

I hope you enjoyed this series of money saving gardening tips. Feel free to look back if you missed one by using the links below!

Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1: Buying and Saving Discount Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1 Follow Up: Buying and Saving Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 2: The Generosity of Gardeners
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 3: Save Gas, Only Mow Where You Go
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 4: Think Small Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 5: Make Compost
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 6: Making a List
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 7: Know Thy Landscape
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 8: A Two Season Trick
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 9: Plant Propagation
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 10: Divide and Conquer
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 11: Layering Shrubs, Trees, and Perennials

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