Making plants

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Potted-up cutting using cut-down bottles

One aspect of gardening that never ceases to enthral me is that we can take a piece of a plant, stick it in a pot and it will (sometimes) grow into a new plant. This enables us to produce lots of plants for free for our own gardens and to give away, and allows the delight of exchanging cuttings with other keen gardeners, which can be propagated into treasured plants for our gardens.

My own propagating methods are pretty hit and miss, so when I recently had the opportunity to attend a hands-on demonstration of taking cuttings, run by nurserywoman extraordinaire Nancy Shaw, I was very excited. Some readers may have seen Nancy's excellent plant stalls at the quarterly Cottage Garden Club meetings held in Epping, NSW.

Nancy's methods are so much more professional than my own! For one thing, she sharpens her secateurs regularly to make a clean cut when taking the cuttings, and dips the secateurs into a diluted solution of bleach between every set of cuttings, to avoid the transmission of diseases between the batches.

Preparing the pots

Nancy's preferred propagation mixture is coarse river sand; another propagation mixture is one part of this type of sand, one part perlite and half a part cocopeat. At the workshop, we tried both types of mix (pictured at left). The propagating mixture was placed in pots or trays, tamped down and saturated well, then drained before putting the cuttings in - something I would never have thought to do, as I would usually slop some water in after I had stuck the cuttings in (often knocking them sideways in the process); pre-wetting the mix makes it easier to insert the cuttings properly.

Cuttings are best taken early in the day, put straight into water and potted up as soon as possible. Nancy's preferred length of cuttings is around 8 to 10 cm, cutting just below a node at the bottom of the cutting. It is apparently ideal to use the tip of the cutting, preferably with no flowers or buds; if these are present, however, they should be removed. If there isn't a tip, it's best to trim the top of the cutting just above a node. The stem can be scraped a bit at the base. Remove most of the leaves, leaving just a small amount of foliage at the top of the cutting. If remaining leaves are large, these can be cut in half. These cuttings are much smaller than I would normally use and so this too was quite a revelation.

Inserting the cuttings

Each cutting was dipped in hormone gel/powder. A small amount of the hormone gel or powder was placed little bowl to use for a propagation session, to avoid contaminating the whole jar. (When using hormone products, disposable gloves should be worn.) Honey can be used as a substitute for hormone gel. Then we made a hole for each cutting in the propagating mix, using a stick. We then inserted the cutting no more than 2 cm deep and firmed the mixture around the cutting. Many cuttings were put into the one pot (the pots used were about 10 cm in diameter).

We were encouraged to label all cuttings! How quickly one forgets what it is one has potted up, despite the best intentions to remember! Nancy suggested that a 6B pencil is excellent for writing on plastic plant labels; the writing of so many other pens and textas does fade over time. We sprayed our cuttings with water that had a little Seasol added.

Covering the pots of cuttings

The pot was then covered with a cut-off drink bottle (with its base removed) or a plastic bag supported by stakes, or placed in a large ziplock bag. I've always put my potted cuttings into a clear-plastic box with a lid, but giving them individual coverings does mean that the essential humidity around the cuttings is maintained and loss of water from the foliage is reduced. The cuttings were later placed in a warm position with bright light in our gardens at home -- but not in direct sun. Aftercare required that the cuttings be sprayed regularly with the Seasol water to keep the leaves from wilting whilst roots developed. The propagating mixture was to be kept damp but not too wet.

We were instructed to check the plants regularly for signs of rooting having occurred (by tugging the cuttings or looking underneath the pot for roots). At this time of year, roots should form in a few weeks. At this point, the method is to progressively introduce more air to the cuttings by splitting the plastic bag, raising the cut-off bottle or opening up the ziplock bag. To remove the rooted cuttings from the pot, use a knife to lever them out and trying to leave some of the propagating mix around the roots. Repot the rooted cuttings into a small individual pots, using good-quality potting mix. Keep them in a shaded, sheltered spot at first. They can later gradually be exposed to more sun, and later repotted into a larger container.

Reader Comments

  • By Barbara 2580 Monday, 25 September 2017

    I looked at the Martin-Smith website and was excited to see Oxalis Triangularis, Butterfly Oxalis. I first saw this plant in Vientiane 5 years ago, where it comes in many different leaf patterns. Almost the first thing I did when I came home was to search for a plant. Bought 2 by mail order from different sides of the country, but they"re the same leaf pattern. Although listed as Indoor, I grow mine in a large pot outside. Beautiful, beautiful little gem.

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 25 September 2017

    It is always interesting to see the methods others use to propagate. I like to use a vermiculite/potting mix for my cuttings. I wet the material with a seaweed solution, and, using a small stick, place the 9cm or so cuttings, with two nodes buried, around the perimeter of the pot.I don"t cover my pots, but place them outside, in a protected area. Success rate is usually 98% Cleanliness is important - I use meth. spirits to clean my secateurs. Thanks for your tips and what wonderful success you have! Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2119 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Thank you Deirdre for your comprehensive, well written article on propagation. I attended that workshop but it is great to actually have a copy in print of the processes Nancy went through showing us the correct way to take cuttings to achieve a good success rate. What an exciting part of gardening propagation is, the possibility of "free" plants is amazing. My great joy is propagating plants and giving them to friends as gifts. So happy to have a copy of this for future references. Great work! Wasn"t it a great day at the workshop! It is so rewarding to be able to create new plants and give them to others to enjoy. Deirdre

  • By Trish 2330 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Hi this is Trish, it was so interesting to read your article on propagating I sort of do it this way but the pencil & the Seasol I will now use as I have cuttings I have no idea of what they are because even the permanent markers are not that permanent, thank you for the tips, regards Trish Thanks, Trish; I think we all have some of those mystery cuttings! For me it is usually because I forget to even make a label in the first place! Deirdre

  • By brian 4552 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Loved this post, someone made the comment the other day that gardeners are the most generous of all people because have you ever met a gardener that didn"t want to share their plants and knowledge? An essential skill for all politicians should be green thumbs rather than fancy words. Use the remainder of the bottles for markers instead of throwing out by cutting into strips with a pointed end, using a texta pen to identify the cutting makes further good use of the plastic. Thanks for these great tip, Brian. Deirdre

  • By Sue T. 2566 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Having yesterday been unable to read the labels on some random Salvia seedlings I dug up last Autumn I"m off to find some 6B pencils. Thanks Deirdre and Nancy. Fab! Deirdre

  • By Zenda 2119 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Thanks for the great cuttings article. I do one more thing with my cuttings and i have reasonable success. For the first two week I stand the pot with its mix and cover in a container of water. Cuttings always send out lots of roots in water and this way they get the water but put their roots into the mix. When 2 weeks have passed I remove most of the water and let the mix air. I lift the pot regularly to drain and get air to the soil. Cheers Thanks, Zenda, this is an interesting method. Will try. Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 Monday, 25 September 2017

    I went to a garden once and saw an old bathtub in a shady spot half filled with river sand, and absolutely packed with cuttings. That"s serious propagation for a home gardener! What a wonderful sight! Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Thanks or sharing Nancy"s workshop tips and tricks-there"s always something to temp me on her stall at the CGC Epping meetings. Great comments from other members especially Brian. Yes I have really enjoyed reading all the comments! Deirdre

  • By Joan 2154 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Fascinating - what amazing people - what a treasure trove the plant sale must be - certainly hope I can get there! What a fabulous website. Am very grateful for the advice on cuttings - apparently there is nothing Seasol can"t help! The worm farms sound fabulous! I used to bury all my vege peelings straight into the garden to improve my very poor soil but I am worried it will attract rats??? Thank you Deirdre for the all this wonderful information. Kind regards Joan Thanks, Joan. Hope you can go to the huge plant sale - it is always a great event. Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Monday, 25 September 2017

    Thanks for great article Diedre! I have mixed success. Am a bit lazy about sharpening secateurs. & while I do clean them between pruning shrubs have never thought to clean between batches of cuttings. Also dont use seasol, so that"s a good tip and will be trying Zenda"s advice re standing pot in water for the first fortnight. Would be good when propagating in mid summer. Usually do some research as timing of taking cuttings can make a big difference. Yes I am keen to try all the tips that have been mentioned in the comments! Deirdre

  • By Dorothy 2323 Thursday, 28 September 2017

    Could anyone tell me if cyclamen bulbs can be used next year after dying down. Bulbs are still firm.

Add your comment

* Only previously registered iGarden members can post comments on Blogs. If you are already registered please go to the Home page and login first. If you are not an iGarden member please click here to register now.