Cost-cutting exercise

PA Photo/thinkstockphotos
PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

Living in a frost pocket, as I do, it’s inevitable that each year I lose plants which are on the tender side, leaving gaps in my beds and borders which need to be filled.

Visits to the garden centre each year to replenish stock can be a costly exercise, but if you want to save money and gain a great deal of satisfaction, now is the time to have a go at taking softwood cuttings, which will take a little time but won’t cost you any money apart from a few small flower pots and a little compost.

Easy-to-root plants include lavatera, helianthemum, choisya, deutzia, escallonia, hebe, hydrangea, lavender, philadelphus and weigela, as well as fuchsia and olearia.

You take cuttings about 8-10cm (3-4in) long in late spring and early summer, before the stem becomes hard and woody, put them in a container of compost and cover them with clear polythene to prevent them wilting. When the cuttings have rooted - which can happen in around six weeks - they can be repotted or planted up in the garden.

With this step-by-step guide to softwood cuttings, you won’t go far wrong:

Always take the cuttings from a healthy plant, using a sharp knife or secateurs. Check there are no pests on the leaves or stems and that there is no disease.

Cut the stem just below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves, leaving the bottom half of the stem bare. If the remaining leaves are large, for example hydrangea or laurel, they can be cut in half to reduce loss of moisture through transpiration.

Plants which flower on young growth, such as hebes and fuchsias, may have flowerbuds at the tip of the cutting which will need nipping out along with the tip.

As soon as you have taken the cutting, put it in a polythene bag or bucket of water to stop it wilting until you are ready to propagate.

Dip the cut end in hormone rooting powder or liquid, covering the lower 6mm (1/4in) of the cutting before inserting it in a pot filled with seed compost. You can fit five cuttings around the edge of a 10cm (4in) pot. While most plants will root without the aid of hormone rooting powder, more difficult species such as rhododendron and hollies need a boost to produce roots. Rooting powder also contains a fungicide to protect the new plant against diseases.

Make sure the container’s drainage holes are not blocked because a waterlogged cutting is unlikely to take.

The compost should be moist. Use your finger or a small stick to make a hole for the cutting and insert each one 2in (5cm) apart, but don’t firm them in.

Water them with a fine rose to settle the compost around the stems and allow the excess water to drain.

Label each pot.

Thin-leaved plants such as fuchsias root best if the pot is placed inside a large, loosely tied plastic bag or clear polythene as it keeps the air around them humid, but don’t use this method for plants with silver, hairy leaves or they may rot.

Stand the pots out of direct sun and draughts while they root, but in a warm humid spot and water them enough so that the compost doesn’t dry out.

If you notice any faded leaves or flowers on rooted cuttings or plants in the next few weeks, remove them to prevent the spread of fungal diseases such as botrytis.

In six to eight weeks they should have rooted and you will be able to repot them or plant them in the garden.