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Taking softwood cuttings is a quick, easy and cheap way to increase your stock of plants and can be carried out in late spring and early summer while the plants growth is young and soft.

‘Striking’ a cutting is essentially placing a section of plant stem in some compost and allowing it to root. It takes advantage of the function of plant nodes as growth points. Nodes are the points on a stem where the buds, leaves, and branching twigs originate. When the node is above ground it will produce leaves or stems, but when it is in soil it will produce roots. Here we will explore ways to maximise your chances of success.

  • Increase plant stocks at minimal cost, producing extra plants that can be shared or swapped with friends, neighbours and family
  • Plants produced are identical to parent plant
  • Softwood cuttings have the highest rooting potential of any cutting
  • Light delicate work so little strength or stamina needed
  • Good for development of fine motor skills and tool use
  • While the initial task is easy, there is some after care necessary encouraging a nurturing relationship with the young plants
  • This can be a very satisfying activity as there is an element of ‘magic’ about harnessing the plants abilty to grow roots at its nodes in the right conditions
  • Allow children to walk around the garden and choose which plants theyd like to take cuttings from
  • This is an opportunity to explore the botanical make up of a plant, looking att the function of nodes, stem and leaves
  • Ideal for setting up experiments using different plants and/or techniques’ like trying varying compost mixtures or using hormone rooting powder
  • Have an end goal for the new plants you produce, eg planting a herb hedge or planting up containers or a new bed
  • If it is not safe to use cutting tools, you could do this step for them
  • Taking a cutting can be as simple as pushing a hedge-cutting into the ground, so remember that the methods given here are to increase your chances of success. Just have a go and see what happens!
  • Cutting the stem just below a node can be done in a variety of ways. It is suggested to use a sharp knife on a board, but scissors or secateurs could be used, or the soft stem can be ‘nipped’ between fingertips. Choose which is easiest for you.
  • Use a specially formulated cuttings compost to save mixing your own.
  • Try placing a smaller pot inside a bigger pot for your cuttings. This will provide extra stability and support for the cuttings and another boundary for the roots to divide at. It also makes checking the roots of the cuttings easier as you can simply lift the inner pot out to see if any roots have grown yet. Finally, it will make it easier to prick out the rooted cuttings as you can gain access from the side as well as the top of the growing medium.
  • Herbs such as Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, Thyme
  • Perennials such as aubretia, osteospermum, aubretia, penstemon, petunia, pelargonium, verbena
  • Deciduous shrubs such as buddleia, fuchsia, hydrangea, viburnum
  • Trees such as birch, magnolia, maple
  • Soft plant material from the growing tips of plants, with no flowers or buds.
  • Compost
  • Sharp sand or perlite to aid drainage
  • 9cm or 13cm pots
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Dibber
  • Hormone rooting powder (optional)
  • Canes
  • Polythene bags
  • Elastic bands
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Step 1: Remove the cutting

Remove your cutting from the stock plant making a straight cut below the node. Choose a cutting from the ‘stock’ plant that is 7–15cm long, without flower buds. You may need to use a knife and cutting board to ensure that you have a clean cut at the base of the stem, or to produce several cuttings from one stem.

Step 2: Remove leaves

Remove all the leaves from the lower half of the cutting. The ratio of leaf to stem can be difficult to judge, so if it is your first time try some different ratios and see which succeed the best. The leaves that you leave on will enable the plant to photosynthesise and feed the new root growth, to make so that it becomes a viable plant. If there is too much leaf left on, the plant will transpire (lose water) faster. With larger leaved plants like hydrangea, you may want to retain only one leaf and even this may need to be cut in half to reduce water loss.

Step 3: Compost

Create a 50/50 mix of compost and sand/perlite. This provides a well drained growing medium for your cuttings, and also support. Your cutting has no roots to support it physically or nutritionally at this stage. The growing medium needs to provide water to the cut surface at the base of the stem. Fill your pots with the mix.

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Step 4: Plant the cuttings

Place your cuttings around the edge of the pot, using a dibber to create a hole first so that the base of the stem isn’t damaged in the planting process. They should be planted 2-4cm deep. Where the lower leaves have been removed, beneath the soil, roots will form. Space the cuttings so they do not touch each other. Leaves should be at least 1cm clear of compost.

Cuttings are traditionally planted close to the edge of the pot, the idea being that roots tend to divide when they reach a boundary. You may want to dip the base of each stem with hormone rooting powder before planting. This is not essential, but may speed up the rooting process by adding more auxins to the rooting area.

Step 5: Water and label with date

Place four canes around the edge of the pot to create a frame above the height of the cuttings and put a polythene bag over the top of these. Use an elastic band to hold the base of the bag on tight to the pot.

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Step 6: Taking care of your plant

Put your pot in a bright area, but not in direct sunlight. Remove your bag often to allow air to the cuttings. Ensure that the growing medium stays moist. The cutting is extremely vulnerable and until it has produced roots it has no ability to be resilient. This means it is entirely dependant on us to meet its needs.

Achieving this is a kind of juggling act in which we need to make sure the cuttings get adequate moisture but are not waterlogged – leading to rotting of the buried stem. Also that they have sufficient leaf area to produce food for the plant but not so much that water loss becomes a problem. And that the plant has sufficient light but not so much that is liable to scorching.

Step 7: Checking on your plant

To check if cuttings have rooted, gently tug one of the leaves. If the plant lifts easily it probably hasn’t rooted…yet. You could try giving it a few more weeks if the cutting appears healthy. The time taken for roots to form varies from plant to plant but is generally 3-6 weeks. If you have chosen smaller pots for your cuttings you may be able to see roots growing through the drainage holes in the base. Successfully rooted cuttings can be potted on into a compost suitable for the type of plant.

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