Grow Shrubs from Softwood Cuttings
With a few simple tools and the use of a windowsill you can save yourself some money and have a great deal of enjoyment growing your own shrubs.
Forget the myth about green fingered people its all about knowledge and know how. With a little help from the GardenAdvice team you will soon be well on your way to becoming an experienced plant propagator. –
- Because the cutting in the early days has no roots it is important to keep the environment you place it in humid and away from full sunlight. The best way to create these conditions is to use a milky white plastic bag to form a green house over the new cuttings.
- With the humid conditions comes the problem of disease, in particular a rotting of the cuttings base, in most cases this can be solved by taking cuttings that have small piece of older more mature wood on the base which is more resistant to rotting. This type of cutting is called a semi-ripe softwood cuttingHarvest cuttings from semi-ripe growth.
The trickiest part of propagating shrubs from softwood cuttings is knowing when a shrub’s stems are ready to be cut. Softwood, the section of a shrub’s stem that’s neither brand new nor fully mature, is the stage of growth on a deciduous woody plant that is best suited for rooting The newer, green growth that lies at the end of the stem will rot before roots are produced, and the older, more woody growth at the base of the stem has a harder time putting out roots.
Softwood cuttings can be taken from most deciduous shrubs in July and early August. I determine a stem’s maturity by taking it in my hand and bending it. If the stem breaks with a characteristic snapping sound, it is in the softwood stage and ready to be harvested as a cutting. If the stem is still too green, it will bend but not break. If the stem is entering the woody stage, it won’t bend at all.
The best time to take cuttings is early in the day, when shoots are fully hydrated. Lateral shoots, or those that grow from a leader, make the best cuttings. I avoid weak, thin shoots, as well as overly thick, heavy ones. As soon as I take a cutting, I nestle it into a plastic basin that I’ve filled with damp paper towels. The towels will keep my cuttings moist and cool until I’m ready to head back inside and pot them up. They also shade my cuttings from the sun. Exposure to direct sunlight, even for only a few minutes, can cause irreparable damage. I also avoid taking cuttings on hot days, when plants may be wilting.Keep cutting short to conserve energy.
A cutting’s size is also something to consider. I like my cuttings to contain at least two sets of leaves. I use pruning shears to cut the stem from the shrub at about one-inch below the second leaf node. Since the length between leaf nodes differs from plant to plant, the size of a cutting, using this rule of measurement, will vary. The average cutting should measure between 3 and 5 inches.
To prepare my cuttings for rooting, I remove the lower set of leaves to open up wounds on the shoot. It is at these wounded sites that rooting will occur.
Provide good drainage and air in the rooting compost.
Insert the stem into a six-pack or seedling tray filled with a moistened mixture of perlite and peat mix. The potting mixture we use is 60 percent perlite and 40 percent peat mix. This mix provides the good drainage and maximum aeration that new roots need. Cuttings placed into a mix that holds moisture is apt to rot before rooting occurs.
Once the cuttings are inserted into the soil, I trim the remaining leaves in half to cut down on transpiration loss. These leaves are still performing photosynthesis, even though there are no roots to draw moisture out of the soil. Next I soak the cuttings and the compost with a watering can with a fine rose head and allow the excess water to drain away for 10 mins.
Finally, I place the tray into a milky white plastic bag and seal the end to create a small humid micro climate , which will create the conditions needed for rooting to take place. I then place the tray or pot on a sheltered windowsill away from direct sunlight.
Check for root development
Some cuttings root faster than others do. After four to five weeks, I check the bottom of each tray for small white roots that may be poking out of the drainage holes. If none are visible, another way to check for root development is by gently pulling on a cutting. If it shows some resistance, then it’s a good bet that roots have developed. If it pulls out of the tray easily, I inspect the stem for very fine root hairs. If no roots are apparent, I place the cutting back into the tray, reseal the bag, and wait a few more weeks before checking again.
Depending on the species and the growing conditions, a healthy network of primary and secondary roots should develop after six weeks in the bag. My success rate varies from shrub to shrub, but generally I get roots on about 70 percent of my cuttings. Once they’ve rooted, I pot up my tiny new shrubs into one-quart pots that I’ve filled with a mixture of 80 percent soil and 20 percent perlite, water them with a nutrient-rich seaweed- or kelp-based fertilizer and place them in a sunny spot in the garden. In the fall, I un-pot them and transfer them to a sheltered nursery bed where they’ll spend the winter. Come spring, I’ll have a good supply of shrubs that I can move to a new, more permanent home.
37 Shrubs That Are Easy to Propagate from Cuttings
Many deciduous garden shrubs, can be propagated by softwood cuttings taken in summer. The ones listed below tend to root quickly and grow into viable shrubs in a short period of time.
- Beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica)
- Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
- Blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
- Burning bush (Euonymus alatus)
- Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
- Chinese stranvaesia (Stranvaesia davidiana)
- Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
- Daphne (Daphne caucasica)
- Deciduous azaleas (Rhododendron cvs.)
- Elders (Sambucus spp.)
- Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus)
- Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
- Forsythias (Forsythia spp.)
- Honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.)
- Hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp.)
- Japanese maples (Acer palmatum cvs.)
- Kerria (Kerria japonica)
- Large fothergilla (Fothergilla major)
- Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
- Magnolias (Magnolia spp.)
- Mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
- Redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba and sericea)
- Rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa)
- Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.)
- Slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)
- Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)
- Spireas (Spiraea spp.)
- Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
- Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
- Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)
- Viburnums (Viburnum x burkwoodii and carlesii)
- Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
- Weigelas (Weigela spp.)
- Willows (Salix spp.)
- Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
- Winter hazels (Corylopsis spp.)
- Witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.)