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Gardening with Jack

Easter time is usually when the best time to make cuttings starts but Easter is very late this year so if we have cuttings to make we should start in March.

The principles governing cuttings are very simple. A section of a woody plant limb can be cut away from the parent and placed in soil. All woody plants have growth nodes, bumps or scars that denote where branches will grow in time. If a growth node is below ground it will produce roots instead of a branch. In time the well-rooted cutting will become an independent plant.

There is no need for a cutting to be any longer than 10 inches. The cutting should be taken from the parent plant as low down as possible and should be covered in bark, not green. The lower part of the cutting should have a steeply-angled cut just below a growth node. The upper cut should be square just above a growth node. The reason for this is twofold: an angled cut creates a larger area for absorption of moisture from the soil; the sharp end reminds you which end to stick in the ground. Some cuttings – bougainvillea for example – look very uniform and confusion is possible.

Opinions differ on whether to leave any foliage on the cutting. Some plants that root quickly seem to benefit from the presence of a few trimmed leaves. Cuttings that take longer to root are best stripped of all foliage. If you do leave foliage it best to plant cuttings at an angle into the soil to reduce the effects of wind. Even the slightest movement of the cutting will inhibit root development.

Cuttings can be planted in the position they will grow permanently or raised in pots until well rooted. The latter is better you have several cuttings to look after. You can use a rooting hormone powder to assist root development but this is really unnecessary for cuttings planted in spring. I tend to use rooting hormone powder at a slower time of the year when conditions are less favourable.

Gallon pots are a good size to start cutting in. Add a handful of perlite to your potting mix to ensure your soil is well aerated and facilitates root growth. There is no need to add any form of fertilizer.

Allow your pots to drain freely. Do not use a saucer as a water reservoir. Water your cuttings every two days quite lightly. Soggy soil will kill your cuttings. Opinions again differ when it comes to shading of cuttings. If you do start your cuttings in shade you will have to gradually move your pots into full sunshine over a few days once greenery appears and this could traumatise the plants. I prefer to keep my cutting pots in full sun.

Your cuttings should be ready to transplant after about three months, when the gallon pots are close to root bound. Perform the transplant in the evening and water well. Do not add fertilizer of any form to the surrounding soil until 3 – 4 weeks after the successful transplant.

Dracena is best started as a 3-inch blunt ended cutting and laid sideways 1 – 2 inches below ground. Most forms of croton (and some hibiscus) can be started in water, changing the water every two or three days. A small addition of liquid fertilizer helps here, but only a drop or two. Cuttings from shrubs with milky sap (frangipani, oleander) benefit from being dried out in the sun for about a week.

Although cuttings develop roots they do not develop tap roots. A shrub without a tap root is likely to be blown over in a hurricane.

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