CUTTINGS By...........Mick Allsop
Before going any further I would like to say that these are the methods I use for taking cuttings, it may differ from your favoured method and whatever works for you is the correct way. I usually do between 1000 and 4000 cuttings per year, depending on what requirements are needed for the year (such as shows, neighbours or plant distribution). You may have heard various speakers tell you that they have a 100% strike rate. This may well be true for them, but in my case I expect to lose about 1-2% of the cuttings I take - for various reasons. At this time of the year you should have plenty of ‘soft tip’ cutting material available and these will root readily without any bottom heat. All of the cuttings I take are rooted in a heated greenhouse where the ambient temperature is between 50-60F.
The cuttings should start rooting at this temperature within three to four weeks.
Plants: Make sure that the cutting material is taken from healthy, disease and pest free plants and that they have been watered and the cutting material to be used is turgid (containing water - not dehydrated or shriveled).
Compost: This is a purely personal choice, what compost you use. I have used B&Q multi-compost for quite a few years and have found it to be very good, and reasonably cheap. It is suitable for cuttings and for potting on. Sometimes I find it to be a bit on the dry side so I add warm water to moisten it, particularly in the colder months, when I am still taking cuttings. To this I add approx one third (by volume) Vermiculite or Perlite - although you can also use horticultural grit.
Pots/Containers: Over the years I have used various pots or containers to do the cuttings. These include the ‘Plantpak’ range of pots (28 or 30 to a tray). These are potted up with two or three cuttings per pot and then covered with a sheet of clear polythene - the sort you get when you take your clothes to a dry cleaners is ideal. Plastic or polystyrene modules, with varying numbers of cells, with one cutting per cell,again covered with clear polythene or clear plastic lids which are available at garden centres and are purpose built for covering modules/seed trays. The method I prefer now is 3” pots, with up to four cuttings in each pot, and then covered with a ‘clear plastic tumbler’. You could also use various plastic bottles to act as a cloche, or large jars which are big enough to hold the pot containing the cuttings. Simply invert the jar and use the lid as the saucer. All of these methods enable the cutting to root in a moist, humid atmosphere. Whatever method you try you must ensure that you check the cuttings daily and remove any fallen or browned leaves from the cutting or compost as soon as possible otherwise you are likely to get Botrytis setting in. Once started this fungal disease can easily decimate an entire tray or module of cuttings in a very short time. If you choose to use polythene sheets remove daily, shake the surplus moisture off and then re-cover the cuttings, again checking for any dropped leaves. Whatever the method used all cuttings are thoroughly watered in using ‘Cheshunt Compound’ - a copper based fungicide. Another easy way of increasing your plants is by ‘hardwood’ cuttings. These can be taken at any time of the year from plants under glass. If the plants are in the garden then you must check to see if the cutting material you wish to use is still alive. To do this run your thumbnail up the stem - if its green its alive, if brown or black it is probably dead. During the autumn (or later depending on your location)you can take hardwood cuttings by taking a 4-5” section of the branch, remove all the foliage, make a cut just below a leaf node and place three or four of these cuttings into a 3” pot containing potting compost. Water in using a fungicide, but do not cover. Within a few weeks these should be showing signs of new side shoots This is an ideal method for increasing your stock of ‘hardy plants’ from the garden before they have been damaged by frosts. To take hardwood cuttings from plants under glass, take a 4-5” cutting from the side or top of the plant, leave the foliage on and place into a tumbler of water. This water can contain vermiculite or perlite which will give the cutting stability. When the new roots are seen at the side of the tumbler remove and pot up into a 3” pot and treat as a normal cutting. Most cuttings, except for the very smallest soft tip cuttings, will readily root in water. The old adage you may have heard sometimes - “drop a fuchsia cutting on the floor and it will root” are not quite true (or at least not in my case) but it is very easy to increase you stock without too much trouble.