Taking softwood cuttings
If you thought taking cuttings was difficult, think again. Many shrubs, climbers, perennials and houseplants are easily propagated by softwood cuttings, a simple technique carried out between mid-spring and early summer on sideshoots that have been produced during the current year.
This method of propagation is generally considered the most reliable of any type of stem cutting, as young shoots will produce roots more readily than older material. All you need to succeed is a sharp knife or pair of secateurs and, most importantly, a heated propagator.
Suitable plants for softwood cuttings include lavatera, buddleia, fuchsia, hydrangea, lavender, forsythia and many other shrubs, along with tender perennials, such as salvia, pelargoniums, marguerites and osteospermum. This method is also suitable for lots of houseplants, including coleus and tradescantia.
Numerous other plants can be propagated by softwood cuttings. As a rule, if the plant produces lots of side-shoots, then it’s worth giving it a go.
When to take softwood cuttings
Take softwood cuttings between mid-spring and early summer from that season's tender new growth.
How to take softwood cuttings
Collect healthy tips from the side-shoots of plants. Prevent them from wilting before you’ve had a chance to take cuttings by storing inside a polythene bag that has been sprinkled with water to keep the contents damp.
Take the plant material to a cool, shady place and make 5-10cm long cuttings - slice through the stem below a pair of leaves and remove the lower set of leaves.
It’s not essential, but softwood cuttings will produce roots more swiftly if you dip the end in hormone rooting powder. Fill pots with seed and cuttings compost, level and make holes with a dibber. Insert cuttings up the level of the lower leaves, firm in place with your fingers and water.
The leaves and stems of softwood cuttings will dry out quickly, so place inside a heated propagator. Keep the humidity high inside, but open vents daily to reduce condensation and to keep light levels high.
Aftercare of cuttings
Cuttings should remain in the propagator until they have rooted – this usually takes three weeks or more, depending on conditions. A good indication that they have rooted is that the shoots start to grow, but don’t rely on this. Give cuttings a gentle tug and also check drainage holes for signs of roots. If in doubt, leave in the propagator for longer.
Pots of rooted cuttings should be carefully teased apart, keeping as much compost around the roots as possible - don’t leave cuttings for too long in the original pot after removing from the propagator or the roots will become entangled, leading to damage when you pull them apart.
Give each rooted cutting its own pot and water immediately to prevent a check to growth. These young plants are fragile and easily damaged, so keep them undercover until established. Avoid placing them in draughts or direct sunlight. Slowly acclimatise shrubs and perennials to life in the garden by putting them in slightly shaded spot for a week or so before moving them to a sunny spot.