Categories: Opinion

GARDENING: To proliferate an existing plant, clip and grow new roots

Do you have a favorite plant or shrub in your garden that you wanted more of? Did you go looking around the nurseries for the exact same shrub you have in your garden only to return empty-handed? Plant bargains are not always easy to find nor budget-friendly. If you could magically create more plants out of an existing full-grown plant, would you jump at that idea? 

With proper care and dedication, cuttings taken from your beloved shrub can sprout into new plants. One way to propagate is by taking hardwood cuttings in the fall through early winter when deciduous shrubs have lost their leaves and become dormant. There is a low chance of harming the mother plant by making a cut, since its growth is not as vigorous. Hardwood cuttings essentially have brown bark around the wood, which helps it withstand low temperatures while it sprouts new roots.

Once a stem is nipped, it quickly loses its moisture. Preserving that moisture is key for roots to form successfully. The Pacific Northwest’s rainy weather is excellent for propagation. Follow the steps below to ensure successful cloning of your treasured plant.

Step 1: Sanitize pots and prepare your soil

Your cuttings can be transplanted directly into the garden soil (vegetable beds) or into pots. Transplanting into garden soil does not require much effort other than making sure the trimming stays moist. If you decide to pot them up, then it is essential to thoroughly clean and sanitize the pots to avoid the spread of disease. 

A 50-50 mixture of peat moss and perlite found at most garden stores is a great medium for rooting your cuttings, as long as you plan for adequate drainage. For example, clay soil causes water to stagnate, which can rot some plants. Pine bark is another great medium to stick your cuttings in, since it has great moisture storing capacity and excellent drainage.

A 50-50 mixture of peat moss and perlite is a great medium for sprouting new roots.

Step 2:  Take cuttings

During early winter, nip the previous summer’s growth that is about pencil-width in size. It is perfectly fine for the stem to have bark on it, which will better protect it from cold weather. Trim the branch at the junction just below a node where it meets older wood. It should be non-pliable and sturdy. The top, softer part of the cutting can be cut away with a horizontal slice, leaving about 6 to 8 inches of wood remaining. The lower end can be given a sloping cut for better water absorption. Making different cuts on either end also helps you remember which side goes down into the soil and which side points to the sky. An upside-down cutting, of course, will not root.

Nip at the junction right below a node where new wood meets old wood.

Step 3: Wound the end

Trimmings would benefit from a little extra help to encourage root formation.  To wound a cutting, simply scrape the outer layer of bark to expose the inner green layer, which is known as cambium.  Bark can sometimes be a barrier for the roots to form. By removing around an inch of bark at the base, it will ensure roots can develop without impediment.

Wound the trimming by scraping away the bark to reveal the cambium layer.

Step 4:  Dip into some rooting hormone

Dip the angled end into any store-bought rooting hormone powder, and then gently tap away any excess. Too much hormone can inhibit root growth. Using hormone powders is an optional step, but it does increase the chances of roots forming. Cinnamon powder and honey also make great rooting hormone substitutes as they have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Dip the angled end in honey to stimulate root growth.

Step 5:  Stick it into soil

Make a hole with a pencil into the soil beforehand and slowly push the cutting into the hole. Seal it by tamping down to remove any air bubbles. The cuttings can still loose moisture, so put as much of the cutting into the soil as possible and water well. These cuttings can be left outside, and with the rain helping to keep the cutting moist, they will be well on their way to forming roots and sprouting once again.  Do not forget to label your cuttings if you are proliferating different plants, since they may all look similar to start.

Take multiple cuttings to maximum your chances of success, and remember to label them.

Taking multiple cuttings of the same kind of plant is the more bankable strategy, as some of the cuttings may fail to thrive. When your skinny sticks turn into full, blooming and fruiting plants, it becomes very exciting to see plant reproductive science in action. 

Gooseberry, currants, weigela, hardy fuchsia and figs can all be duplicated this way. A wayward stem? Don’t throw it away. Instead, turn it into personalized gifts for your friends, from your garden to theirs.

Triveni Remany

Triveni Remany is the gardening columnist for the Sammamish Independent. She has lived in Sammamish for 4+ years. She has an IT background and moved here from Vancouver, Canada. She loves to spend time in the garden and read in her free time.

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