Easy way to propagate your favourite plants
Here’s the second instalment in my how to take cuttings series – this time, the semi-ripe type.
Don’t be put off by such an awkward name, it’s really very easy to propagate hardy climbers, herbs, ground-cover plants, shrubs and trees – especially evergreens – and you don’t need special equipment.
Late summer to early autumn is the ideal time to take semi-ripe cuttings – all it means is that you choose shoots from this season’s growth. The base of the cutting should be hard, while the tip is still soft, hence semi-ripe.
Remember, before midsummer, propagate by taking softwood cuttings (new, pliable growth). After mid-autumn, the wood hardens, so take hardwood cuttings then, so semi-ripe is a halfway house between the two.
Plants to propagate with semi-ripe cuttings
- Herbs: bay, hyssop, lavender, rosemary, rue, sage, thyme.
- Climbers: Bougainvillea, Campsis, Clematis, honeysuckle (Lonicera), Hydrangea petiolaris, ivy (Hedera), jasmine (Jasminum or Trachelospermum) passion flower (Passiflora), Solanum.
- Shrubs*: Abelia, Artemisia, Aucuba, Berberis, Brachyglottis, brooms, Buddleja, Callicarpa, Camellia, Ceanothus, Choisya, Cistus, Convolvulus cneorum, Daphne, Erica, Escallonia, Euonymus, Hardy fuchsia, Hebe, Fatsia, Mahonia, Syringa, Viburnum.
- Hedging: box (Buxus), cherry laurel, Escallonia, Lonicera nitida, Portuguese laurel, privet.
- Groundcover plants: Lonicera pileata, periwinkle (Vinca), Rubus tricolor.
- Trees: Arbutus, Brachychiton, Cercis, elm, hazel, holly (Ilex), larch, Magnolia grandiflora, Picea.
*Hardy shrubs can be rooted directly in the soil, cold frames or cloches, but may not root fully until the following spring.
Four types of semi-ripe cuttings:
- Cut just below a leaf to leave a prepared cutting of 10-15cm.
- Heel cuttings (a piece of the stem is deliberately pulled away with the cutting) can be used – eg, Ceanothus and Berberis.
- Basal cuttings – the shoot is severed at the base, through a slight swelling where it joins the main stem, eg brooms.
- Mallet cuttings – a leaf is planted as a cutting, burying it with a piece of stem attached, eg Mahonia.
Potted guide: Taking a basic cutting
When taking cuttings, keep them as healthy as possible – no pests, or damaged, weak growth – go for horizontal, compact stems with short gaps between the leaves and no flowers. Morning is the best time to avoid wilting.
It’s vital to take cuttings with sharp, clean tools – think like a surgeon!
Place cuttings in a plastic bag and keep the bag in shade.
Trim them to 10-15cm, cutting just below a leaf node. Remove the lowest leaves and the soft tips to leave about four leaves.
If you use it, dip the bottom in hormone rooting powder and tap off the excess.
On large-leaved shrubs, cut the leaf in half to reduce water loss.
Insert cuttings into pots filled with very free-draining compost – either buy specialist compost or use 50/50 free-draining compost/sharp sand or perlite. Water and allow to drain.
Place the cuttings in a greenhouse, or cover pot with a plastic bag and put in a warm, light position, out of direct sunlight. Don’t forget, the young plants will need to be hardened off for two to three weeks before planting out.
Summer cuttings don’t need bottom heat but in autumn, it’s better to use a heated propagator.
The biggest challenge is keeping the moisture balance right – remove any excess, but keep compost damp. Fungal moulds and rots can cause severe losses, so removing and failed cuttings and ensure good ventilation.