In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2006
Regional Report

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Rooting roses is easy if you use a well-drained medium and dip the cuttings in rooting hormone.

Making More Plants From Cuttings

Propagating plants from cuttings is one of the most basic gardening techniques. Whether you are multiplying a favorite plant to fill a perennial border, or starting a new one as a gift for a friend, rooting new plants is rewarding and fun.

There are many ways of taking cuttings from plants, and each species varies in the type of cutting that works best. Stem cuttings, heel cuttings (a leaf and small section of the stem is removed), root sections, and leaf petiole cuttings (great for African violets) are some common types. Simple stem cuttings work best for most plants. Here are some basic steps to rooting a cutting.

Taking Cuttings
It's best to take cuttings in early morning when plants are cool and not wilted. Stem cuttings are sections of stems with 3 or 4 leaves (or nodes) on them. If you are not able to place them in the rooting medium right away, wrap the cuttings in a moist paper towel and place them in a plastic bag in a cool place, such as an ice chest or refrigerator.

Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting. Dip the base of the cutting in a rooting powder to promote better root development. There are a number of brands on the market, and most garden centers carry at least one type of rooting hormone.

Encouraging Rooting
Next place the cuttings into a good rooting mix. Plants vary in their ease of rooting and in their response to different mixes. Fig stems, for example, will usually root just fine in soil in a shady garden spot. Other plants are much more demanding, taking a long time to root and requiring a very light, well-drained mix. I usually use a lightweight, sterile mix made of equal parts peat and perlite. The rooting mix should be moist but very well drained.

Since cuttings do not have roots to take up moisture, they need to be kept in a moist environment. The high humidity of a rooting chamber is ideal for keeping them alive until roots can form. The chamber for rooting needs to allow plenty of light in to help the cutting produce carbohydrates and stay healthy, so a clear cover is essential.

You can make a rooting chamber out of common household containers, such as a clear 2- or 3-liter plastic soft drink bottle. Cut it into two sections about 3 to 4 inches up from the base. Punch holes with a nail in each of the "bumps" in the base for drainage. Cut a few vertical slits in the top portion (use scissors to cut upward a few inches from the bottom cut edge of the top section of the bottle) to make "flaps." These flaps will slide down over the base an inch or so to hold the top on. Fill the base with a rooting mix and insert cuttings. The cap can usually be left off the top of the bottle, or you can keep it on to hold in moisture better.

Other good homemade rooting chambers include clear plastic bakery boxes, small plant pots placed inside Ziplock bags, and cardboard milk cartons cut in half lengthwise to make a tray and covered with a clear plastic bag. If you are serious about rooting a large number of cuttings, you may want to build a rooting box with a clear plastic tent over it.

Place the container of cuttings in a bright spot but out of direct sunlight or heat will build up in the chamber and kill the cuttings. Once the cuttings root, it's time to move them to a growing mix that provides some nutrients.

Try propagating a few of your favorite landscape plants. It's not as difficult as you might think. You may even find it one of the most fun and rewarding parts of gardening. You'll always have a few plants to give as gifts or trade with other gardeners.


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