In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
February, 2008
Regional Report

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Hens and chicks, tossed in a rainstorm last month, are ready for the scissors.

Making New Plants From Cuttings

Disaster as well as good fortune can bring on the need to prune plants. Why not root some cuttings to make the most of the situation?

Vegetative Propagation
Because of the way cells arrange themselves in many plant stems, they have growing points (buds) at regular intervals. Each of those points can develop roots and shoots and thus a new plant. To create a new plant in this way -- or in any way that doesn't involve seeds -- is called vegetative propagation. In other words, you make more plants (propagate) with green parts (vegetative).

Many plants will root from cuttings. A good cutting length is about 4 to 6 inches. The idea is to stick a cutting into a soil mix that holds it up and keeps it moist, but that doesn't get so wet the cutting rots before it roots.

Good Candidates
Many green-stemmed plants (a.k.a. herbaceous) root easily in water or soil mix. These include philodendron, coleus, and pothos ivy. Succulents like hens and chicks, and woody stems will not root in water, or will produce roots so fine that they soon collapse when transplanted. If you're unsure, use both methods.

Some shrubs and trees, such as azaleas, are rooted commercially using a mist system and a rooting medium. This method keeps the air around the cuttings moist without overwetting the roots. You can achieve almost the same environment by covering the cuttings with a plastic tent, and misting frequently inside it.

When to Make the Cuts
Herbaceous plant cuttings will root anytime the plants are actively growing. Shrubs and trees, however, separate into those that root best from new or soft wood; old or hard wood; and somewhere in the middle, called semi-hardwood. This latter is wood that does not bend as easily as soft wood, but does not snap when bent as hard wood does. If you're unsure what will work for your shrub, try rooting the new growth this spring, and if it doesn't root, try again in late May with more mature wood.


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