Taking cuttings is an easy way to increase your amount of plants and shrubs so you can keep a spare, fill a gap, give them to friends and family or sell at car boot sales to help fund your gardening habit.
This is especially useful for perennial plants as they do tend to look far better in groups of 3, 5, 7 etc, according to how much space you have. You can buy or scrounge a single plant and increase it by however many you want.
Propagation by Division
Many perennial plants can be increased this way and it is one of the easiest to do. For smaller plants it is a case of digging it up, and cutting it with a sharp knife in half, thirds or quarters depending on the size of the plant. Cut off most of the foliage so you only have a few leaves on each new clump, if you don’t do this the amount of root won’t be able to keep all the leaves alive and the whole lot could die. Dig a hole where you want your new plant to grow and plant it at once, the longer it is out of the ground the more the roots will dry out, decreasing the chance of it growing. Water well and keep watering it in dry weather until it is producing new leaves and stems. Some experts suggest washing as much soil off the roots as possible before cutting the plant up, I have never done this! To divide large plants you may need to insert two garden forks back to back in the centre of the plant and pull them apart to break it apart.
Propagation by Burial
Don’t laugh, I am being serious. Plants such as heathers (calluna, erica), dwarf and small leaved rhododendron and hebe get to the stage where they have long woody stems with just a few leaves on the last few inches, if you bury them apart from the last inch or so, each stem should produce a new rooted plant. There are two ways to do this, you can dig up the plant and enlarge the hole so that when you put the plant back in it only the last inch of foliage sticks up out of the earth. Or you can leave the plant where it is and cover it with soil or compost so just the tips are showing as above. Don’t let the soil dry out. This is normally done in the spring, leave the plant buried until the autumn and by then you should have lots of new rooted plants that you only have to cut off of the parent plant and find a new place for.
In the photo at the top of the page, the bottom tray has loads of escallonia cuttings that I took about 6 – 8 weeks ago. I cut back my escallonia (evergreen shrub with pink flowers that bees love) as it was getting in the way and I thought I would take a few cuttings before the rest of the bits went off to the dump. All the cuttings I took were like the one in this photo on the left, only a couple of inches long. I stripped the lower leaves off so there were only three or four ones left and stuck it in the compost. About 90% of them have taken. I don’t cover them, use rooting compound or do any of the other things that you are supposed to do. They have two choices – live or die, I don’t usually even put them in their own tray, they normally get stuck in a pot which has something else growing in it. Escallionia makes a very good hedge and cheap, if you do do your own cuttings.
Many perennial plants like pinks (Dianthus) do need to be divided or renewed every few years as they get tired, overgrown or woody with not many flowers. I had a couple of them that were living in a gap between walls and are were in dire need of regeneration. As you can see mine in the photo have lots of duff stems with good bits on the end.
With pinks you don’t actually ‘cut’ them, you just pull the good bit off the duff bit, strip off the lower leaves and put it in some compost. They take very easily, as all the ones did that I took about a month ago, pictured in the top tray in the photo at the top of the page. Once you are sure your cuttings have roots and are growing well you can chuck the old plant. In case you were wondering what the other cuttings were next to the pinks, they are clematis montana. I have an enormous one growing where I want to build a mini greenhouse and it has to go, it is too big to transplant so I am hoping at least one of the cuttings will take so I can get rid of the parent plant and grow a new one somewhere else.
You can also increase the amount of things like raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries and perennial vegetables too.
You have nothing to lose by taking cuttings, if I accidentally break off a bit of a plant I often just shove it in a pot, it is amazing how often they do grow. I often forget where I have put them and months later find a nice strong plant growing somewhere unexpected.
There are loads more ways to increase plants depending on the plant and the stage of its growth including hardwood cuttings, leaf cuttings, root cuttings, layering and grafting. As I have not used any of these ways and never take cuttings by the book, I think it best I direct you to a site that will show you how it should be done! The RHS is always my first port of call if there is something I need to know and their propagation section is excellent.
Royal Horticultural Society – Propagation Help & Advice