How to take softwood cuttings
Spring is the best time of year to take cuttings from perennials such as Phlox, Sedum, Cat Mint and Aster which will flower later in the summer and early autumn. Giving these plants the ‘Chelsea Chop’ trim in May provides you with plenty of softwood material for cuttings so that you can use to replace old plants easily or simply add another of your favourites to the garden. Our guide to softwood cuttings takes you through the process, step-by-step.
The night before
If there are any plants in pots that you wish to take cuttings from, make sure these are well watered the night before.
Which stems to choose
Choose vigorous shoots that are ‘true to type’ so that your new plants will be even and very similar to the healthy and successful mother plant. You’re looking for ripening stems where the wood doesn’t have any blooms. If there are flowers, these will rot which will spread through the cutting – not the result you are looking for!
It’s best to collect your cuttings just before you are going to use them, popping them into a damp polythene bag labelled with the plant name. This will keep them fresh and ensure that water won’t be lost from the leaves. Using a sharp pair of secateurs or scissors, cut stems of approx. 10cm length.
How to make softwood cuttings
Make the cuttings by using the top 5-8cm of growth and cut on a leaf joint (node). This should be a clean cut that opens up the part of the plant that’s quick to heal and quick to root.
Take away the leaves from the lower half of the cutting with a knife or scissors, taking care not to damage the main stem. Leave the portion of the stem that will be in the soil bare to help stop the cutting from rotting. Plants with large leaves, such as Phlox and Penstemons, should have their upper leaves trimmed by half to prevent water loss whilst the cutting is rooting.
Give your softwood cuttings a head start – Professional gardeners often use rooting hormone powder to boost their chances of success with cuttings taking root. Simply dip the bare stem portion of the cutting into the powder and shake off the excess before planting.
How to plant your cuttings
If you are using pots to plant (strike) your cuttings, mix multi-purpose compost with grit or Vermiculite at roughly half and half quantities to ensure cuttings get good air and drainage. Using a shallow pot will avoid wasting compost. Remember to water well before planting.
Insert your cuttings into the pots, keeping cuttings from the same plant per pot because they root at different rates. Label your pots with the plant names and dates and cover with a propagator lid or polythene bag kept clear of the leaves to help prevent them from drying out.
Caring for your cuttings
Use a hand sprayer set on a fine mist to keep the leaves of the cuttings moist, if necessary, until they are rooted. The cuttings will soon show signs of rooting and will begin to grow away. Once the roots are seen at the base of the pot or coming through, they can be potted on individually into a small (9 cm) pot and grown on ready for planting out into the garden!