For a lot of us, summer is a crossover period between different methods of plant propagation, where we slow down with seed sowing and start taking cuttings. It's still early enough in the year to take some softwood cuttings, but depending on where you live, most advice mentions 'semi-ripe' cuttings. Hopefully, I'll be able to explain what this means and recommend a few plants that are particularly good to take cuttings from at this time of year.
This year's new growth is starting to develop woody tissue at the base, hardening in preparation for winter; to be strong enough to carry next year's new growth. At this moment the tips of these shots are still bendable and nimble but can no longer be described as softwood. Until the whole shoot has hardened, it can be described as being semi-ripe.
Hebe cuttings, one of which has had its lower leaves removed ready for planting. Photo by Neil Bell
Types of semi-ripe cuttings
There are four different ways to take semi-ripe cuttings.
Basic is the same process that you would use with softwood cuttings. This entails cutting the stem just below a leaf joint to give a cutting between 10 and 15cm (4-6") long. Remove the lower leaves and pinch out the tip before placing in a container of free-draining cutting compost.
Check out our "How To" guide for softwood cuttings for a detailed guide.
Heel cuttings. You can get a heel cutting by taking a shoot from the parent plant with a small amount of the stem still attached. This heel will contain higher levels of 'auxins' - growth hormones that speed up the development of roots. This method is typically used for older plants or plants with pithy centres, such as elder.
Basal cuttings This where the shoot is cut away at the very base. The cut is made through the slight swelling where the shoot has emerged from the stem. Generally used on lupins and delphiniums in late spring to take cuttings from the crown at ground level. It can also be applied to plants such as Broom (Cytisus scoparius)
Mallet cuttings. This type of cutting involves cutting older stems, trimming them back to new side shoots, with only a small amount of older stem left on either side. More frequently used as a hardwood cutting method, semi-ripe cuttings with Mahonia leaves respond well.
The mallet cutting method was so named because the trimmed shoot with two small sections of older stem either side resembles a mallet.
To get the best 'take,' i.e. cuttings that develop roots and grow on to become plants, you need to have healthy, strong shoots to begin. Always check the plant you're planning to propagate from. Is it healthy and undamaged? You don't want to spend ages growing a young plant for it to perish from inherited disease. Make sure to also check for pest-free shoots.
Use clean, sharp tools and take cuttings in the early morning.
Stems will contain more fluid and won't wilt so quickly. However, if you can't plant them straight away, place them in a sealed container to stop them losing too much moisture. If you're cutting large-leaved plants, then trimming the leaves in half will also help reduce water loss.
Box can easily be propagated from semi-ripe cuttings. But make sure to remove any fallen leaves straight away to reduce the possibility of disease.
The advantage of summer cuttings is that we don't have to provide any additional heat for the roots to develop. In fact, hardy shrubs can be rooted directly into the soil, provided they have protection from drying winds and scorching sunlight. A cloche, small low polytunnel or shade netting can be used. The downside is they can take longer to root and may not be ready to move until the following spring.
The main reasons your cutting may not survive are fungal moulds and rots, especially if you have more then one cutting in a pot or container. At the first sign of any problem, remove any diseased cuttings and provide proper ventilation. This will help to reduce any excess moisture and hopefully prevent any further losses.
Plants to take cuttings from
These are just a few of the many plants that can be successfully propagated from at this time of year. For a slightly extended list, please check out our 'Plants for Summer Cuttings' collection which can be found in the plants' section of the Knowledge base.
If you've something in your garden (or a friend's or relative's) that you like and want to propagate, have a go. Nature doesn't stick to the rules, and so many things live when the books say they shouldn't. In my experience, I've either taken a lot and had loads of spares to rehome or lost everything and had to buy replacements from a nursery. But I'll always give it a go, and you should too!