Gardening is not only an enjoyable hobby, it can supplement our diet, lowering our grocery bill. Like any hobby, gardening can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be – in fact, it can be free. Last week we looked at seed saving as a way to garden for free, this week we will look at taking cuttings.
You can propagate an entire garden with cuttings from plants that you see around the neighbourhood, but be sure to ask permission before snipping away at the neighbours garden. The best types of plants for an ornamental garden are local natives as these will best suit your climate and growing conditions and encourage native wildlife; your local council will be able to provide information regarding native plants.
Before taking cuttings you will need a sharp, clean pair of secateurs or scissors, a pot or recycled container from the kitchen to put the cuttings in, some soil – seed raising mix is good, and if you like some rooting hormone powder but this is optional. As cuttings are susceptible to disease and fungal infections, you want to make sure that your soil, containers and secateurs are clean. An alternative to rooting powder is a little honey on the rooting end, as this is a powerful anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.
There are three types of cuttings, softwood, semi-hardwood and hardwood. Other plants can strike from a leaf, or are better divided at the root clump.
Softwood cuttings are the easiest to strike. Softwood cuttings include many house plants, perennials and shrubs. The best time to take softwood cuttings is in the spring and early summer.
To take a softwood cutting, choose the new growth of the plant and look for young, firm but flexible shoots without fruit, flowers or seeds. You want to keep you cuttings moist, so the early morning is often a good time for taking cuttings and if you’re out for a walk, take a bag with some damp paper towel to keep the cuttings moist.
Once you are ready to plant your cuttings, moisten the soil in your container, then trim the leaves from the lower half of the stem of the cuttings. Dip the end into rooting hormone if using then stick the stem into the soil. You can put quite a lot of cuttings into one pot. As the plant no longer has roots from which to get moisture, it’s important to keep the plant humid and moist by making a little greenhouse around the plant. This can be done by placing the cut end of an empty soft drink bottle over the pot or by placing sticks around the side of the pot and placing a plastic bag over them securing with a rubber band or string. Place your cuttings in a shady spot and ensure that they don’t dry out. Once roots appear (check after two to three weeks), they are ready for replanting.
Taking semi-hardwood cuttings is similar to softwood cuttings, but are usually taken later in summer from more mature plants or evergreens. Semi hardwood cuttings will take longer to root than softwood cuttings.
Hardwood cuttings are pieces of stem from deciduous trees, taken during late autumn/ early winter when the plant is dormant. Take cuttings approximately 25cm/10inches long with four to six nodes on each stem (similar to the picture above). Make a slanting cut at the bottom below the nodes and a cross cut just below the top node. The key here is not to put the cutting in the container upside down, so make sure to stick it in the soil slant cut down. Dip the end in hormone powder if using and plant the cuttings in the soil about one third down. As with softwood cuttings, create a little hot house with a plastic container. Keep warm, but out of direct sun in the hotter months. Hardwood cuttings take a lot longer than softwood cuttings to strike (up to 1 year).
Plants like African Violets and Begonias are better propagated from leaf cuttings. To take leaf cuttings, pick a healthy leaf, remove the stalk as close to the leaf as possible, slice across the veins on the back of the leaf taking care not to cut all the way through the leaf, and place the leaf flat, bottom down onto moistened soil. Pin the leaf down with toothpicks and prepare a little hot house as with the softwood cuttings above. Keep moist. The plant is ready to transplant when each small plant growing from the leaf has two of their own leaves.
For more in depth information on taking cuttings check out these websites:
- Easy Guide with photos
- Backyard Gardener
- Lets Go Gardening
- Australian Native Plant Society
- Master Gardener Plant Propagation Guide – includes info on all cutting types as well as grafting and seed collecting.
In Part Three, I’ll look at ways to get the rest of the gardening paraphernalia for free – soil, compost, pots and water.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.