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Tips to Propagate from Stem Cutting

Eventually, every cultivator needs to have a go at proliferating his own plants, maybe to build a specific most loved to provide for companions or to supplant an old plant that has outgrown its dispensed space. Numerous nursery plants can be engendered with at least care and gear, however a couple require uncommon conditions and give a test to amateur and master alike.

Plants can be spread in an assortment of routes: by seeds, cuttings, layering, division, suckers, balances, bulbils and by joining. The initial four have the most pertinence here and of these stem and leaf cuttings are the least demanding of all.

Stem cuttings

Stem cuttings can be made in different routes, two of which are usually utilized: these are nodal and heel cuttings. Nodal cuttings are short lengths of youthful stems cut neatly underneath a bud. They might be delicate youthful tips with the developing point included, or firmer stem segments cut above or underneath a bud (or alleviation if an awful is not unmistakable). Heel cuttings are best taken from a portion of the more woody plants and are made by tenderly pulling short side shoots, or cutting them from the guardians stem, for each situation with a fragment or heel of the more seasoned stem connected.

Depending upon the size and vigour of the plant being propagated, stem cuttings may be from 3 to 10 cm long. For example, a wiry, small leave plant like Winter heath needs a cutting only 3 to 4 cm long, while larger leaved, thick stemmed plants such as ivy tree must be 8 to 10 cm long. When the cuttings have been trimmed to their right length, remove all the leaves from the bottom third to a half ready for inserting into the routing medium. If the remaining leaves are large or longer, as in Allamanda or codiaeum, remove the top third to a half of each blade with sharp scissors, knife or razor blade. This will prevent undue water loss from the cuttings.

Growth controlling substances known as hormones are responsible for the routine of cuttings. A certain amount of hormone is usually present within the cuttings, but sometimes there is too little to stimulate root growth. Artificial hormones are now available as routing powders or liquids and can be used, to the maker’s instructions, to assist the process. Basically a prepared cutting is dipped into the hormone just before inserting in the compost. Most of the preparations sold also have a fungicide added to prevent rotting.

Although a variety of mixtures can be used as rooting media, coarse sand, either by itself or mixed with an equal part of bulk of peat moss, takes some beating. The sand must be really coarse with plenty of particles of 3 mm in diameter. If peat is added this should be passed through a 6 mm sieve. The average run of cuttings root very successfully in the 50-50 mixture of peat and sand while as a general rule, the most difficult a plant is known to be to route, and the less peat should be used. Indeed there is much to be said for always using pure sand, but it has the disadvantage that it dries out very quickly and as it contains no nutrient, cuttings must be removed and potted as soon as they route. Cuttings in the peat mixture can remain for several weeks after routing if it is not convenient to pot them at the time. Apart from being well aerated, peat and washed sand are relatively pest and disease free. This is an important requisite of the rooting medium and if loam or garden soil is used in a propagating mix they should be heat sterilized first. Pots or other containers should also be scrubbed, ideally with a sterilizing agent added to the water.

There is no correct distance apart at which to set the cuttings, but ideally the leaves of each cutting should just overlap those of its neighbor. Alternatively, plant them half the length of each cutting apart, e.g. 5 cm cuttings should be put in 2 to 3 cm apart. If they are planted too close, disease could spread rapidly and the root systems built up by each cutting will tangle together and make separation for potting difficult. On the other hand to set them too far apart will not be using the propagating space to best advantage and a less humid atmosphere will be maintained around them with fewer leaves to give off water vapor.

Once they are inserted, it is advisable to spray with a fungicide such as Benlate or Captan to prevent such diseases as botrytis from gaining a foothold. All the cuttings once in place, with the exception of the succulents, will need to be kept in a humid atmosphere. This is easily achieved by placing them beneath glass, rigid plastic covers or polythene plastic sheeting. Small numbers of cuttings can be placed into pots, larger numbers in pans or boxes. These can be covered with a polythene bag or sheeting supported on ribs of galvanized wire, which can be made from wire clothes hangers. Even better are the rigid, clear plastic covers of various sizes now available, which are made to fit plastic boxes and pots. These are ideal for small scale propagating.

For those who wish to take propagation more seriously, much larger units can be purchased or built, some of them with built in electric heating. These heating units usually take the form of soil warming cables. These are either attached to a thermostat which can be set to maintain, automatically a heat of about 21°. The cables can be covered with several inches of rooting medium and the cuttings inserted direct, or alternatively about 2.5 cm of sand can be put over the cables and the pots and boxes of cuttings stood in this. In some models the wiring is sealed into the plastic bottom of the propagator and is not visible. There are also small, custom-made heating units upon which a seed tray can be stood. Bottom heat, as it is known, speeds the rooting of many sorts of cuttings and insures a higher percentage of success. For most cuttings 18 to 21° is adequate though a few species root well only if it is higher, about 24 to 26°. The siting of a propagator case must be done with care.

Adequate light is absolutely essential, but direct sunlight will raise the temperature inside the cover excessively and result in severe losses. Unless a naturally shaded north side or end of the greenhouse is available, shading will be needed: this can be as simple as several layers of muslin or net curtaining. As an alternative, the grass or plastic covers can be shaded with white wash or one of the commercial greenhouse formulations. If plastic sheeting is used, then the white opaque cheating can be highly recommended. Small mist propagation units are now available for the amateur. Though relatively expensive as yet, they are very efficient and provide endless interest for the dedicated grower. Instead of using glass or plastic to maintain a humid atmosphere, a mist-fine jet of water keeps the cutting is fresh. No shading is necessary and the leaves can take all the sun’s light and energy for photosynthesis. As a result, cuttings route more rapidly, even those known to be difficult. Weaning the rooted cuttings does present problems with some of the more difficult subjects.

The cuttings of some plants can be easily rooted in water, examples being: impatiens, fuchsias, wandering jew, common ivy, Pilea, Gardenia, Hibiscus, Oleander, African violets and Begonia. Place the cuttings so that their bases are suspended in water not touching the bottom of the container. This can be done by wedging a small bunch of cuttings in the mouth of the jar with cotton wool. A piece of charcoal will keep the water sweet while routing takes place. Change the water every 7 to 10 days. When the roots are 2 1/2 to 5 cm long, the cuttings can be planted and placed in a shady place for a few days to recover. One disadvantage of this water propagation method is that the roots tend to be very brittle and potting must be done with great care. Depending upon the species, cuttings take anything from 1 to 6 weeks to root and the first sign of rooting is usually a marked resumption of growth with young leaves developing at the tip of each cutting and sometimes from the leaf axils as well.

Once this stage has been reached, the cuttings will need to be potted into a suitable soil mixture. Those in pots should be knocked out in en masse and carefully separated: those rooted directly into a propagating case must be gently levered out with a narrow trowel, widger or wooden label. All but the largest of rooted cuttings are best started off in 7 cm pots and for these it is worth noting that yogurt containers or similar pots with two or three holes made in the bottom are excellent substitutes. There appears to be no real advantage of plastic pots over clay ones or vice versa, though generally speaking, plastic pots need watering less as there is no evaporation through the porous sides. It is claims that the porous clay pot provides a better aerated root run and while this may be true for a few plants such as epiphytic orchids and bromeliads, even these plants will grow well enough in plastic containers. Having said this, the author must admit to a personal preference for clay pots and feels that they still have the edge on plastic when it comes to growing a really good specimen plant.

Once plotted, return the rooted cuttings to the same position and temperature for 1 to 2 weeks after this they can be placed in the same sort of conditions that the parent plants occupy. When the young plants are nearly grown, they will need moving on to larger pots. This may be anything from 1 to 3 months after the initial potting, much depending upon the vigour and speed of growth of the specimens being propagated. One of the surest ways of telling when a plant needs potting on is to tap it out of its pot gently and examine the route ball. If there is a close network of young routes around the outside of the ball, then it is ready for moving into a larger container.

The size of the pot to choose for this potting on again depends upon the speed of growth of the plant concerned. Most greenhouse plants grow fairly fast in their early stages and are best moved on two pot sizes. For example, a plant in a 7.5 cm pot should be moved into a 13 cm container. Slow-growing plants such as cyclamen are best moved on only one pot size at a time. Even when fully grown, few will need a larger size than 20 cm to grow well, and many of the smaller kinds will be happy in 10 to 13 cm containers. Only when really big specimens of the long-lived or shrubby plants are wanted will pots over 25 cm is needed.