How Do You Propagate a Plant from a Cutting?
Despite all the difficulties that can be experienced with various techniques to propagate a plant, the cutting technique still remains one of the easiest and cost effective techniques to produce a number of new plants, whether that be for commercial or domestic production.
The home gardener will find that cuttings are easy, time effective and cheap. The rewards in watching a plant produce roots and develop into a new plant encourages them to propagate even more plants and share them with friends etc.
Commercial production nurseries know the benefits of the cutting technique. Their profit and existence relies upon using the right technique for the right plant. Improving their techniques can increase production and hence increase profit. Growing plants by cuttings can be a very rewarding exercise, and for commercial propagators may be the most economically viable method for many plants.
How to grow a Cutting
Most cuttings are pieces of stem, often with some leaves left at the top of the stem. Some plants can be grown from cuttings of other tissue (e.g. a piece of leaf, or section of root, or even part of a bulb, with no stem at all).
Cuttings are usually planted into a mix of materials such as sand, peat moss, perlite, rockwool or vermiculite. Part of the tissue is usually below the surface of the mix, and some exposed above the surface.
The cuttings should then be kept moist, and other conditions such as light, temperature, humidity and hygiene should be kept appropriate to the requirements of the variety of plant being grown.
Other things can be done to enhance development of the cutting, such as speeding the rate of growth, or improving the percentage of cuttings that succeed. Chemical hormones may be applied to stimulate the formation of either roots, or foliage/shoot growth. Pesticides or disinfectants may be used to prevent diseases or pests. Heating may be used to warm the root zone (i.e. bottom heat), to encourage faster growth of roots; or periodic misting of the foliage to cool the top of the plant, or prevent dehydration of the foliage.
Getting the Best Results
If you want to get the best results from your cutting propagation, you really need to pay attention to selecting the appropriate technique for the time of year, and type of plant you are growing. Different types of plant tissues have varying abilities to sprout roots and shoots and turn into a new plant.
The ease with which particular tissue can grow as a cutting depends upon the chemical and physical make up of that tissue. These physical and chemical properties can be extremely variable at different times of the year, under different environmental conditions, and even between different varieties of the same plant species; let alone from one part of a plant to another. To become more and more successful at cutting propagation; you need to try and understand these subtle differences. In time, a good cutting propagator can develop an ability to make informed guesses as how to propagate a wide range of different plants.
Cuttings are commonly classified broadly in two different ways:
According to the type of plant tissue which is used.
Example: A leaf cutting is a cutting made from just a leaf, or part of a leaf; and a stem cutting is made from a piece of stem.
According to the age or tenderness of the tissue being used.
Example: Softwood cuttings come from tissue that is soft; whereas hardwood cuttings come from harder wood, which is older. The age of the wood is generally related to seasonal growth characteristics, for example, softwood cuttings are commonly taken in spring after the first flush of new spring growth, however they also be taken at other times of the year if suitable plant growth is available.
The classification of cuttings is not always the same from country to country, or even place to place within a country. Terms used in one place are sometimes different to those used elsewhere. The term “tip” cutting, for example, is often used to describe a cutting taken from the end of a stem. This in effect is normally, but not always, the same as a softwood cutting.
Some cuttings might contain different types of tissue in the one cutting. A heel cutting, for example, can contain wood that has grown recently at the top (still soft); wood that is semi -hard in the middle, and a small section of hard wood (from last years growth) attached at the bottom.
Stem Cutting Techniques
A section of stem, usually (but not always) with some leaves left on the top, but lower leaves removed. There should generally be a node (this is a point at which a bud emerges) at the bottom of the cutting and at least another node at the top of the cutting. There may be one, or several nodes in between.
Stem cuttings are usually classified as softwood, semi-hardwood or hardwood.
These are sometimes also called soft-tip cuttings. They are stem cuttings taken from new growth that is soft. This commonly occurs during spring, but may occur at other times of the year if suitable material is available. Common softwood cuttings include many common temperate climate shrubs including Myrtus, Hebe, Nerium, Magnolia, Weigelia, Spirea, and Maples; plus an extensive range of tropical foliage plants.
Note: Semi-softwood cuttings are taken from tissue that is in the process of changing from soft to semi-hardwood.
These are sometimes called half-ripe cuttings, semi-ripe or green wood cuttings.
Semi-hardwood cuttings are usually taken in late summer or early autumn, when recent spring growth is in the process of hardening. Many commonly grown shrubs are propagated this way, including; Azalea, Camellia, Pittosporum, Grevillea, Euonymus, Prostanthera, Boronia, Ilex, and many Australian native shrubs.
Sometimes called ripe cuttings, they are usually taken in winter from old growth that is hard. Common hardwood cuttings include tip growth from conifers (e.g. Juniperus or Chamaecyparis), or sections of stem from deciduous plants (e.g. Rosa, Tamarix, Cydonia or Punica, Vitis, Ficus and many deciduous plants).
Stem cuttings can be taken from different parts of a stem. They might be taken from the very tip, with the terminal (end) bud left attached (or in some cases removed). They might be taken from sections of stem lower down, with the soft growing tip removed. In this case, several cuttings might be made from one single section of stem.
Another alternative is to pull a short side shoot, from a stem, with some older tissue still attached to the base. This older tissue is called a heel.
Some plants will even grow from sections of old stem (i.e. wood that is 2 or more years old.
These are leafy stem cutting taken from a soft wooded (non-woody) plant such as a Chrysanthemum, Aster, Coleus, Dianthus, Geranium, Pelargonium and many perennials & herbs. These can be taken virtually at any time of the year.
Stem cutting taken from the growing tip of a plant. Softwood cuttings are often tip cuttings. This plant material is very soft and prone to limp quickly (e.g. Weigela).
A stem cutting of 1 year old wood which has attached to the base, a small section of two year old wood. This section of older wood is called a heel. Normally prepared by carefully pulling off side shoots from a small branch or stem. The torn section is then trimmed neatly with a pair of secateurs or a knife (e.g. Abelia, Cotinus, Actinidia)
This is a stem cutting without a heel, where the base of the cutting is made as a cut, just below a node (i.e. where the leaf joins the stem).
A single node cutting (also called leaf bud cutting) utilises a single node and a leaf as part of the cutting. The node may have one or two buds depending on the species being propagated.
Examples of plants grown by single bud node cuttings include: Vitis, Magnolia, Passiflora, Camellia. Double bud nodes plants include: Lonicera, Clematis, Pandorea.
Double node cuttings are made from plants where two leaves emerge at the same point along the stems length, but on opposite sides of the stem. The cutting retains two pairs of buds that are opposite each other. Double node cuttings are popular for climbing plants in that if one bud fails to shoot, the other might succeed. Lonicera, Clematis, Jasminum are commonly propagated by these methods.
Stem cutting where the base of the cutting is made at the point where the young shoot joins the older branch. At this point there is often some swelling in the stem. The basal cutting does not necessarily contain any older wood, as does the heel cutting. Plants that benefit from this type of cutting treatment include Acer, Cornus, Prunus.
A small section of cane from the plant, containing only one or two nodes, and no leaves is inserted horizontally (instead of vertically like most cuttings are normally done); with a bud showing just above the surface of the media. This is used with plants such as Saccharum (Sugar Cane), Cordyline, Dracaena and Diffenbachia where it is difficult to obtain large quantities of cutting material. Heating & misting are usually essential for commercial success.
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