Tag Archives: cuttings

Root for roots in late summer and early autumn cuttings!

First published by Rattan Direct on 13 July 2016.

Midsummer onwards is the time to take cuttings from some perennials, climbers, shrubs and trees. Stems of periwinkle, passion flower, hebe, box, bay and holly, for example, have now got six to eight weeks of new season’s growth under their belts and they are at the semi-ripe (or semi-hardwood) stage. Take a shoot between your fingers and bend it. If it’s pliable and hardening at the base, then it’s half-ripe and ready for you to take a cutting.

Box hedges, Greenway, Devon. Roots
Box hedges, Greenway, Devon. © Derek Harper and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) Licence.

Helping cuttings to grow roots

We want cuttings to produce roots as quickly as possible. That’s because roots anchor the plant in the soil, act like straws in seeking out and absorbing water and minerals from the soil, and store extra food for future use. Once this system is set up, then it’s time to for the cuttings to start growing strongly from the top again.

All plants have rooting hormones but gardeners sometimes also apply something extra in order to get a plant to produce more and denser roots. This increases the growth potential of the cutting, and so the plant’s chance of survival.

You could use commercially prepared hormone rooting compound or home prepared compounds such as willow tea  or soluble aspirin (whose active ingredient is also present in willow). Honey water (see link) made from natural (non-heated), dark honey has anti-bacterial properties and is said to help rooting. Cinnamon powder is said to act as a fungicide.

Anglesey black bee honey. Roots
Anglesey black bee honey. M K Stone.

How to take semi-ripe cuttings


Get your cuttings mixture organised: buy it or make it yourself from half all-purpose compost and half sharp sand or vermiculite. Fill some 9cm (3in) pots.

Select your semi-ripe cuttings from this season’s growth. Suitable cutting material will be available from midsummer to mid-autumn. Choose good-looking typical shoots which, for preference, haven’t flowered.


Cut just below a leaf to give you a stem about 15-20cm (6-8in) long.

Strip off any surplus leaves carefully at the bottom of the cutting. Nip off the growing tip if it’s very soft, and cut any large leaves in half to reduce water loss. This will give you a prepared cutting about 10-15cm (4-6in) long.

Apply your chosen rooting hormone, anti-bacterial or anti-fungal agent to the cut.


Insert about 5cm (2in) of cutting into the pot. Water well and allow to drain.

Place the cuttings in a greenhouse or cold frame, away from direct sunshine but not dark. Or you could cover pots with a plastic bag and put in a warm, light position, out of direct sunlight.

And afterwards

Remove excess moisture from inside the plastic bag but keep the compost damp.

The cuttings should root in six to eight weeks. Then feed them with a general liquid feed for a couple of weeks. Pot into single pots once the roots are well established and they have started to grow at the top.

Watch this Gardeners’ World video to be sure.

What actually works?

I’ve had my share of cuttings failures. This year I’ll be running a small experiment with four pots: one without anything extra, one with commercially produced hormone rooting powder, one with soluble aspirin, one with honey water. Oh, make that five, to include one with powdered cinnamon. I’ll let you know how I get on. [October 2016. Edited to add that soluble aspirin is way out ahead, followed by ‘nothing extra’. Interesting.]

A nurse dropping an aspirin pill into a glass of water; advertising soluble aspirin. Roots
A nurse dropping an aspirin pill into a glass of water; advertising soluble aspirin. Colour lithograph by M. Cliot, ca. 1910 ©Wellcome Images, made available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0




Take cuttings and be part of the spring/summer surge

First published by Rattan Direct on 1 June 2016.

Benefit from the impetus of the ‘May flush’

The ‘May flush’ is that wonderful swelling of energy when everywhere begins to burst enthusiastically with fresh new growth. Over these past few weeks I’ve been travelling regularly across North Wales and North West England, a complete and utter delight as the hedgerows, verges and front gardens have rolled past in mile after mile of foamy abundance. The hawthorn (may), cow parsley and mountain ash (rowan) have all been glorious in cream. The forget-me-nots have passed by in a blur of indistinct blue. The lilacs have been variously cream, dusty mauve and deeper red. Cream is always my favourite but I’m coming round to the other colours. They are all wonderful in the right place.

May (hawthorn) blossom lining the hedgerows at Hodge Lane, Hartford Junction, Cheshire. Take softwood cuttings at this time of year.
May (hawthorn) blossom lining the hedgerows at Hodge Lane, Hartford Junction, Cheshire, between the bridges. © Copyright Jo Lxix and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s had elements of the road movie. Travelling, travelling. Watching that amazing spring surge but somehow not being part of it.

But you and I can be part of it. The May flush has produced lots and lots of soft and sappy growth, ideal for softwood cuttings. It’s easy to take cuttings and grow your own plants. Doing this, somehow or another, you feel more part of what’s going on. No longer a watcher but a player.

Softwood cuttings

Softwood cuttings are taken from young, soft shoots early in the growing season before they ripen and harden. There is such energy in these cuttings that they will usually root very readily.

Taking a few small cuttings usually does no harm at all to a vigorous plant and the gentle pruning (which gives some shaping at the same time) may benefit it. When I was out and about last week I begged a few slips of the exotic French lavender from some acquaintances. This was my ‘recipe’.

French lavender. Propagate by softwood cuttings.
French lavender, Lavandula stoechas, looking good in Sardinia, Italy. Copyright Hans Hillewaert, licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Recipe for softwood cuttings such as lavender

You will need:

1 very sharp knife or nail scissors (or a sharp fingernail will do) so you don’t crush the stem

6 slips (small shoots) of very young growth

13cm / 5” pot (terracotta for preference as it allows cuttings and potting compost to breathe)

Some open, well-draining compost (something like half potting compost and half horticultural sand)

1 or 2 see-through plastic bags big enough to cover the pots, to prevent the cuttings from drying out.

What to do:

  1. Nip off six slips of very young soft growth about 10-13 cm / 4-5” long. Put them straight into the plastic bag and fold over the top.
  1. One at a time, take the slips from the bag and cut just below a leaf node (where the leaf is joined to the stem) where rooting hormones are most active, so they are about 5-10 cms /2-4” long. Cut at an angle as that will increase the area for rooting. Remove lower leaves, leaving an inch or so of stem bare; this prevents rot and encourages root formation at the node. Cut any large top leaves back by half, to prevent drying out.
  1. Using a pen or pencil, make six planting holes to accommodate two leaf nodes or about half the depth of your cutting, very close to the edge of pot. Drop in the cuttings and firm soil in place around them.
  1. Put the plastic bag over the top of the pot, possibly secured by an elastic band. Make sure the bag doesn’t touch the cuttings; you may need to support it with twigs, or a bit of metal coat hanger.
  1. Put in a warm place out of direct sunlight. A north or north-west facing window sill where the light and temperature is steady is ideal.
  1. Remove the plastic bag for 10 minutes or so every day to allow air to circulate and reduce risk of mould.
  1. Watch for new growth and, after a few weeks, test for roots by pulling gently on each slip. If the cutting has rooted (‘taken’), then pot it into its own 10cm / 4” pot. When the roots have filled that, either pot on again or harden off and transplant into the garden.

Watch Monty Don take rosemary softwood cuttings for Gardeners’ World.

My French lavender cuttings are looking fairly happy and I hope they’ll have rooted in three or four weeks. I’ve also taken some cuttings of other lavender to replace plants lost to winter frosts, and some rosemary for a small and fragrant hedge just where the front gate swings open. Later in the year I’ll take some pelargonium cuttings from a plant with a particularly lovely deep red flower.