How to Propagate Shrub Cuttings

Softwood Cuttings Propagation: How to Create Beautiful Blooms

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If you have grand designs for your landscape, and a tight budget, you should seriously consider softwood cuttings propagation to help fill your empty spaces with vegetation and seasonal blooms. When I first moved into my house, I could see so much potential in the practically empty acreage. Pricing the number of shrubby ornamentals I wanted to fill the spaces added up more quickly than I expected.

After spending some time researching how to plant on a budget, I quickly became interested in propagating new plants from the existing plants I had on the property, as well as from the single plants I could afford. Of course, this takes a little bit of time and patience, but it is well worth trying, and also a great way to get your kids involved with simple gardening. You can save yourself quite a bit of money this way, especially if you have large spaces to fill, and it is quite satisfying to see your new plant take off and grow. Hopefully, by now you are wondering how to propagate softwood cuttings, as I’m going to explain to you below.

Types of Cuttings

First off, I think it is important to define the different types of cuttings you can make. This is important because this article is focused on softwood cutting propagation, and cuttings made at different times of the year all require a little bit of a different care in order to be successful. Softwood cuttings are the most likely to be successful next to Greenwood cuttings, hence why it is our focus.

Softwood Cuttings

These are cuttings taken from new spring and summer growth. They have not had enough time to mature or bear fruit, and are usually very distinct from the rest of the plant as they are soft and supple.

Greenwood Cuttings

Greenwood cuttings come from non-woody stems, such as from many annuals and garden blooming perennials. These are cuttings taken from the first year stems that have not yet matured fully. Many of these types of plants may actually propagate themselves if you drop pieces of the stem when trimming.

Semi-Ripe Cuttings

Midsummer and fall are when you would take a semi-ripe cutting as you want a branch that is still new for the season, flexible, but mature enough to snap easily if bent.

Hardwood Cuttings

For a hardwood cutting, you will want to wait until late fall or winter after the plant has gone dormant. From this, you can coax it back to life and influence it to root into a new plant.

Plants That Propagate the Best

Although you can make a go at just about any plant to carbon copy, some do better than others- and some prefer one seasonal method over another. There are a few favored plants that tend to do well with softwood propagation that you might want to try out first before attempting more finicky plants. I’ve provided a top ten list of plants that do well with softwood propagation to get started with below. You also should be aware that even despite your best attempts, not every plant will grow roots and take off. So, you should always have a few of each started in case of failure. You can always find a place for your survivors, gift them to neighbors or friends, or use them for trade on local gardening sights.

Perennial Garden Herbs

Lavender

Perennial garden herbs, such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, and sage are all excellent choices to propagate throughout your garden. Not only are they fragrant, but also serve many purposes in your kitchen and home as well. Take soft, 3 to 5-inch cuttings to plant.

Hydrangea

Hydrangea

Hydrangeas are popular for their colorful, large flowers, as well as their growing habitat. Having more than one mixed throughout your gardens provides bursts of brightness in unexpected areas. Take short 3 to 6 inch new shoots from existing branches to plant.

Roses

Roses

If you have a favorite rose you want to share, or place in other areas throughout your garden- and you have a healthy bush, to begin with, you can easily propagate more. Take a new, 6-inch cutting to begin with, and then follow the directions below!.

Grape Vines

Grape Vines

If you have the room for another of your favorite grape, then take advantage of creating a clone by propagating a cutting with 3 to 4 buds on it and planting it with only 2 buds exposed. Although many people swear by hardwood propagation, a healthy vine should have no problem giving up a few softwood cuttings for you to get started through the warmer seasons.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle is a sun-loving climber that blooms prolifically all summer with sweet smelling blooms. They provide excellent shade and can be easily propagated to new, 6 to 8 inch long shoots with at least 2 new leaves at the tip. You also can propagate from existing shoots using this method.

Forsythia

Forsythia

These bright yellow flowers are some of the first to herald in the spring and can be shaped to create tall, leafy garden hedges for the rest of the year. How to propagate shrub cuttings is easy, and begins with 4 to 6-inch cuttings from the tips of current growth to get started.

Azalea

Azalea

Azaleas are another early bloomer, that brightens your garden with spectacular hues of every color. Plus their glossy leaves provide excellent, rich greens through the rest of the year. Simply cut a 2 to 5-inch shoot from the new growth found along existing wood for propagation purposes.

Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly bushes are amongst my favorite plants as they attract just about every beneficial garden insect you can imagine. They are also super easy to grow from cuttings. All you need is a branch tip cutting at least 3 inches long.

Rose of Sharon

rose of sharon

These large bushes have showy, dish shape flowers related to tropical hibiscus. They can grow in a wide variety of zones, providing a touch of the exotic to otherwise cooler areas. A young shoot at least 8 inches long is all you need to create a new bush.

Lilac

A large lilac bush in full bloom shades a white fence.

The heady scent of lilacs has been favored for many years, and many gardens feel incomplete without at least one variety in bloom each spring. Simply cut a 3 to a 5-inch length that contains 2 to 3 nodes for planting.

Materials to Make a Softwood Cutting

power-drive-ratchet-pruning-shears            Small Potting Containers               Potting Mix Sand                   Root

You don’t need much to start on this project. It is incredibly inexpensive and requires only what you may already have for gardening around your house.

  • Sharp razor or pruning shears: be sure that you sterilize these before cutting with a bleach and water solution.
  • Potting mix suggested for your plant: depending on the needs of the plant you are propagating, you will want to ensure you are using what works best for root development. In some cases, this may be a soil-free mix.
  • Containers for your cuttings
  • Rooting Hormone: Although this is optional, it is incredibly budget friendly and well worth using as it helps influence and supports root growth.

Steps to Propagate Softwood Cuttings

The steps to propagate your cuttings are simple and easy to follow. Be sure your materials are clean and free from prior plantings (dirt, dust from storage, etc) to ensure the best possible environment for your new plant.

1. Prepare container in advance

pots-and-potting-soil

The steps to propagate your cuttings are simple and easy to follow. Be sure your materials are clean and free from prior plantings (dirt, dust from storage, etc) to ensure the best possible environment for your new plant.

2. Choose your cutting and test for softwood status

Cutting Stem

Short cuttings conserve energy, so be sure to follow the guidelines of your plant species to ensure you get the best 3 to 5 inch (average) cutting to get started. If you are unsure of which cutting is a true softwood, you can test a similar length in advance. Softwood cuttings will bend and then break. If they break immediately, or not at all, choose another area to cut from. You also should start more than one cutting in order to ensure a successful rooting.

3. Dip in rooting hormone

Dip

Although optional, this is highly recommended and provides the hormones plants can utilize to get their best start. First, pull off any of the lower leaves your cutting may have, and score the end of the cutting to allow for better coverage. It also helps plants put out roots more quickly than if they were allowed to on their own. It also helps increase the number of roots each stem puts out– providing a greater amount of nutrients and energy needed for plant growth.

4. Place container in the plastic bag

Tiered Mini Greenhouse

Propagate softwood cutting crave humidity and moisture. Although you don’t want to soak your soil you should keep them consistently moist, and place your plant in a small greenhouse, or plastic bag will help keep a high humidity and create an environment new growth craves. You will want to keep your plants covered as such until roots begin to develop.

5. Check for root development

Fresh germ ( seedling ). Isolation on a white background

Using rooting hormone will allow you to check for roots in as little as 3 to 4 weeks. If not used, you may want to wait until week 6 to 8. If you see strong root growth ( long enough to be sticking out the bottom of a seedling pot and holding soil ) then you can harden off your plant. If not, then place back in your pot and bag, and wait another week or so before checking again.

6. Harden off plants

Hardening of Plants

Hardening off your plants is the process that helps let your new rooted vegetation become strong enough for transplantation. All you have to do at this step is remove the plastic bag, and allow your plant to begin to get used the dryer environment it will be within. This allows the roots to strengthen and harden and makes your transition easier to a new pot.

7. Transplant to larger pots or protected spot in the garden

Woman's hands transplanting plant a into a new pot.

After a few days, you can either transplant your vegetation to a larger pot to allow it to mature or a protected nursery area within your garden. Depending on the type of plant, and how quickly it grows, you may want it to stay here for up to two years to allow good growth and development.

8. Transplant to a permanent location

young man transplanting a new plant in his garden

Once your plant is of size and strength, you can transplant it to its permanent location. Treat your plant the way you would as if you were taking a store bought plant home to plant. Be sure to provide a hole at least twice as large as the root ball, and mix your soils correctly, keeping them sufficiently moist to help with transplant shock. You also can add some Epsom salts to the soils to help with immediate nutrient uptake.

Tips for Successful Softwood Cutting Propagation

There are a couple of helpful hints you may want to consider prior to getting started to help with the propagation process and provide your cuttings with the best possible growing environment.

When to cut

Early morning is an excellent time to make your cuts as the plants are fully turgid without any loss of moisture due to the heat of the day. It also allows for less possibility of them becoming wilted, or ruined prior to planting. Cuts should be kept cool and moist prior to propagating fully. If there is any time lapse, wrap them in paper towels and keep in a cool, dark place.

Propagation media

Potting soil often keeps the roots too moist and can lead to rot. Instead, try using a mix of perlite, sand, vermiculite and/or a non-soil potting mix that provides drainage. You do want a moisture and support to begin growth, not necessarily to support maturity, as this will occur after the transplant.

Moisture

Although you do need a well-drained medium to plant within, it does need to be kept moister to allow the proper environment for the roots to take hold. Prior to planting be sure the entirety of the medium is moist, not just the surface and sides.

Light

Too much light will stress your plant, not enough light will cause roots to grow slowly. Diffused sunlight or a grow light more specific to blue wavelengths that support early growth and rooting is preferable.

Temperature

70 degrees Fahrenheit seems to be the sweet spot for best results. Too hot and you will have poor, spindly growth, too cold and it will slow or impede growth altogether. A variation of approximately 5 degrees in either direction should not be a problem.

Conclusion

Propagating your plants is an excellent way to copy your favorite vegetation to plant amongst your landscape, or share with other garden enthusiasts. It is easy to do, requires very little effort, and is extremely budget friendly. If you have a little patience, it is well worth the time it takes to allow for proper maturity, plus- plants you keep in pots can be moved into indoors through the winter months and placed under grow lights to influence longer seasonal growth! Hopefully, you’ve found this to be a helpful guide, and we’d love to hear if you have any suggestions or questions below. And, as always, please share!

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