Ideal time to take cuttings of shrubs


GARDENING: Readers' questions and a whole host of horticultural jobs from Brian Kidd

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Mid-July is the ideal time to take cuttings of your favourite shrubs because the shoots we need to remove have newly-formed leaves.

By now the leaves which grew in April have become mature, so that once the shoots are removed they are less likely to wilt.

Quite a lot of shrubs are propagated by carefully pulling side shoots off the main stems so that they have a heel.

Even treasures like Camellia, Pieris Azaleas, heathers and yes, even Daphnes, root well if this method is used.

What about others? The answer is that if they can be removed with a heel, they will root easily.

Cuttings about 3-4 inches long are required and only the top pair of leaves and growing tip are left intact.

We simply look at the base of the cutting and look where the woody part is and the piece of green bark is cut off with a sharp knife because it will rot if not removed.

As soon as the cutting has been prepared, the tip sends down rooting hormones to the base because it actually wants to root. We gardeners often use a root hormone compound to assist Mother Nature.

Conditions are important to be successful. The most suitable compost is one formulated for seed sowing because it contains some phosphoric acid, quite often Superphosphate.

But if we add 20 per cent extra sharp sand and mix well, this adds air to the compost and ensures it is well drained. It is also a good idea to put about a quarter-of-an-inch of sharp sand on the surface of the pot.

The cuttings are inserted around the edge of a 3-inch diameter pot with a dibber. As the cuttings are inserted, the sharp sand on the surface falls into the base of the hole.

The cuttings are inserted really firmly and that extra layer does just that.

A seed tray will hold several small pots and a plastic dome is used to keep the atmosphere moist. A sheet of newspaper over the top of the dome will provide shade – quite important because hot sunshine causes the leaves to wilt, whereas shade improves the success rate.

It is important to keep the compost moist with clean water and cuttings will root in 3-4 weeks. What a thrill! I still find this pleasing even though I have been taking cuttings since I was an apprentice.

The very first batch of cuttings I ever took was 100 ivy-leafed geraniums. These can be taken at any time during the summer, but not as heeled cuttings.

The final cut is made just below a node and only the top pair of leaves and the tip remain.

Well, every one rooted and I recorded it in my apprentice’s diary.

I told my superior at the time and all he said was: ‘Ivy-leafed geraniums root like weeds.’