Most gardeners buy the shrubs that decorate their gardens as established plants… and pay quite dearly for the service. But did you know that you can grow your own from cuttings … and that it’s surprisingly easy as well? And, of course, it costs almost nothing, other than a smidgen of rooting hormone and a bit of potting soil.
A Midsummer Activity
You can take cuttings from woody plants at different stages, but when the plant is at the softwood stage, that is, when the stem is neither soft and green nor hard and fully woody, is the best time for most. This will likely be in early to mid-summer in most climates. Usually, if you bend the stem and it snaps, it’s a sign it’s out of the green stage and is at the right stage for taking cuttings.
Use pruning shears to snip off a stem about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long. It should have at least 3 or 4 nodes (points where leaves are joined to the stem). If possible, choose a stem with neither flower buds or flowers, but if there are any, remove them. The angle of the cut is not nearly as important as you may have been told: anywhere between 45 and 90 degrees is just fine.
Remove all leaves on the bottom 4 inches (10 cm) or so of the stem. Apply a rooting hormone to the lower end and slip the cutting into a small pot filled with slightly moist potting soil, making sure at least two nodes are covered with soil. Water lightly.
Cuttings root best under high humidity, so cover the pot and young cutting with a transparent bag or mini-greenhouse and set it in a warm, well-lit location, but free of direct sun (to avoid overheating). Because you’ll be likely doing this in summer, you can root the cutting indoors or out. After a few weeks, you’ll see new leaves appear and that’s a sign the cutting has rooted.
You can then remove the bag or mini-greenhouse and acclimatize it to outdoor conditions.
Your young shrub is probably still too small for use in the landscape, so give it a year or two to put on a bit of height. Many gardeners keep a corner of the vegetable garden for just that purpose. You can either plant in the garden or keep it in a pot as it gains in height and number of branches.
Shrub cuttings: so easy to do and … so inexpensive! You’ll ask yourself later why you haven’t always been starting shrubs that way!