With spring just around the corner, it’s time to take cuttings of overwintering annuals. Photo: gardenofeaden.blogspot.com
If you’re like me, early last fall you brought in cuttings of several garden annuals—pelargoniums, begonias, impatiens, coleus, cupheas, etc.—to overwinter. Or maybe you brought in cuttings of herbs or even vegetables (sometimes I save a special pepper or tomato, especially if I’m not sure I’ll be able to find seed).
I always bring in two of the same plant, just in case: the heir and the spare. They soon root on my windowsill or under lights and grow as indoor plants for the winter. Some even bloom indoors, although more lightly than in the garden, adding beauty to practicality.
The idea is to keep these frost-tender plants alive and well in the warmth of the home over the fall and winter months so they can be reused in the garden (or in containers on the balcony) come spring. By growing only two, I make sure they don’t take up too much space from September to March. Doubly so, because I pinch them occasionally to stimulate denser growth and keep them from overgrowing the little space I do allow them. But that’s about to change now.
Time to Grow!
Because March, in most climates, is the month when you take cuttings of your cuttings. Yes, even though they were babies just a few months ago, they’re now well rooted and, if you’ve pinched them, now have several to many branches. Each branch can be harvested and rooted. And although this leaves the mother plant looking like little more than a stub, guess what? She’ll soon sprout new growth.
So, what with the heir and the spare growing back from the base and 5 or 6 cuttings rooting from each plant, I soon have plenty of plant material to fill my gardens and containers.
Helpful Hint: Starting cuttings from cuttings is not only practical, but very economical. Considering how much annuals cost these days ($5 or 6 per plant, often more!), if I bought the same few hundred plants in a garden center in individual pots … well, I simply couldn’t afford to. Use the cash you save to take a camping trip or give yourself a special gift: you deserve it!
Taking cuttings of cuttings of annuals is pretty basic. Very few are woody plants (fuchsias and lantanas being exceptions) and so rooting hormone is rarely required. And all you need is potting soil, pots (which you can recycle), some sort of mini-greenhouse (also recyclable) and space with plenty of light.
Here’s a quick resume:
- Premoisten the potting mix by pouring it into a bucket or bowl, adding tepid water and stirring. You’ll want it just barely moist, like a wrung-out sponge.
- Fill the number of pots you need with growing mix. Each must have a drainage hole
- Using a pencil or pen, punch a hole into the potting soil in the center of the pot.
- With a sharp knife or pruning shears, cut a healthy stem with at least three nodes and preferably four or five (a node is the spot on the stem where leaves are attached or used to be attached).
- Remove any flowers and flower buds (they would just sap the new plant’s energy). Also remove the lower leaves to free up some bare stem.
- Pinch the tip of most cuttings. This will stimulate branching and better bloom later on.
- Slip the cutting, bottom end pointing down, of course, into the hole you previously prepared, up to the second or third node*. Gently press the soil down and around the cutting so it’s held upright.
*If you need to add rooting hormone to a woody or difficult-to-root cutting, apply it to the cut stem just before you insert it into the growing mix.
- Cover the pot with a transparent dome or plastic bag, creating a mini-greenhouse of high humidity, conducive to rooting.
- Place the pot in a well-lit spot, but away from direct sunlight, and at fairly warm temperatures: 70–75°F (21–24°C).
- Now, wait patiently. Some cuttings root in only 4 to 7 days, but most will take two or three weeks, even more than a month for woody plant cuttings. No watering or indeed any other care will be needed as long as the cuttings are inside their mini-greenhouse.
- When you see new leaves start to appear, usually a sign that the plant has rooted, give the cutting a bit of a tug. It if resists, it has roots and you can remove the mini-greenhouse. Do so gradually over 3 to 4 days to give the plant a chance to adapt to drier air.
- You may need to move the pots to brighter light. Most will want full sun or its equivalent at this point.
- From now until planting out, your cuttings (now independent plants) will need to be watered regularly and fertilized occasionally. Some might need pinching.
- When the weather is warm enough, start acclimatizing your plants to outdoor conditions: 2 or 3 days in the shade, 2 or 3 days in partial shade, 2 or 3 days in the sun.
- Plant the former cuttings into containers or directly into the garden.
And there you go! You’ve successfully produced dozens if not hundreds of garden plants from just a few cuttings brought indoors the previous fall. Give yourself a pat on the back!
Finding More Space
Admittedly, finding space as the number of cuttings increases becomes a main concern. Especially since you’ll likely also be starting all sorts of plants from seed at the very same season. And since all of the above plants will need light—good light—space likely will be a premium!
So, I essentially commandeer all the sunny window ledges in the house, tables and cardboard boxes acting as tables sprout below the windows; plus I bring into use decades-old fluorescent lights (modern gardeners could use LED grow lights) in my basement that only get fired up a few weeks each year. Plus, I use my cold frame while two seasonal greenhouses warmed only by sunlight are set up in the garden for those plants adapted to cooler conditions.
You can consider similar ways of finding space for your cuttings and seedlings.
Taking cuttings of your cuttings: every gardener should be doing it!
When propagating cuttings indoors, how much light should the cuttings receive from LED grow lights? For comparison, I keep them on for 12 hours/day when starting vegetables and flowers from seed (per the manufacturer’s instructions). Should I expose new cuttings to that much light? Or cover the humidity domes with shade cloth?
The same amount as for seedlings. In both cases, you’re trying to stimulate growth, so need good light.
I’ve used the clear plastic domed containers that cakes are packaged in at the grocery store as mini-greenhouses. They work great. Also plastic salad containers (the rectangular ones) are big enough to start smaller cuttings or as domes for seed starting.
Lots of good information for me to use! Thank you.
Our zonal geraniums (pelargoniums) live outside all year, so get pruned back about now as new growth emerges from the base. I hate to discard all the scraps, but can not possibly grow them all. We sometimes, although rarely, get the opportunity to plug some cuttings into new situations. Some of the debris gets dumped over embankments into the canyons, where some of it can grow into new plants if it lands just right.
Brilliant ideas and instructions! Thank you! I never thought about the why and how of making mini-greenhouses! ???????