, Muskogee, OK


October 2, 2013

Root cuttings for new perennials

Taking cuttings from favorite plants now will extend the season of fun in the garden, giving you a project during the cold months.

Easy-to-root perennials include: Clematis armandii, coreopsis, salvia, geranium, coleus, begonia, mandeville, rosemary, sage, Joseph’s coat, sweet potato, figs, etc.

Cuttings both replace and increase the plants in your garden. For example, even though pineapple sage and Mexican sage both return every year, the plants I grow from fall cuttings expand the amount of hummingbird nectar available next spring and fall.

Generally speaking, true annuals, started from seed, will not overwinter from cuttings, including zinnias, lettuce, and marigold.

The number of cuttings you should start is based on the amount of windowsill space or lighting you have available. Most of us can make room for a dozen pots or rig up something outside. One veteran gardener puts a single light bulb inside a container made of old windows, creating a heated cold frame that keeps his starts safe from freeze.

Prepare clean containers by filling them with sterile potting soil to half an inch below the rim. Use small pots or yogurt containers with drainage holes; large pots hold too much moisture.

Soft stemmed plants such as begonias and succulents will root well in a pot of damp vermiculite or perlite. Softwood cuttings are rooted in peat moss, sand and perlite.

Moisten the rooting medium (soil, perlite, sand) and let it drain until damp. Sterilize the cutting tool and working surface with alcohol or diluted bleach, if needed.

Work with a healthy stem from the mother plant. Soft-stemmed plants such as chrysanthemums root more quickly than woody stemmed ones such as boxwood. Newer growth is easier to start no matter which plants you select.

Take a 4 to 6 inch cutting from the stem tip just below a leaf node. (A node is where the leaf stems attach to the stem.) Remove flowers, buds and all the leaves except the top two. If the top leaves are large, they can be cut in half to preserve the plant’s energy.

Check the depth of the rooting container against the length of your cutting. The cutting is inserted into the soil deep enough so that the only part of the stem above the soil is holding the leaves. Cut the stem so it fits the container but be sure there are at least two leaf nodes in the soil.

Clear plastic produce containers (berries, salad, etc.) with lids attached are useful for short pieces and leaf propagation but keep the leaves away from the plastic.

Rooting products cannot be re-used, so put a little of it into a separate container. Moisten the stem and dip it into dry or liquid rooting hormone, then tap the stem to remove any excess.

Insert the cutting into a hole made with a pencil, and firm the soil. Put the pot onto newspaper to continue to drain off excess moisture.

You can cover the containers with plastic wrap or a clear plastic bag to prevent the cuttings from drying out but lift the plastic daily to prevent disease. Keep un-rooted cuttings in a warm place, away from direct light. When new growth emerges at the top, roots have formed below.

The roots of your new plants will emerge from the former leaf nodes on the bottom and sides of the cuttings. Soil has to be checked daily to ensure correct moisture level — moist not wet.

Transplant the rooted starts into small pots and move them into bright light. Keep the plants compact by pinching back new growth. As the roots continue to grow, the plants can be moved to larger pots.

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