So you really want to fill those beds with colour but the garden is big and the plants at the local nursery are not cheap! Why not give cuttings a go?
They’re free, they grow twice as fast as seeds, and they’re a great way to make friends in your neighbourhood as you roam for, beg, and swap specimens for your garden!
So What Is a Cutting?
A cutting is a piece of plant stem that, when treated a certain way, will manage to grow new roots.
When you’re on the hunt for your cuttings, keep in mind the golden rule: cuttings grow best from the current season’s firm growth.
You’ll want to get the part of the plant’s stem that springs back when bent. If it breaks when bent, it’s too old. If it remains floppy when bent, it’s too new.
But don’t worry – this is a general rule. If you have no option but to take old or very new cuttings, take them and see what happens.
Some plants will grow from pretty much any type of stem, and occasionally a most unlikely piece of plant stem may surprise you by producing roots. After all, an imperfect specimen for a cutting is better than none at all!
You can take cuttings virtually all year but just remember that in the colder months they may take a while to establish roots.
Before you take the first step, you will need some supplies for your cuttings, all of which can be easily found in your local nursery. They include:
Now you’ve found some good healthy specimens, it’s time to take your cuttings. This is where you need that sharp knife or some pruning shears.
It’s important to make a clean cut. This is the best way to produce good roots. A messy tear is harder for rooting to occur.
The stem is best cut below a leaf node (the point where the leaf grows from the stem). Try to cut the stem on an angle as this provides a larger surface area of stem for rooting.
Another tip is to ‘wound’ the lower 15-20 mm of stem with your knife to encourage more root growth. Trim the lower leaves off the stem, leaving just a few upper leaves.
Once you have trimmed the cutting you can dip the end in hormone powder or gel to help it form roots more quickly. Keep this hormone product in the fridge as it has a short shelf life.
How to Set Your Cutting
Now it’s time to set your cutting into the potting mix. There are a variety of mixes you can use for this: regular garden potting mix, vermiculite, perlite, or, for Australian native plants, a combination of washed river sand (about 75%) and peat moss (25%).
It’s good to try various mediums and find what material or combination suits you best. Some plants prefer soilless mixes such as vermiculite or perlite so they have good oxygen uptake. Others aren’t bothered about the mix and will root in just about anything. Just fill a small pot with the potting mixture and you can get planting.
If you have dipped your cutting in hormone powder, you need to make a hole in the potting mix with a skewer or other sharp instrument. Then place the stem deep into the hole, ensuring that the hormone powder doesn’t get scraped off in the process. Once the cutting is set, water in well.
To encourage your cuttings to root, you need to maintain a humid environment for them. This is best done with a plastic bag propped around the cuttings with a wire frame or small canes. It’s not a good idea to have the bag touching the cuttings.
They also need fresh circulating air so if you choose to use a plastic cover over the top of your pot, make sure it has an aerating hole or two.
How to Encourage Root Growth
Keep the cuttings moist by spraying them lightly each morning and evening, with an occasional hosing. The cuttings should strike roots in about 4-8 weeks in summer, but they can take months during the colder seasons.
Once you can see roots growing through the base of the pot (you may also see them when soil is gently tapped out from the top of the pot) it’s time to harden your plants. This involves taking the plastic bag or cover off the plants during the nights for a couple of weeks to harden them to the night time temperatures.
Here at Australian Outdoor Living, we’re all about making sure you make the most of your backyard. Sometimes that includes harnessing what you’ve already got. Sometimes it’s building a garden around you from scratch.
Either way, be sure to check out our Mega Guide to Australian Native Plants. This guide lets you specify your garden’s needs so you can find the right native plants for your situation. Take a look at it today and get growing an easy garden you’ll love!