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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

Make More Plants for Free! (Cuttings and Divisions)



chrysanthemum cuttings
Chrysanthemum cuttings

You can make more plants for your garden. No, not by magic, but by taking cuttings and making divisions.

 

Plants want to grow. It may not always seem that way, especially when the plant you paid thirty dollars for withers and dies. But it tried to live, because plants really, really want to live, and they have different strategies for how to do it. Most garden plants can reproduce sexually, by making seeds. But in addition, plants will regenerate asexually under the right conditions. Some send out runners, others make bulbs or tubers. Many garden plants can be induced to initiate new growth and soon you’ll have two plants where there was only one, and they’ll be the same, which isn’t always true of plants from seeds.

 

When I was a beginning gardener this seemed daunting, but I tried and had a few successes. Now Don has learned and he’s better at it than I am. You should try it with your own plants, you’ll save money but better yet, you’ll get bragging rights for an advanced gardening skill. Here’s how we do it at Tiny Footprint.

 

Cuttings

The best time for taking cutting is spring, when plants are waking up and putting out new growth. Not all garden plants are suited for this process; the best ones to try are chrysanthemums, fuchsias and geraniums. * You can also take cutting from dahlias while they’re sprouting from tubers.

 

First get your supplies ready:  you’ll need soil mix, rooting hormone and small pots or seed trays. Seed starting soil mix is good to use; we make our own by combining compost, peat moss, vermiculite and perlite in a 4:2:1:1 ratio. If you’re new to this, buy seed starting mix or potting soil from your local nursery. Rooting hormone is available from your nursery too, or online. It’s not absolutely necessary, but we always use it. Pots must be small – no larger than 4” size. When Don starts a lot of mum cuttings at once he uses a 72-cell seed starting tray.

 

Now prepare your cuttings. Find a green growing shoot and cut it off the plant with a clean, sharp knife or a clean razor blade. About 2-4” is the best size. Strip off some of the leaves; you want only two or three left at the top. Dip the cut end into powdered rooting hormone, then gently place the cutting into your soil mix, water and place it where it will get indirect light; someplace warm, with high humidity. If the air is too dry or too cold, the cutting will die. If the temperature and humidity are too high, the leaves will mold, and the cutting will die. Add some perlite or vermiculite on top to help retain water (see photo at top of this post). It doesn't hurt to put in a sticky trap for insects - Don uses the bright yellow kind that fold over and attach to a stake.

 

As Monty Don says in his book, The Complete Gardener, the cutting is in a race between the top stem and leaves and the roots. If you can get roots to form before the top dies back, you and the plant both win – a new plant forms and grows on its own. If the roots are too slow to form, life in the cutting dies and you both lose.


Chrysanthemum cutting
A mum cutting ready to plant outside.

bouquet of fuchsias and dahlias
The fuchsias and dahlias in this bouquet could be propagated by cuttings and divisions.

Divisions

Some plants can be cut in half or pieces, giving you more plants. Sometimes you can do this with a shovel, placing it in the center of the plant and driving straight through plant and root mass, then transferring half to a new location. Other times it’s better to dig up the whole plant and cut it into pieces, making sure that each part has roots attached. In my garden, I’ve had good luck dividing Shasta daisies, asters and tanacetum this way. The first time you do this it will seem crazy, but many plants grow happily after being chopped in half.


Dahlias can be increased by digging up the tuber clump and cutting it into individual tubers. I don't grow many dahlias, so I'll leave this topic to growers with more experience, such as Kristine at Santa Cruz Dahlias and Erin at Floret; both have websites, books and Instagram feeds.


Let me know if you have tips of your own, or if you try this and succeed. Good luck making more flowers for your garden!

 

*Pelargonium is the correct name for the common flowers of planters and window boxes. There’s another plant that is the true geranium, but although I prefer correct scientific names, I’m going to use the name geraniums for pelargoniums in this discussion.



Left: this purple aster is my standby for fall bouquets and I've divided it several times to increase or move it. Right: Shasta daisies were first grown from seed (easy!) then had to de divided and cut back to keep them from taking over their corner of my garden.

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