Cuttings have several advantages over other methods of propagation. Unlike seeds, the new plant is always true to type, so you don't have to worry about growing unexpected hybrids. Plants have an abundant supply of shoot tips for cuttings, even when they are very young, so you aren't limited in the number of new plants as you are with divisions. Tip cuttings are used to propagate a wide range of plants, including alpines, perennials, shrubs and vines.
Stage of Growth
Softwood cuttings are those that are strong enough to stand up on their own, but the stem tips haven't hardened yet. You can test the tips of the stem by bending them in half. If they snap off easily they are in the perfect stage for softwood cuttings. Those that crush at the point where you bend them and remain attached to the stem are semi-ripe tips and don't root as easily as softwood cuttings.
When to Cut
The best time to take softwood tip cuttings is in spring when the plant is putting on new growth. Early spring bloomers often experience a flush of new growth after the flowers fade, and that provides another cutting opportunity. If you miss your chance, try cutting the plant back in mid- to late summer to see if you can get another flush of growth. The best time of day is early in the morning when the shoots are well hydrated.
Where to Cut
Take the cuttings from the tips of lateral shoots. Avoid cutting the main vertical stem in the center of the plant. Each cutting should be just long enough to include three leaf joints. These joints, called nodes, may be the point from which a leaf is growing or a bud where a leaf will form later. Make the cut just below the third joint, and keep the cuttings as short as possible to include three nodes. Short cuttings root easier than long ones. They also dehydrate faster, so take only as many cuttings as you can pot in 30 minutes.
Avoid taking cuttings from plants with obvious signs of disease, since the disease will pass on to the new plant. Check for leaves with spots and discolorations and wilting foliage. In the early stages, symptoms may not be obvious and may not affect the entire plant. Clean the knife or pruners with a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution or a household disinfectant between cuts.
- Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials; Ellen Phillips, et al.
- Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Flowers From Seed to Bloom: Eileen Powell
- Plant Propagation; Alan Toogood
- Photo Credit Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images