Plants that are started by cuttings contain the exact same genes as the parent plant.
When cuttings are grown under the same conditions, the plants will develop at the same speed and be ready for the market at the same time.
In the field, growth is consistent, making them easier to harvest.
On the down side, if the crop has problems with insects or diseases, it will spread quickly throughout the crop.
Cuttings that are routinely taken from house plants are softwood or tip.
They are quick to grow roots, therefore this is the most common type of cutting used by gardeners.
Softwood cuttings are from growth that is less than a year old and easily pierced.
When the hard outer-layer bark is starting to form, in the second growing season, it is considered semi-hardwood.
Hardwood cuttings are from older wood that has an outer layer of hard bark.
Different cuttings are taken at different times of the year. Softwood cuttings are used in the spring. Semi-hardwood cuttings are taken mid-season, when last year’s growth is starting to turn brown. Hardwood cuttings are used in the fall.
When a piece of plant, a cutting, is removed from the parent plant, the cutting’s energy is put into closing the wound, forming a callus. Once the callus is complete, roots start to form.
At first, they will appear as small bumps but will elongate to become proper roots.
The speed in which roots are produced is dependent on the type of cutting and the amount of hormone produced by the plant.
Plants that root easily, such as willows and geraniums, produce their own hormone.
Plants that do not produce an abundance of hormone can be dipped in a powder or liquid rooting hormone to speed up the process.
Fungus and bacteria are the main reasons that cuttings fail. To avoid the problem, use sterilized potting mix and new or sterilized equipment.
Potting mixtures recommended for starting plants are sterilized and fine in texture. They do not contain any soil that can harbour fungus and bacteria.
New pots are usually safe to use for starting plants.
When recycling containers, wash to remove all dirt and sterilize in a light bleach solution. Clean and sharpen tools and dip them into a weak bleach solution. Dry the tool immediately with a clean paper towel.
For those who have success starting cuttings in water, make sure the container is sterilized and the water fresh.
Have the containers ready for the cuttings before starting. Pour rooting hormone into a small container as it will be discarded after all the cuttings are dipped into it to prevent contamination.
For softwood cuttings, choose new growth that is healthy. Starting at the tip, go back about four inches (10 cm) and make a cut just above the next leaf. Once removed, cut the stem to just below the last set of leaves on the cutting. Remove all but two or three leaves by tugging downwards on the leaves being removed.
Lastly, place the cutting into the soil, burying the stem and making sure all leaves are above the soil.
When all the cuttings are planted, water and place clear plastic over the pots. The plastic will create a greenhouse effect, slowing down the plant’s transpiration. If the condensation covers the inside layer completely, remove the plastic to allow the air to circulate around the cuttings.
Check the cuttings daily. If the stem of a cutting turns brown, remove the pot and place it in the garbage immediately.
Repot plants once they start to put out new growth.
Cuttings take time and care, but the results are rewarding.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.