The cutting for dummies

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After our articles on the recognition of plants or associations useful to the kitchen garden , we continue in the series “for Dummies” – but of course, you are not worthless for a penny, you are even great !

One of the greatest pleasures of the gardener is to multiply the plants he loves. The most common method is sowing , especially in the vegetable garden, but for many ornamental plants it is easier to make cuttings . 
Moreover, it is a common practice – not necessarily always appreciated – among gardeners-collectors to take cuttings at the slightest opportunity in the gardens they visit.

Etymology of “cutting”:

Cutting has just “kicked” in Old Franconian, in the sense of “push”, “budge”. Hey no, it’s not at all because we take “plant tips” 😉

Cutting is in theory a very simple act: it involves taking a part of a plant, and putting it back in the ground to make it emit new roots. A daughter plant is obtained which is a clone of the mother plant because it is asexual reproduction .

Why are some plants easy to cut?

It’s a question of a natural environment! If it is useful for a plant to know how to cut down easily in a medium, the plants of this environment are necessarily adapted to take advantage of it.

Take the example of wicker willows : they grow at the edge of streams, where floods regularly cause damage and take the passage of fragments of branches. Logically, willows have an interest in having a very high ability to cut from twigs. They therefore produce in large quantities a hormone that promotes the formation of new roots . 
On the other hand, a plant whose breeding strategy is more geared towards planting does not have any interest in producing cuttings hormone , so in order to cut it it will often be necessary to force things. And the extreme case: the annuals do not end , because they do not live long enough.

What does it take to make a cuttings?

In the spirit of the quidam, the cuttings boils down to taking a straight, woody branch – which means wood – and planting it. In fact, roots can be rooted as well as woody stems, non-woody stems or even leaves. It all depends on the preferences of each species and the season. 
The important thing is to take young tissues , which still have the capacity to adapt to a drastic change of situation.

Which method to choose for which plant?

Easy , actually!

  • For all plants that have wood , first try a woody or semi-woody cutting – below.
  • If you want to cut a herbaceous perennial , try a stem end cutting.
  • And finally … Bend to other methods if it does not work!

And how do I size?

With clean tools and even disinfected , it’s the base! Then, we always cut biased relative to the axis of the cut branch, to maximize the exchange surface with the substrate . Some even practice a series of nicks in the wood – to try.

Woody cuttings (known as august ) – in autumn.

This is the easiest method , but it does not work for all plants.

We speak of “august” branch, because it is often during the month of August that the new stems form hard wood. It does not mean at all that it should be taken in August: we wait for autumn , the branch is at rest – it has no more leaves.

Just cut a piece of about fifteen centimeters , at an angle , and plant it in a fresh and drained substrate. It will form roots in winter, and bud in the following spring.

Semi-woody cuttings (semi-august) – in late summer.

The idea is to take branches that have a hardwood part, and the other softwood and still green. It is usually done in August-September. 
The recovery is a little more difficult the first weeks, because the absence of roots prevents feeding the leaves. It is necessary to cut just under a “knot” , the zone where the buds are formed, because only these zones can emit new roots. Take only ten centimeters of stem, and remove the leaves and side stems – concentrate all the reserves on the two or three leaves of the end.

Herbaceous cuttings – late spring.

It is a method for trees , shrubs and woody climbers . 
Before the summer, leafy stems ends just below a knot. 
Then, we must strip the cuttings to keep leaves on the top half.

Stem end cuttings – May and October.

For perennials, the tip of one stem is taken from the top of the stem for 10 centimeters, then it is cut on the lower third before planting.

Root cuttings

Very easy, provided you access the roots … leaving the clod. Take only a few roots from the mother plant, otherwise you may weaken it. 
The principle is to take in autumn roots as big as the finger , about 4 or 5 cm long, and put them back in the ground. There is nothing to do but wait until the end of winter.

Leaf cuttings

For indoor plants , with thick leaves, they can be cut in a draining mixture, provided they are cut square – by cutting the two side edges and the base. These incisions will give rise to new roots once in contact with the soil.

How to plant your cuttings?

Once you have taken what interests you, plant a third of the cuttings in a very draining mixture, but keep the moisture. A mixture of sand, potting soil and earth is good. 
NB: Some cuttings prefer to be placed in the water , like papyrus or horsetails.

Tip: Cutting hormone for not a penny : As we have seen above, willow naturally secretes a cuttings hormone for its own sake, but you can totally divert it to your advantage! Collect a few willow branches , cut them into slices and place them in water for 24 hours. Then simply mix this water with soil at the time of planting, and dip your cuttings before planting.

It is necessary to keep a moderate humidity in the mixture during the first weeks, and to shelter them from the direct sun.

Cuttings work very well in a confined environment , there is even a method where they are placed in closed bags. It must be kept in mind that the leaves are not in contact with the wall of the bag or with other leaves.

The most common problems.

Often – especially on herbaceous cuttings – the part that is in the soil can rot under the action of microorganisms. This is why we use a draining mix, which favors their proliferation less than a heavy soil, and which stimulates the rapid production of roots. Some put wood ash – which has an anti-microbial action – to slow the development of fungi. 
The other common problem is that the leaves dry the first weeks: that’s why we have to keep very little, and shelter from the wind and the sun.

Particularities of plants produced by cuttings.

Cutting is a fast and economical method of multiplication but it has some major disadvantages:

The plants produced are clones, so in the long term it favors the proliferation of diseases – all individuals being clones, there is no adaptation during reproduction. 
Avoid cutting from transplanted plants, you risk getting stunted individuals: as directly remake a transplant on a new rootstock.

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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