Propagating by Softwood Cuttings

These days, the variety of plants available from local and mail-order nurseries is phenomenal. Still, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to propagate a particular woody plant—it may be rare, or have sentimental value, or be an unnamed but choice form worthy of being increased. At Wave Hill in the Bronx, we find that taking softwood cuttings of the specimens in our own collection is an easy way to increase our stock without damaging the parent plants. For us, the best time to take softwood cuttings is from the end of May through mid-June, when the foliage is fully expanded but the stems are still pliable. 

Materials

  • sharp pruners

  • plastic bags

  • labels

  • small glass beaker inscribed with ml measures

  • standard eyedropper

  • liquid rooting hormone (we use Woods)

  • a one-sided razor blade

  • plastic pot or rooting box at least 3 to 4 inches deep

  • 50/50 mixture of peat and perlite

  • pencil or dowel

  • large plastic bag

Steps

1. Selecting and taking the cuttings  Look for healthy young shoots carrying at least four to six leaves or pairs of leaves. The stems should be pliable, without any hardening of the skin tissue. Make the cut well below the bottom leaf or leaf pair; this bit of extra stem prevents the cut tip from drying out. Store the cuttings in a plastic bag, along with a label that identifics the plant.

2. Preparing the cuttings  Using a sharp blade, remove the lower leaves, leaving no stubs. It’s easier to do this if you place the cutting on a hard surface. Leave two or three leaves or leaf pairs to carry on photosynthesis. If the individual leaves are large, cut them in half to slow transpiration. Make the final stem cut just beneath the lowest axillary nodes where the leaves were removed.

3. Dipping the cuttings  Place the cutting in the rooting solution (a full eyedropper of rooting hormone to 20 ml of water) and leave there while the other cuttings are prepared and dipped.

4. Sticking the cuttings  Fill a pot or rooting box to the brim with the peat/perlite mixture and moisten thoroughly. Using a pencil or dowel, poke a hole in the rooting mix. Take a cutting and insert it into the hole, right up to the first leaf or leaves. Gently but firmly push down on the perlite mix with the stick to stabilize the cutting. The cutting should not be easily pulled out. Repeat with the rest of the cuttings. At Wave Hill, we have a mist system that keeps the cuttings from wilting while they are rooting. Lacking that, you’ll need to place the pot of cuttings in a large plastic bag. Give the cuttings bright indirect light. When you notice new leaf growth, remove the cuttings from the bag and pot up individually.

Plants That Can Be Propagated from Softwood Cuttings

Abelia spp.

Akebia quinata

Buddleia davidii

Buxus sempervirens

Callicarpa spp.

Caryopteris xclandonensis

Ceanothus spp.

Chaenomeles speciosa

Clethra alnifolia

Cotoneaster spp.

Deutzia spp.

Forsythia spp.

Hibiscus syriacus

Hydrangea spp.

Hypericum spp.

Kolkwitzia amabilis

Lagerstroemia indica

Ligustrum spp.

Lonicera spp.

Osmanthus spp.

Philadelphus spp.

Potentilla spp.

Pyracantha spp.

Salix spp.

Sambucus spp.

Spiraea spp.

Vaccinium spp.

Viburnum spp.

Weigela spp.

Wisteria spp.

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