Raising plants from cuttings is one of the most rewarding gardening jobs and a great way to get something for nothing. And now is the perfect time for taking softwood summer cuttings.
The easiest plants to propagate this way are pelargoniums and fuchsias. But you can use the same technique for ornamental sages, lavenders, thymes, rosemary and many other semi-soft-stemmed plants. You’ll soon find out what roots and what doesn’t.
Collect cuttings from your own plants or scrounge a few from friends – a good way to get new varieties – and gather more than you need as they won’t all root.
But don’t be tempted to snip away at plants and flowers in public gardens or the grounds of stately homes – it’s simply not done, although you might try asking one of the gardeners very nicely.
Look for a few suitable strong young shoots – non-flowering are said to root best. Cuttings need to be 7½-10cm (3-4in) long for pelargoniums and other tender perennials and 15cm (6in) for shrubs, although you can take as little as 2½cm (1in) from fuchsias.
With a sharp knife trim off the end of the stem immediately under the lowest leaves. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the shoot and your cutting is ready.
As an optional extra, dip the cut base in a tub of hormone rooting powder, just enough to coat the open wound at the base of the shoot.
This improves your success rate as it encourages roots to appear and helps prevent rot.
Fill small pots with a four-to-one mixture of multipurpose compost and sharp sand. Push a cutting into each pot, leaving the top half sticking out.
Water lightly and stand the pots on a windowsill in plenty of light but out of direct sun.
Thin-leaved plants, such as fuchsias, root best when stood inside a large, loose plastic bag to keep a cushion of humidity round them.
Once growing, keep the young plants under cover through the winter and water sparingly. By planting time you’ll have some good new plants for free.
What the Victorians did for us
Victorian plants are in vogue and are ideal in the gardens of older houses. Here’s what to look for…
l Bedding plants: Queen Victoria had a formal bedding scheme at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The most popular plants were zonal pelargoniums, heliotropes, Calceolaria rugosa, salvia and lobelia. Cannas were used as “dot plants” for height.
l Roses: hybridisation led to new varieties, such as La Reine Victoria and Madame Isaac Péreire. Most rose breeders were French.