Taking cuttings is a great way to increase the stock of plants in your garden. While some cuttings are best left for the experts, there are many plants that can be very easily propagated. A winter polytunnel is the perfect place to offer a little protection to cuttings that you have placed in pots and in the spring, roots should begin to form on many of your cuttings and you will be well on the way to creating a whole lot of new plants.
Taking Softwood Cuttings For Your Polytunnel
Polytunnels have plenty of uses and can be used for a wide range of applications. One of the benefits of a polytunnel is that they provide a protected, sheltered space in which to place potted cuttings that can later be used to populate other areas of your garden. Growing plants from cuttings is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to increase your plant stocks, and a polytunnel can make propagating plants from cuttings easier for the home gardener.
What Plants Can I Propagate from Softwood Cuttings?
A wide range of plants can be propagated from softwood cuttings. These include:
- Shrub herbs such as such as sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano and lemon verbena.
- Hardy and tender perennials such as pelargonium, petunia, verbena, penstemon & aubretia.
- Deciduous shrubs such as buddleja, fuchsia, hydrangea, and lavatera.
Herbs are particularly beneficial for polytunnel growers as they not only provide an edible yield but also help to repel or distract pests, and attract beneficial insects and other wildlife to your growing areas.
Abelia, Caryopteris, Forsythia, Hydrangea, Potentilla and Ribes are also amongst the shrubs you can propagate fairly easily and successfully in this way, though the same method can be used for a wide variety of different useful and attractive garden shrubs. Cuttings taken from these plants will be exact copies of the parent and will help you to retain characteristics of plants that have adapted well to your garden.
Taking Softwood Cuttings
To take a softwood cuttings, simply cut off a short stem less than ten centimetres long – look for healthy side shoots and cut off the stem just below a leaf node (where a leaf joins the stem). Cut at an angle to increase the surface area for rooting.
On shrubs, choose strong, new, non-flowering shoots and cut these off at a length of five to ten centimetres with some secateurs. Trim your cutting just below a leaf node with a sharp knife and remove the leaves from the lower portion of the cutting to leave just four or so leaves at the top.
If the shrub you have taken the cutting from has larger leaves then it is a good idea to reduce the leaf area by simply cutting off the outer half of each one. This will help to minimise water loss from the cutting while it does not have roots to replace it. Cuttings drying out is one of the biggest causes of disappointment when it comes to softwood cuttings, though you will also have to be careful not to allow the cuttings to become waterlogged as this can cause the stems to rot before roots can form.
You should ideally take softwood cuttings, especially of herbs, early in the morning as this is when the herbs will be at their firmest and freshest. It is best to take cuttings from a plant that has been watered just the day before. Remember to take more cuttings than you need to account for failures
Rooting Softwood Cuttings
It is important to get cuttings into a growing medium as quickly as possible and to take care to avoid allowing the softwood cuttings to dry out. You can increase the chances of success by dipping the ends of the cuttings in rooting compound before you plant them, though this is not strictly necessary and often you can meet with success without taking this measure. (Rooting compound can be made at home from willow, or bought from a range of manufacturers.)
The growing medium for your cuttings should be moist but free draining. A mix of sand and compost will usually be a good option. Placing cuttings on the edge of the pots will make it easier for them to retain their moisture until roots can form. In order to provide a moist, humid environment for cuttings, and give them the best chance of taking root, you can use a clear plastic bag secured with an elastic band over the tops of pots and containers, or a half drinks bottle placed as a cloche over the cuttings.
Caring for Softwood Cuttings
Check the bottom of pots or gently pull on cuttings to see if there is some resistance after around three weeks. If there is then it is likely that roots have begun to form. When roots have firmly taken hold, each cutting can be potted on into its own container and can be planted into its growing position in the autumn.
All being well, softwood cuttings should begin to grow roots in around three weeks to a month, though it can take longer. Keep the potting medium moist but not waterlogged throughout that time and remove the cover daily to reduce the risk of mould developing under your cloches.
Once cuttings have rooted, you may like to consider creating a dedicated herb or perennial growing area in your polytunnel. Check out our articles on herb gardening and perennial gardening to find out more.
Taking Hardwood Cuttings For Your Polytunnel
A polytunnel can offer the opportunity to grow a wide range of fruit bushes more easily. An undercover growing area can help to reduce the incidence of losses due to birds, or other pests, or due to inclement or extreme weather conditions throughout the year. If you have fruit bushes in your polytunnel, or elsewhere in your garden, you should consider increasing your stock by taking hardwood cuttings between mid-autumn and late winter. This is an easy and free way to get new fruiting shrubs for your garden.
Which Fruit Bushes Are Suitable For Taking Hardwood Cuttings?
You can take hardwood cuttings of a wide range of different fruit bushes, including:
This method is also suitable for other deciduous shrubs and many climbers.
How To Take Hardwood Cuttings
It is easy to make new fruiting bushes for your polytunnel or to place elsewhere in your garden from existing fruit bushes. To do so, simply:
- Choose healthy shoots that have grown this year on your fruit bushes.
- Remove the soft growth from the tip of the stem.
- Cut the shoot into sections around 30cm in length, cutting across cleanly above a bud, cutting at an angle so water runs off. The sloping cut at the top will also help you remember which end should be upwards.
- Cut straight across at the base of the hardwood cutting and, for best chance of success, dip the end of the cutting in hormone rooting powder which will help roots to form and also reduce the chances of rotting.
- Prepare containers or a trench with plenty of compost or other organic matter.
- Insert your cuttings with two thirds of them below the surface of the soil, so they can develop a strong root system from the lower end of the stem. If you are planting a lot of cuttings, be sure to give these enough space – around 10-15cm between cuttings should be enough.
- Firm the soil around your hardwood cuttings to ensure they are held firmly in the growing medium.
- Water cuttings in and then ensure that they do not dry out, especially during the summer next year.
- Leave the cuttings in place in their trench or containers until next autumn, when they should have developed strong roots and be ready to move into their final growing positions in your polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden.
Consider taking some hardwood cuttings from your fruiting bushes this month, and you could increase your fruit yield without spending any extra money at all. This could be a good way to get even more value from your polytunnel garden.
Have you succeeded in growing fruit bushes from hardwood cuttings? Let us know all about your experiences in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.