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Carolyn Herriot shares tips on how to propagate plants by recycling berry and herb cuttings for an economical kitchen garden. It's easier than you think!
This year many garden centres are selling out of anything to do with food gardening—seeds, vegetable starts, herbs, fruit trees and berry bushes. This is a good sign that gardeners are planning for greater food production, and that we’ll see more edibles at garden centres next year. In the meantime we could be propagating many of our own herbs, fruits and berries from cuttings—it’s a lot simpler than you might think.
Cuttings need a propagation mix that is sterilized, free draining and moisture retentive. I mix 50 per cent organic growing medium (available at garden centres) with 50 per cent coarse washed sand (from landscape suppliers) in a wheelbarrow until well blended. Add a dusting of rock phosphate to aid rooting. Fill ½-gallon square pots with rooting mix and moisten well. Plant nine cuttings per pot, spaced as three rows of three, using chopsticks to insert so not to damage them.
For rooting hormone I soak cuttings overnight in willow water, which contains salicylic acid, a natural rooting agent. The cuttings can go in the water at the same time the willow is soaking. I also use Willow Water to water the cuttings in.
Choose sections of young willow (Salix) branches the diameter of a fat pencil. Strip off leaves, leaving only twigs. Chop into 5-cm (2-in.) lengths and soak these in a one-quarter-full bucket of water for 24 hours.
TIP: If you strain off the willow sections, leaving only water, it will keep for seven days.
Light triggers rooting, so place cuttings in a bright place, but out of direct sunlight to avoid wilting. The secret of success is keeping the rooting mix moist at all times and misting periodically helps. Plants take different amounts of time to root, but you’ll know when they do because they start to grow. After roots develop it’s time to repot cuttings into their own containers. I use screened compost as a growing medium, but any lightweight potting mix will do, as long as there is fertilizer in it to feed establishing plants.
The best time to take cuttings is when pruning. The rule of thumb for cuttings is that they should be flexible—if it snaps, it’s too woody, and if it is floppy between your fingers, it is too immature. Ideally a cutting should be a skinny pencil in thickness; the length can vary but should not be more than 15 cm (6 in.).
These rapid-growing bushes root easily from cuttings taken in fall after the fruit has been harvested.
The best berries are produced on three-year-old wood. To prevent bushes petering out, remove 20 per cent of the oldest wood every year at ground level. Blueberry cuttings are slower to take root.
These fast-growing softwood shrubs can be pruned yearly to keep them in check. They root easily.
Grapes grow on the current season’s growth, and pruning stimulates new growth. In fact, pruning is key to good grape production. In spring, while the grapes are dormant, select straight canes approximately 5 mm (¼ in.) in diameter, and prune back to a few two-bud spurs, leaving no more than 50 buds in total for a moderately vigorous plant. Cut short sections of the grape canes to root in propagation mix.
Kiwis need pruning to keep their vigorous vines in check, and this is best done in spring while plants are dormant and before sap starts to flow. They are dioecious vines, which have male and female flowers on separate plants. When taking cuttings don’t forget you only need one male plant for every six females!
Raspberries are easily propagated from all those rooted canes that creep outside of the support framework. Early spring is the best time to dig creeping canes out to create a new raspberry patch or distribute them among friends.
You get three years of production from a strawberry patch; expect the second year to be the best. Take strawberry offsets in fall, overwinter in small pots with screened compost and plant in spring after danger of frost.
While short sections of cane will take root in propagation mix, the easiest way to propagate blackberries and hybrid berries is by layering canes still attached to the plant. Peg a trailing cane down in fall, and cover nodes with soil. Leave all winter and in spring you will have several rooted sections to cut off. Some popular trailing hybrid berries are:
This general method works for woody herbs, ornamental shrubs and roses, too, so have fun experimenting. I have one word of warning though – rooting plants can become addictive!
1. Take cuttings on wet days when plants are charged with water.
2. Use a clean sharp knife to prepare cuttings. Choose vigorous and healthy sections of stem. The length of cuttings can vary, but ensure they are no more than 15 cm (6 in.) long with at least 2 nodes (leaf-joints).Trim just below a node, ensuring the growing tip is upright. Cuttings should be green/
yellow but not hardened into woody tissue; avoid stems with flowers or buds.
3. Keep cuttings damp and sealed in a plastic bag until ready to insert.
4. Optional: soak the cuttings for 12 to 24 hours in Willow Water.
5. Prepare propagation mix, fill pots and moisten mix.
6. Use a dibber (or chopstick) to make a deep hole, then place the cutting into the rooting mix, with any leaves above the mix. (In winter provide bottom heat to cuttings using a heat pad to achieve 85 per cent rooting, compared to 55 per cent without heat.)
7. Water in well.
8. Place out of direct sun, but provide bright light.
9. Do not allow to dry out. Keep moist at all times. Misting is wonderful!
10. New growth indicates the cuttings have rooted. Once this happens, plant them into their own pots, ideally using screened compost (or stimulate growth by feeding liquid fish fertilizer one week and liquid seaweed the next).