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How to Garden: Saving Cuttings for Next Year


By Veronica Sliva

From now until frost I take cuttings of plants that I want to “keep over” for next year. There are a few of reasons I like to do this. One is that I love the plant (or the person who gave it to me) so much that I can’t imagine not having it in the garden. This is the case with an heirloom impatiens given to me by a friend 25 years ago. This beauty grows to about 36 inches tall and fills out to the size of a small shrub. It always elicits comments from visitors to my garden. I don’t know the variety name and I haven’t been able to find it in a garden centre or a mail order catalogue. I have given literally hundreds away over the years.

firecrackerOften new introductions are offered for a short spurt of time and then they disappear. A new favourite is an annual begonia called “Firecracker”. The plant is aptly named. Mine is still a little small, but on a mature plant the explosion of intense red-hot blooms is amazing. This gem was available (though not widely) this spring. But, who knows about next year? Like fashion, things come and go. I want to make sure I have it for next year.
PartitaAnd then, there is the matter of money. I spent more money than I want to admit to on a novelty begonia called Partita (the description in the catalogue suckered me in). The special thing about this plant is that it is supposed to form a “trunk” that gives it a bonsai-like appearance. Well, that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe the plant isn’t mature enough. Anyway, I think it would make a good houseplant and I don’t want to spend another bundle on one teeny, tiny plant to find out.
So, the answer is to propagate by cuttings. Plants often do not come true from seed and so cuttings are the way to get a plant that is exactly like its parent. What was once only one plant can potentially become turn into dozens.

Here’s how I do it:
  • With a sharp knife, cut the tip of a stem that has 2 or 3 nodes (the point at which the leaf and stem connect).
  • Remove any buds or flowers and the leaves from the lower portion of the cutting, leaving at least one node exposed.
  • Some soft-stemmed plants like the ones mentioned (and many others) root easily in plain water. I just arrange the cuttings in a vase. Usually roots develop in a week to 10 days.
  • Plant the newly rooted cuttings in small pots filled with a commercial potting mix (never soil from the garden), water well and place them either under lights or in a bright window.
Alternatively, you can start cuttings directly in a moist potting mix. The advantage to starting cuttings this way is that they develop stronger roots as they become accustomed to working their way through soil rather than water.
  • First dip the stem end into a hormone powder especially formulated to stimulate root development.
  • Insert the cutting into the potting mix (use a small pot or a shallow tray) and firm the mix around the stem
  • Provide a humid environment by covering the cuttings with plastic wrap until they are well rooted. You can tell if roots have developed by tugging gently on the stem. A little resistance indicates that the roots have taken hold.
  • I grow the plants indoors all winter. They usually bloom for me. Then, in about February I take more cuttings from the “mother” plants and by spring I have enough for me and to give away to friends too. It’s easy. It’s free. And, it’s addictive.
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