Perfect propagation

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

It is surprisingly easy to get tip cuttings of soft fruits such as blueberries, gooseberries, figs, kiwis and currants to take root. Following the few simple techniques outlined below will result in enough berry bushes to grow your own ‘berry walk’ with enough leftover plants to share with friends and neighbours.

Fill 1/2-gallon (2-L) square pots with propagation mix and moisten well. Using a dibber (chopstick), insert nine cuttings into each pot, spaced as three rows of three. In winter, providing bottom heat to cuttings, using a heat pad or heater cable, achieves 85percent rooting compared to 55 percent without heat. When cuttings grow leaves, you know they have taken root.

plant propagation
Rooted cuttings of blackcurrants,Ribes.

Propagation mix for softwood cuttings

It needs to be sterilized, free draining and moisture retentive.

Mix equal parts by volume: coarse washed sand, perlite and peat.

Optional: add granular rock phosphate to aid rooting.

Cuttings should be positioned out of direct sunlight because until they form roots, they are liable to wilt. Water evaporates from leaves, but there is no uptake from roots to make good the loss. Create a humid atmosphere – a propagation unit with misting is ideal – or cover cuttings with plastic bags.

High levels of filtered light are essential because photosynthesis is necessary for cuttings to grow and produce roots. Try to maintain an even temperature – around 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). Check cuttings daily; any attempt at flowering should be nipped in the bud by removing the flowers.

Willow water
For rooting hormone, I use willow water, which contains salicylic acid, a natural rooting agent. I simply soak the cuttings overnight in willow water. They can go in the water at the same time the willow is soaking.
1. Choose sections of young willow the diameter of a fat pencil.
2. Strip off leaves, leaving only twigs.
3. Chop into 2-inch lengths (5cm) and soak for 24 hours.
4. Strain off the willow sections; the water will keep for 7 days.
5. Soak cuttings for up to 24 hours before placing in the propagation mix.
6. Optional: water the cuttings in with the willow water.

Once rooted, I pot cuttings into their own pots, using screened compost as a growing medium. Any well drained medium will do as long as it has added nutrients. If not, stimulate growth by feeding with liquid fish fertilizer one week and liquid seaweed the next.

Taking a tip cutting

Use a clean sharp knife to prepare cuttings. Choose vigorous and healthy sections of stem. The length of cuttings varies – generally no more than 6 inches long (15 cm). Cuttings must possess at least two nodes (leaf-joints). Trim just below a node, ensuring that the growing tip is upright. Cuttings should be green/yellow, but not hardened into woody tissue. Anything with flowers or buds is best avoided. Take cuttings on wet days when plants are charged with water. Keep them damp and sealed in a plastic bag until ready to insert. Prepare propagation mix. Insert the cutting into propagation mix so leaves remain above. Water-in well.

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food is now available (Harbour Publishing)

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