Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
November, 2001
Regional Report

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Rooting hormone and a lightweight rooting mix and can help improve your success with rooting cuttings from your landscape plants.

Fall is for Propagating Plants!

We have been busy these past few weeks taking cuttings from many types of plants around our landscape. Plant propagation is fun and easy, despite the mystery and air of difficulty that often shroud the simple truth. I have learned that the complicated science of plant propagation can be simplified down to a few easy techniques that anyone can use to successfully multiply their plants with a high percentage of success. Here are three techniques that are easy and effective for even gardeners plagued with slightly brown thumbs!

Tip Layering

Layering is the technique of rooting new plants while still attached to the original or "mother" plant. Because the new plant remains connected to the flow of water and nutrients from the mother plant during the rooting process, layering provides a high percentage of success. Tip layering is an easy type of layering, effective on many types of plants.

Lower the end of a stem or vine down to the soil. Then bend it about 8-12 inches from the end until it cracks but does not break in two. Remove a scoop of soil and pin the bent section into place in the bottom of the hole with a section of coat hanger bent into a U shape. Cover the section with soil and water it in well. In a few weeks the cracked tissues will form callous tissues from which roots will grow. In two or three months the plant will be well-rooted and ready to move. Cut the stem connecting it to the mother plant and carefully dig and transplant it into a pot or its new location in the garden. We often use tip layering in fall to propagate our old garden roses, arching shrubs, vining groundcovers, blackberries, grapes and other woody vines.

Air Layering

Air layer is similar to tip layering, but rather that rooting in the soil, a soilless mix is placed around the stem and wrapped with plastic. First remove a half-inch ring of the outer bark on the stem or wound the stem with several small vertical cuts in a one-inch area. Place a double handful of moist sphagnum moss or a coarse lightweight potting mix around the stem and wrap with a section of clear plastic wrap or bread wrapper. Tie the wrapper above and below the rooting media to hold it in place. Make sure the media is moistened before sealing up the plastic. Finally wrap a piece of aluminum foil around the plastic to keep out light and prevent excessive heat buildup if the sun shines on the clear plastic.

In a few weeks remove the foil to check for roots appearing beneath the clear plastic. It may be necessary to remoisten the mix periodically, especially as roots begin to appear. When roots begin to fill the rooting media it is time to cut the new plant off just below the rooted section and pot it up. Give it another month or so in a bright location out of the brunt of the afternoon sun to become better established before planting it into the landscape. We use air layering for larger upright houseplant, fig trees, and many outdoor ornamental shrubs.

Easy Cuttings

Rooting cuttings is not as difficult as it may seem. There are many web sites that offer techniques for various plant species. As a general rule, plants that are woody tend to root best from semi-hardwood cuttings. This is the stage where the stem is transitioning from succulent green tissue to woody brown tissue.

A simple rooting chamber, a loose rooting mix and some rooting hormone powder are the basics to success with cuttings. Dip the base of cuttings in rooting powder and place in a lightweight soilless mix. I like to use 50:50 mixes of peat/perlite or perlite/vermiculite that have been moistened. We use homemade paper pots, plastic boxes and old bedding plant six-packs to hold the rooting mix. Use a pencil to make a hole in the rooting mix for the cuttings, place the cuttings about an inch deep and lightly press the mix in around the cuttings.

Place the cuttings in a clear plastic box or cover with a clear material to allow light in and maintain high humidity. I like to use clear plastic pastry boxes or cake covers from the grocery store. Large zipper-type storage bags also work well. The bags can be hung beneath a roof overhang, beneath a tree canopy or anywhere they'll receive bright light but be protected from the heat of direct sunlight.

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