As someone who grew up in the tropics, surrounded by light and life all year, I will probably never get used to the long, slow decline of the garden as we slide inevitably into the UK winter. However, over the past 20 years or so, I have developed quite a few coping mechanisms to help me keep getting my horticultural fix. From winter-flowering houseplants to autumnal seed sowing, there are some simple ways to see active growth and the promise of new beginnings even when it’s bleak outside. Perhaps, however, nothing is as effective as the miracle of life that are hard wood cuttings.
Like most forms of vegetative propagation, taking hardwood cuttings involves intentionally inflicting damage to a plant, which in its efforts to heal itself, sends out new roots and leaves to create a perfect genetic clone. As this type of cutting is taken when the plant is dormant – any time from mid-autumn to late winter – they will generally suffer less of a shock than when under the pressures of active growth in summer, which is what makes these cuttings, to my mind, the simplest to do. All you need to get cloning is a pair of secateurs, a spade and, depending on your soil type, a little sand.
First, snip off some short 20-30cm sections of young stems that have grown in the past year, using sharp, clean secateurs. The brilliant thing is that these can be just the off-cuts from an autumn pruning you’d be doing anyway, meaning you can create free plants from what would otherwise be mere garden waste. Excellent candidates for this treatment include fruiting shrubs such as gooseberries and currants, as well as flowering marvels like hydrangeas, roses and viburnums, and foliage trees such as willows and dogwoods. Even climbers like jasmine and honeysuckle will work.
Now, lay out your cuttings on a table and nip out the bud at the tip of each section, as this will create denser, bushier growth when your cutting eventually sprouts. Making this cut at an angle is a useful tip, so when it comes to planting you will know which end goes up, which is pretty much the only crucial thing to get right.
All you then need to do is dig a narrow trench – this only has to be deep enough to bury the cuttings (pointy end up) by two-thirds – and place your cuttings in it, spacing them about 15cm apart. If you are growing on a really heavy soil that is prone to waterlogging, you might want to place about 10cm of sand at the bottom of the trench, but on most other soils types I don’t think there is a huge benefit to this. Finally, fill the trench in with soil and then generously water.
All that’s left now is to have patience as these will take probably around 12 months (depending on the species) to form strong root systems. Keep the trench from drying out in the spring and summer, and by this time next year you’ll have your own little clone army in exchange for very little work.
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