Thursday, 06 January 2022 13:33

Gardening with Peter Bowden: How to Root Plant Cuttings

By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden
Photo by Peter Bowden. Photo by Peter Bowden.

Spring seems like a distant dream right about now but there is one gardening project I can enjoy now...I can root some cuttings.

Every fall, a few of out favorite annuals worm their way into the house to avoid frost. In the case of my miniature geranium ‘Bird Dancer’, this has been going on since about 1988.  It all started with one plant in a 4” pot. The original plant is long gone but, by rooting cuttings I’ve been able to share and enjoy hundreds of its descendants.  Bird Dancer is an old friend at this point.

Making new plants from cutting also rejuvenates the family. Rooted cuttings grow more vigorously and will flower more that the original “mother plant” that provided the cutting. 

Step one of course is to take some cuttings. Most plants will produce roots more readily at the leaf intersections. Bear this in mind when you take cuttings. Cut just below the leaf intersection. That’s where new roots will form.

After cutting, I’ll strip off the lower leaves.  Those leaves may rot and rot the stem along with it. The cutting will root more easily without them. I need to let the cuttings “scab over” before I slip them into the soil. A fresh, juicy cut will rot easily...a dried, “scabbed over” stem won’t. While I’m waiting the few minutes for the stems to scab, I’ll fill some pots with sterile potting soil; the same soil I use in our pots and planters indoors and out.  Lightly moisten the soil and tamp it gently. I don’t want the soil soggy wet, just moist.

Once the cuttings are ready, I’ll dip the stems into some rooting powder. Rooting powder is mostly just talcum powder with a bit of root growth stimulant added. The fine particles of talcum will give the tiny root hairs something to form on and the growth stimulant speeds that process. Most plants will root without the powder but it does increase your chance of success. I like to put a couple in each pot in case one doesn’t take. If both do well I can separate them later.

Once they’re all potted up, we need to keep them in a warm place and nurse them along until they can grow some roots and provide for themselves. Since the winter home is dry, misting them lightly every day, or even a couple of times a day for the first few days, is a good idea. 

After a couple of weeks they will have formed a couple of fresh roots and you can stop misting them.  They will now benefit from a light feeding.  I use a 1/4 strength solution of soluble plant food like Jack’s Blossom Booster.  Don’t overdo the food though...a little goes a long way.  In between feedings, just water the soil lightly but never let it get soggy. Soggy soil will rot the cuttings. Feed lightly every couple of weeks and don’t be surprised if you are rewarded with some flowers.

This is when they’ll need lots of light so find your sunniest windowsill. I have a bank of grow light where I’ll start seeds later but it is the perfect place for my cuttings to thrive until late March when the seedlings take over the space. 

That’s it. Easy peasy, and I always end up with lots of free plants to share with friends or add to my gardens and planters in spring. 

Thanks for the read!

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