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Cutting Edge

by Hannah Stephenson

Save yourself some money by propagating your existing plants to fill spaces in your beds and borders. Hannah Stephenson offers some tips on taking softwood cuttings...

Living in a frost pocket, as I do, it's inevitable that each year I lose plants which are on the tender side, leaving gaps in my beds and borders which need to be filled.

Visits to the garden centre each year to replenish stock can be a costly exercise, but if you want to save money and gain a great deal of satisfaction, now is the time to have a go at taking softwood cuttings, which will take a little time but won't cost you any money apart from a few small flower pots and a little compost.

Easy-to-root plants include lavatera, helianthemum, choisya, deutzia, escallonia, hebe, hydrangea, lavender, philadelphus and weigela, as well as fuchsia and olearia.

You take cuttings about 8-10cm long in late spring and early summer, before the stem becomes hard and woody, put them in a container of compost and cover them with clear polythene to prevent them wilting. When the cuttings have rooted - which can happen in around six weeks - they can be repotted or planted up in the garden.

With this step-by-step guide to softwood cuttings, you won't go far wrong:

  • Always take the cuttings from a healthy plant, using a sharp knife or secateurs. Check there are no pests on the leaves or stems and that there is no disease.
  • Cut the stem just below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves, leaving the bottom half of the stem bare. If the remaining leaves are large, for example hydrangea or laurel, they can be cut in half to reduce loss of moisture through transpiration.
  • Plants which flower on young growth, such as hebes and fuchsias, may have flowerbuds at the tip of the cutting which will need nipping out along with the tip.
  • As soon as you have taken the cutting, put it in a polythene bag or bucket of water to stop it wilting until you are ready to propagate.
  • Dip the cut end in hormone rooting powder or liquid, covering the lower 6mm of the cutting before inserting it in a pot filled with seed compost. You can fit five cuttings around the edge of a 10cm pot. While most plants will root without the aid of hormone rooting powder, more difficult species such as rhododendron and hollies need a boost to produce roots. Rooting powder also contains a fungicide to protect the new plant against diseases.
  • Make sure the container's drainage holes are not blocked.
  • The compost should be moist. Use your finger or a small stick to make a hole for the cutting and insert each one 2in apart, but don't firm them in.
  • Water them with a fine rose to settle the compost around the stems and allow the excess water to drain.
  • Label each pot.
  • Thin-leaved plants such as fuchsias root best if the pot is placed inside a large, loosely tied plastic bag or clear polythene as it keeps the air around them humid, but don't use this method for plants with silver, hairy leaves or they may rot.
  • Stand the pots out of direct sun and draughts while they root, but in a warm humid spot and water them enough so that the compost doesn't dry out.
  • If you notice any faded leaves or flowers on rooted cuttings or plants in the next few weeks, remove them to prevent the spread of fungal diseases such as botrytis.

In six to eight weeks they should have rooted and you will be able to repot them or plant them in the garden.

Best of the Bunch

Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata)

This much-loved perennial climber produces a profusion of black-centred orange, yellow or creamy vanilla flowers into the autumn if it is given the right conditions.

Ideally grown in a sheltered spot, in a porch or conservatory, it will thrive under cover, climbing to 1.5m (5ft) in a short time and should survive winter in a cool greenhouse. Alternatively, grow it as an annual outdoors to climb up posts and obelisks in a sheltered spot, shaded from the hottest sun and use it to provide instant colour while more permanent climbers are becoming established.

Good Enough to Eat


Clumps of chives are about to bloom in my rock garden, the small purple lollipop flowers adding colour and upright structure to the scene. Both decorative and delicious, they are easy to grow in a sunny spot and the stems snipped to add a mild onion-type flavour to salads and dips.

Sow about 40 seeds per 13cm pot of multi-purpose compost with added John Innes on the windowsill or alternatively plant pot-grown specimens in spring or autumn, leaving 20cm between the clumps, water regularly and hopefully they will come back year after year. You'll need to divide clumps every few years for best results.


  • Water newly-planted bedding plants when the weather is dry, preferably with a sprinkler so that the water really penetrates the soil.
  • Keep weeding regularly and checking for pests and diseases.
  • If you live in a cold region, don't be tempted to plant out your summer bedding plants until the end of this month or even early June. Be guided by your local parks -plant out your summer bedding when they do.
  • Apply a combined weedkiller and fertiliser dressing to the lawn.
  • Earth up early and maincrop potatoes.
  • Plant waterlilies and other aquatics in garden pools.
  • Sow broad beans, French beans, parsnips, peas, rocket, spring onions, turnips, leeks and lettuces if weather permits.
  • Clean the bulbs of early tulips and daffodils which have had time to die back and store them in shallow trays in a cool shed ready for replanting in October.

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