Softwood cuttings is one of the easiest ways to propagate plants. This type of propagation is easily learned by the home gardener, and can be a fun and rewarding way to increase the number of plants in your garden. Unlike propagating by seed, cuttings produce an exact genetic clone of the parent plant. So if you love the shell pink Abutilon in your garden, take some cuttings and soon you will have additional plants to install or give as gifts to friends.
The only difference between a softwood cutting and a hardwood cutting is the time of year you take the cutting. Both are of the current seasons growth, and it is always recommended that the cuttings you use are from the current year.
In the Bay Area, propagation of softwood cuttings is usually done in early to mid-spring. The best time to take softwood cuttings is just as the wood begins to harden. If taken earlier, the plant material is too soft and prone to drying out. If taken later, the rooting process happens less readily. The easiest way to tell if a plant is producing good softwood is to look at a branch. The softwood will look and feel soft, and is easily crushed between your fingers. The softwood will lead down to the hardwood, which is has a rough bark (or bark-like) covering and is hard to crush.
The key to softwood cuttings is to keep them consistently moist. Here is the step by step process:
- Purchase a good rooting mix (I like a 50/50 mix of peat moss and Pearlite), and some small pots with drainage holes in the bottom.
- Once you have determined where the softwood is, take a 4 – 8 inch cutting of the softwood. If there is no 4 inch piece of softwood, you may have a difficult time getting the cutting to root.
- Strip the leaves off the bottom half to third of the stem.
- Dip the stripped part of the stem in water and then in a rooting hormone like Rootone (available at any garden center or nursery). The stripped part of the stem should be covered by the rooting hormone.
- Stick your finger in the rooting mix to make a hole.
- Stick the cutting in the hole and push the dirt around the cutting with your fingers. Do this carefully so that the rooting hormone will stay on the stem.
- Place the cutting in indirect light and try to keep it moist and in a humid environment.
- Your cutting may look unhappy initially, and not all cuttings will survive. Just keep an eye on your cuttings and moisten them as needed, and that will give them the best chance of growing into healthy plants.
Not all plants can be successfully propagated by softwood cuttings. Here are some popular Bay Area plants that are easily propagated in this manner:
Abutilon (Flowering Maple)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum cvs.)
Mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)
So go ahead and give this method of propagation a try. Experiment. You may be surprised at how easily you are able to produce healthy new plants for your garden.