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Prepared cuttings
Prepared cuttings

Christmas is coming… and if like me, you feel like all your spare cash is evaporating faster than courgettes turn to marrows in July, then read on. This week’s blog is about the free, quick and easy.

It might seem surprising, but it’s a great time of year to be taking cuttings – and one of the easiest sorts too. ‘Hardwood cuttings’ are simply lengths of stem that you cut from trees and shrubs which have lost their leaves for the winter. They root slowly over the winter and spring, and make new plants for your garden for very little effort or expense.

The method below works for most hardy deciduous shrubs, including buddleia (butterfly bush), forsythia, currants, gooseberries, willows, honeysuckles and roses.

How to take hardwood cuttings

Ideal cutting material
Ideal cutting material

The easiest way to get the right kind of cutting is to imagine them as pencils (both in length and thickness). So you want to select material that is:

  • straight
  • not too branched
  • healthy
  • vigorous

Make a sloping cut just below a bud, then trim the top of the cutting back to just above a bud. It’s important to remember which way up they go! This isn’t always as obvious as it might seem. Some buds point clearly upwards but with other plants it’s difficult to tell – I take a jam jar out with me, and put the cuttings in as I take them. Having a sloping cut at one end and a flat cut at the other helps too.

Picking a branch
Picking a branch

If you’ve got gooseberry bushes; black, red or white currants or buddleias, you can kill two birds with one stone: do your winter pruning, and use some of the material you’ve removed as cuttings. I only planted my currant bushes in February, so there’s not much to prune off them yet. However, one vigorous shoot growing right into the middle of the plant seemed ideal for cuttings (the branch with the orange tag in the photo) – by opening up the centre of the plant you allow light and air in: helping the fruit ripen and preventing disease.

Planted cuttings
Planted cuttings

Another tip is to label your jars of cuttings as you take them. It’s amazing how similar your little rows of brown sticks can look! Then it’s time to plant them. You can put them in pots (ordinary compost will do – add some sand or grit if you have it): but to be honest I find it much easier to stick them straight into the ground somewhere with a bit of shade and shelter. Wiggle a spade into the soil to make a narrow trench and poke two-thirds of the cuttings’ length into the soil. Then there’s nothing to do but leave them well alone (except for watering in dry spells) until next autumn, by which time they should’ve rooted and given you lots of beautiful, healthy plants for free!

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