It occurs to me that when we recently held our Master Gardeners seminar on “Heavenly Hydrangeas,” this year we were missing Maurya Jones, who always does the propagation topic. It’s a fascinating part of the program, and now is a good time to do it. Who doesn’t want more shrubs … for free?
At the annual seminars, members bring in cuttings from their shrubs, and these are made available to participants to take home for practice. Now, an important disclaimer, so pay attention. You will essentially be making clones of the original. That is all right — unless it’s patented. The patent information will be on the tag, or perhaps PPAF (plant patent applied for) or PVR (plant variety rights), maybe even “patent pending.” Lost the tag? Let your conscience be your guide, but understand this: you may not sell the results!
The process. Select softwood cuttings. True propagators will differentiate “green wood” as tips that will bend over in your hand but not break and “hard wood,” the stiff inflexible part of the stem nearer the base. A softwood cutting falls in between: it bends and snaps off. That’s what you want.
Cut the stem about an inch below the second leaf node, and protect it in a container by covering with wet paper towels. Shoots are most hydrated early in the day and need to be protected from direct sunlight. Cool morning is preferable: on hot days plants wilt more easily. Back inside, pull off the lower set of leaves, creating wounds whereby a rooting hormone can enter the stem. This is where rooting will occur. You can shave bark at the end of the stem for another entry point. Maurya would also demonstrate cutting the remaining leaves back by about a half. The leaf’s job to perform photosynthesis. It will continue to do this, but you can cut down on transpiration loss by trimming.
Rooting hormone is readily available where plants are sold. While you don’t have to use it, it does contain the same auxins already in the stem that initiate root production, so you’re upping the odds. A word of caution: don’t dip directly into the jar or you could cause contamination. Pour out a small amount, roll stems ends and leaf nodes, and then discard. Tap off excess powder.
You will have prepared a seedling tray of some sort. Each container will hold a moistened combination of perlite and soilless mix which will allow good drainage and aeration. Not too soggy, now, or your seedlings will rot — and obviously with drainage holes at the bottom! Best practice now suggests making a mini greenhouse for your seedlings. If you’ve used one of those six-packs that annuals come in, just tent it with a plastic bag, adding small stakes in the corners so that nothing touches the “greenhouse” walls. This creates the humid conditions you want. Take your cuttings outside where they will get dappled sunlight and keep them moist until roots develop.
Check your cuttings weekly by tugging gently. If there is resistance, you have roots — perhaps in as little as three weeks. At that point simply repot into quart containers of soil and perlite. Add some fertilizer and place in a bit more sun (remembering that this is Georgia).
Having told you all that — and it really is easy — there’s an even easier way! Go out to your shrub, locate a limb that is bendable to the ground, skin off a bit of bark on the underside where it will touch and scratch the soil a bit. Press the limb to the soil and lay a large rock or brick on it. The plant will do all the work, growing roots. At the end of the season, just dig the baby up, cut off the connecting branch and pot it up. Heck, my hydrangeas do this by themselves with no help at all from me! Azaleas, too!