Herb Help: Taking cuttings

The fourth month of the year and thought to be sacred to Aphrodite - goddess of love, beauty and procreation, April is an exciting time of year, the month of buds and bees, salads and shoots, new leaves and new life. April heralds the arrival of spring with her lighter skies and lengthening days but our warming island surrounded by cold seas brings heavy April showers and occasional wintery blasts. 

Plant in pre-cutting state in soil.

It is the weather and soil conditions that are all important to growth and growing at this time of year. The warming soil temperatures makes it a good month for dividing plants and transplanting into new locations, taking soft tip cuttings of favourite shrubs and sowing seeds. The taking of cuttings is one of the easiest ways to multiply plants for your own garden or to give to friends. Soft tip cuttings are exactly what they say – the soft new growth in the spring. The area on a stem where the leaves attach is called a node and is an area rich in reproductive cells. When taking a cutting use clean secateurs and cut immediately below a nodal joint to produce a cutting about 3 inches/8cm long and then remove the lowest pair of leaves, or the lowest two leaves if the leaves are alternate on the stem.

Plant section cut below nodal point to make 3 inch cutting.

Bottom leaves removed from cutting.

Have ready a small pot of watered compost (seed sowing is the best) and make a small hole in each corner with a plant label or small stick and place a cutting in each hole about a third of the height of the cutting. Press the compost back against the cutting to hold it securely – there should be a bit of resistance if were to gently try and pull it out.

Small pot with compost nestles 4 new cuttings.

Place a clear bag over the pot and hold in place with an elastic band and then place on a light but not too sunny windowsill. Take the bag off each day, turn it inside out and replace. This stops the build up of fungal diseases and gives the plant fresh air. Water the pot when you take the bag off – the compost should not dry out but you don’t want the base sat in water either. Once the stems start to elongate, there is a good chance the roots are growing too – a gentle pull should confirm this.

Remove the bag and leave for a couple of days before cutting back to just above the second pair of leaves from the base. Plants will always grow upwards in a single straight stem and this forces them to sprout new leaves from the two node points you have left, producing a lovely bushy plants. Once you see some new leaves growing, remove and plant your cuttings into individual pots to grow on.

Cutting with new growth on, removed from group pot.

Close up of cutting with fresh growth on it.

Plant care