Essential kit for taking cuttings

Find out which kit you need for successfully taking cuttings, in our No Fuss Guide with Alan Titchmarsh.

To take cuttings successfully, it pays to have the right kit. In this No Fuss video guide, Alan Titchmarsh takes you through the kit you need to take cuttings.

More advice on taking cuttings:

Alan explains that it’s better to use sharp tools to avoid injury to the plant, and to take cuttings in the morning when they’re moist. He takes you through the types of pot and seed tray to use, explains when to use rooting hormones and explains why you need to keep your cuttings as moist as possible after you’ve potted them up. Finally, Alan discusses the benefits of labelling your plants.

One of the most satisfying jobs in gardening is propagation. Making your own plants from the material you have to hand. It’s hugely satisfying, but it’s also remarkably economical, especially when it comes to taking cuttings, little bits of plant that you can encourage to root and have a life of their own.

The kit you need is relatively simple. A good sharp pair of secateurs, whichever design you want, will allow you to go over shrubs and plants and perennials, slicing off shoot tips. It’s generally speaking, only the top three or four inches of a shoot that makes a cutting. Secateurs will do that, as will a good garden knife. There are
lots of them available – make sure that blade stays really sharp to give you a good clean cut. Damaged tissue from a blunt knife can let disease and funghi in so that the cuttings eventually rot. Much better to have sharp implements, both secateurs and knives, for gathering cuttings.

Gather them, if you can, early in the morning – that way they’re packed full of moisture – and slip them into a polythene bag. Again, it just stops them drying out. The more you can do to avoid desiccation, the better. Keep them in that for as long as you need. You know, an hour or so, until you get to the situation where you can actually prepare them and insert them as cuttings. What do you put them in? Well, there are lots of composts around and they’re advertised as seed or cuttings compost. And you can root, you know, three or four cuttings around the edge of a pot like this, a plastic pot with lots of drainage holes in the bottom. Or you can use what we call a half tray. This is a half-sized seed tray. The full-sized tray is twice that size. And when you’ve evened off the surface of the compost like that, you can very gently use a presser just to make it level. This is particularly for seed sowing, but for cuttings as well, it just keeps everything in order and makes sure your tray is nice and even; and space the cuttings out there, perhaps a couple of inches apart.

When you’re taking them in pots like this, what you want to do is prevent them from losing moisture. I keep going on about this, don’t I? Keep them in a polythene bag. When you’ve put them in there, they’ve got no roots to fuel them with water. So they need to have a close atmosphere which stops them losing water as much as possible. The easiest ways of doing that is to cut the bottom off a soft drinks bottle and slip it over the top; and you have a cloche – French for bell – which then stops moisture from escaping too much. If you want a bit more ventilation, you just unscrew the top and there it is. And on a day like this, you would need that, but you’ll find your cuttings wilt much less if they’re kept in that close atmosphere.

If you want to take cuttings that are going to be planted straight out in the garden afterwards, these little pots are quite useful. They’re sort of made of cardboardy fibre. Now the vital thing about these, is that the plants will root through them and you can plant them straight in the garden without taking this off, but it must be wet. If it’s dry, then it can stop water from penetrating from the soil and your plant can actually be marooned in a dry atmosphere there. So make sure that these are really soggy. Soak them once the plants have rooted, before you plant them out.

The alternative for cuttings are these modular trays, like this. You can see they’re already divided up. And that means that when it comes to transplanting them, you can pop up that little root ball with its plant on top, which will avoid any kind of disturbance for planting out or for potting on.

Do make sure with all of them, because, if your mind’s like mine, you’ll forget the variety, what it was that you took. So labels, that’s what you need, plastic labels or these rather glamorous bamboo ones here. If you really don’t want them to fade, then a magic marker, a permanent marker you can write on them with. If you’re cost
conscious, use a pencil on plastic labels. It will stay for as long as you want – it’s really good at staying on a plastic label is pencil, but then when you want to save them, you can just scrub it off under a tap and hey presto, you’ve got labels you can reuse.

And do remember plants that have been taken from other plants – these little cuttings – have got no means of getting water themselves. You’ve got to provide it; and do so by keeping an eye on them so that the compost never completely dries out. It doesn’t want to be soggy or they will rot and drown, but it wants to be damp.
And the way to water them is with a watering can fitted with a rose, a sprinkler head, on the end. Don’t just try and use the spout – you’ll wash all the compost out.

Most cuttings, if prepared properly, with a good clean cut below a leaf joint and the lower leaves removed, will root readily on their own. Those that are tricky can be helped to form roots with rooting hormone. It comes in either powder form like this and you dip the end of the cutting in there, or in liquid form, and again, just the
bottom of the cutting. Don’t soak it and get half a yard of rooting hormone up the stem. Just the very end, dipped in and then inserted in the compost will help to encourage it to form roots.

But you will find some things easier than others to root. And when you’ve done it a few times and things have rooted and you end up with loads of plants that you’ve got for nothing, you will realise the wisdom and the wonder of propagating from cuttings. Good luck.