It always amazes us how DIY stores and garden centres charge so much for some of the plants that they sell - particularly when you start to think about how easy it is to grow your own.
Propagation - to give "growing your own" it's posh name is simply the breeding of a plant by using a natural process from it's parent. Throw in the words "the art of" and all of a sudden a process that is relatively simple starts to make many of us think it's complicated and we make a hasty visit to the local DIY store or garden centre and spend far more than we'd planned to on plants - and possibly even a scented candle that kept looking at us whilst we waited in the queue to pay!
If we follow a number of simple rules and are patient then before we know it we'll have a number of plants that we've grown ourselves from either plants that we have in our own garden, cuttings we might have surreptitiously taken from a visit to another garden (my grandmother used to do that all the time!) or from cuttings that we've been given.
Different types of plants are propagated in different ways - that depends on the type of plant and the time of the year. Now though is a good time to take softwood cuttings - so that's what we're going to talk about!
There are a number of plants that we can take softwood cuttings from between the months of May and July. The principles are the same and we're going to use Rosemary to help us demonstrate what to do - and to hopefully dispel some of those "arts of propagation" myths about how difficult it is!
Rosemary is a plant that looks good throughout the year whether it's grown in pots, the veg patch or the allotment. The aromatic leaves can be used in a variety of ways and the flowers are really popular with pollinators such as bees.
However rosemary seeds can take a very long time to germinate, so it's best to buy young plants, which are widely available, or wait until your own plant has stopped flowering and take cuttings from it.
This is how we do it:
We get up early in the morning when the plant is full of water - turgid is the posh phrase - and we identify a shoot that is ripe and ready to go under the knife. Ideally the plant will have been pruned the previous winter to promote new growth which is ideal for taking a cutting from.
Here's one we'll use. Using a sharp knife we snip off about 4 inches and if we're going to wander leisurely through our garden and take more cuttings then we add them to a clear plastic bag or pop them into a jar of water so they retain their moisture until we're ready to proceed.
These pictures show our cuttings before and after they've been tidied up. The first picture shows them in their freshly snipped state with the second one showing how the base of the stem has been trimmed to just below the point from which the leaves grow -a leaf node to give it's posh term!
Now they're ready for the next stage!
Here we are back outside. We've filled up some pots with cutting compost and we have our rooting hormone powder at the ready. We use the powder to give the cuttings every best possible chance to develop roots of their own.
Now you might have noticed that rooting powder we use comes with a rather strange looking top. While that's our dibber! You don't need to use powder that comes with it's own dibber - a clean stick will do the job just as well - but as we've got one then we might as well use it.
See? Easy to use and for the size of the pots we're using we've gone with 4 dibbed holes. We might be optimistic and probably should have used a larger pot - terracotta ones are best as they retain heat and moisture better than plastic ones. That's what Monty, Carol and Adam used the other week on Gardeners World - but for now we'll go with what we have.
We've made sure that the cutting is damp and have popped it into the rooting powder. We've tapped off any surplus powder and are now simply - and gently - dropping it into the hole that we've made with our dibber.
And now we're watering it in. This will give the cutting more moisture and will also help settle the compost.
Finally we'll pop it into our propagator and leave it in a warm sunny place for a couple of weeks. A window sill is fine so long as it's not in hot direct sunlight. If you don't have a propagator then a clear plastic bag will do just as good a job.
We'll make sure that we leave the cuttings out of the propagator (or bag if that's what you're using) for 10 or 15 minutes a few times a week so that they get some fresh air and to make sure that the inevitable moisture that will build up has a chance of dispersing.
And after 3 or 4 weeks we should have a few new rosemary plants. We'll then harden them off by introducing them to the outdoors and then we'll pot them on in pots of their own that we'll have filled with John Innes No 1!
So what next? Well I have some verbena cuttings that I'll be bringing on by following this process and some pelargoniums that a client no longer wanted. Even though they'd seen better days I brought them home, popped them into a jam jar of water and now they're ready for the cutting knife too!
See? Plants for next to nothing. Ok I had to buy the rooting powder and the compost but I still think that I'll have saved money and what's more, had some fun along the way!
Give it a go and let us know how you get on.