HomeHome & GardenMonty Don on gardening: Follow some simple rules and you can generate...

Monty Don on gardening: Follow some simple rules and you can generate new plants by taking cuttings

Now we’re in October it’s the perfect time to take semi-ripe cuttings from a wide range of plants, from fuchsias and pelargoniums to box, yew, rosemary and lavender. 

These are taken from the current season’s wood that’s started to harden off a little – while the tip is soft and bendy, the base of the cutting will have started to become more rigid.

This combination of old and new wood means they should root quickly and grow well – but without the same demands for heat and moisture that accompany softwood cuttings taken earlier in the year.

Monty says that now that we’re in October it’s the perfect time to take semi-ripe cuttings from a wide range of plants, from fuchsias and pelargoniums to box, yew, rosemary and lavender

A plant grown from a cutting will always be exactly the same as its parent, whereas one grown from seed will always be different

A plant grown from a cutting will always be exactly the same as its parent, whereas one grown from seed will always be different

A plant grown from a cutting will always be exactly the same as its parent, whereas one grown from seed will always be different. Apart from knowing what you are going to get, it also means you can take cuttings from those plants that thrive in the particular soil and microclimate of your garden and know its offspring will perform equally well.

The minute you separate the cut material from its parent, the race is on for it to grow new roots that will sustain it and provide for fresh new growth, thus preventing death from starvation and dehydration.

For semi-ripe cuttings, choose stems that are straight, healthy and free from flower buds

For semi-ripe cuttings, choose stems that are straight, healthy and free from flower buds

ASK MONTY 

Q I’m going to dig up part of my lawn to make a veg patch. Should I turn the turf upside down and leave it to rot down?

Ivan Day, Herefordshire

A Turf is full of organic matter, so turning the turves upside down and laying them in the bottom of the trench as you dig will enrich the soil. Or lay the turf grass face to grass face and leave them for six months to provide superb loam for potting compost.

Monty Don on gardening: Follow some simple rules and you can generate new plants by taking cuttings

Q How can I stop crane-fly larvae attacking my lawn?

Jennie Pitt, Worcestershire

A Crane-fly larvae feed on grass, which can cause brown patches. Use a fork or aerator to make holes in the lawn to improve drainage. Rake out all dead grass and moss, and don’t water the grass: the larvae need moisture to survive.

Monty Don on gardening: Follow some simple rules and you can generate new plants by taking cuttings

Q When and how should I prune my eight-year-old fig tree, as it’s bearing fruit but getting very overgrown.

Barry Keegan, London

A Prune figs in spring when new leaves are just appearing. You can cut hard without damaging the tree. Cut back to a leaf, another branch or even the main trunk, and then water and mulch well. Fruit is produced on last year’s growth, so new growth next year won’t bear any figs.

Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email monty.don@dailymail.co.uk. Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally. 

So be prepared, and give your cuttings a fighting chance by providing them with the conditions they need to get through this tricky initial period before new roots form.

Have with you a plastic bag and a sharp knife and secateurs. The bag is for placing the cut material immediately into to reduce moisture loss.

For semi-ripe cuttings, choose stems that are straight, healthy and free from flower buds. Cut them with a section of old wood, just below a node (the point where leaves or a bud branch off from the stem).

Prepare in advance some well-drained cutting compost by mixing peat-free potting compost with equal parts of perlite or horticultural grit. If in doubt, err on the side of grittiness as the main purpose is to allow an easy run for the new roots as they’re formed.

Roots need water and oxygen to form, but not nutrition, so any goodness in the compost mix is only effective after new roots appear.

Trim the ends of the stems off with a very sharp knife, cutting cleanly to leave lengths about 10-15cm long.

Strip off all but the top pair of leaves. If the leaves are large, cut them horizontally in half.

The idea is to retain enough foliage to sustain the plant until it grows new leaves, but to reduce moisture loss through transpiration.

Place the cuttings around the edge of a plastic pot, squeezing the stems between the sides of the pot and the compost. Water the pot well but allow it to drain.

All cuttings should be placed in a spot that’s light but not in direct sunlight. Professionals use a mist bench, which automatically sprays a fine mist as the humidity drops below a certain level.

But you can produce successful cuttings simply by hand-misting the foliage two or three times a day or by placing the pots in a clear polythene bag so the evaporating moisture doesn’t escape.

Having a simple heated mat under the pot will greatly increase the speed and success rate of new roots. Alternatively, place the pot on a windowsill above a radiator – but out of the full glare of the midday sun.

When you see new leaves form, you’ll know the cutting has ‘struck’, i.e. formed roots. Gently remove from the container and pot up individually in potting compost to become healthy new plants – and all for free!

MONTY’S JOB OF THE WEEK

If you have camellias, rhododendrons or azaleas – especially ones that are growing in a container – then it’s important they don’t dry out, so water them well now and continue to do so weekly for the rest of this month.

This will ensure that the buds for next spring’s flowers form properly and open fully, because the most common cause of buds dropping off before they open in this group of plants is that the roots are too dry when the buds form during late summer and autumn. 

If you have camellias, rhododendrons or azaleas – especially ones that are growing in a container – then it's important they don't dry out, so water them well now and continue to do so weekly for the rest of this month

If you have camellias, rhododendrons or azaleas – especially ones that are growing in a container – then it’s important they don’t dry out, so water them well now and continue to do so weekly for the rest of this month

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