Tuesday, 16 July 2013


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You can propagate many plants by taking root cuttings. The advantage of taking root cuttings is that you can produce large numbers of plants relatively simply.  There is no need for propagators or any fancy kit, you can just place them outside in a pot and wait for the plant to do its thing.

Plants produced from root cuttings will usually be identical to the parent plant, with the exception of grafted plants that will take on the properties of the grafted root stock.  You can use this method of propagation for trees, shrubs and many perennials.

Taking root cuttings

Root cuttings should be taken when plants are dormant, between November and February before the plant breaks out into bud.  This is because the energy stored in the roots is absorbed by the plant during the growing season and makes roots cuttings less effective.  By carrying out this operation at this time you will minimises stress on the parent plant and use the stored energy in the roots.

Before you take your cutting ensure that you select a healthy, disease free parent plant. You can expose the roots of perennial and smaller plants by digging them up in their entirety.  For larger plants such as woody shrubs you can dig down on one side to expose the roots in situ.  Select healthy roots that are about pencil sized, avoiding old and woody ones.  For perennial plants select the large fleshy roots, in fact the thicker the better.

With sharp secateurs make a straight cut through the root closest to the parent plant.  Follow the root down from this cut make a second diagonal cut towards the end of the root. The angle of the cut helps to orientate the root when you come to pot the root cutting up.  This is important as your cuttings will not develop if they are planted upside down. 

Do not remove more than 30% of the roots of the parent plant or you will remove too much of the plants stored energy. Replant or cover the roots of the parent plant with soil afterwards and water well to settle the roots back into the soil.

Cut the root into sections 8-15 cm long, maintaining the straight top and slanted bottom angles of each cutting.  Keep the width of each root about pencil sized as this will ensure that there is enough energy in each cutting to produce roots and shoots.

You can plant your root cuttings direct into the soil or in deep pots.  Water the soil well before planting so that it is moist. Dust the bottom of the root cuttings with powdered sulphur to help prevent the roots from rotting.  Place some sand in the bottom of the planting hole and plant horizontally at a depth of 2-3 cm below the soil level.  Cover with a 1 cm layer of coarse sand or grit and water sparingly, only when the soil becomes dry.

New shoots should start to form in about a month.  Feed with a weak solution of liquid fertiliser until plants are established when you can transfer to a larger pot or plant into the garden.

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