Saving Money With Cuttings

Above: everything you need to make your own cuttings: the base plant, in this case plectranthus 'Silver Shield'; rooting medium, several pre-watered flats, and a sharp pair of florist shears. To the right: a flat of cuttings I started 4 weeks ago, already rooted.

I spent an idyllic weekend in far northern Vermont this past Memorial day, one afternoon of which was occupied in helping my friend Christina and her son Julian put in their vegetable garden. As part of the process, we stopped by a local nursery, where I was forced, FORCED, I tell you, to acquire several intriguing new  annuals. As usual I didn’t pay much attention to the price until I got to the counter, where I discovered the coleus variety I’d selected cost $7.99. Yikes! While I don’t mind paying that much for a single well grown plant, if you need a half-dozen or a dozen specimens of a particular variety, costs can get out of hand pretty quickly. Fortunately, many fleshy annuals, like the coleus variety I selected, or the plectranthus species so popular in gardens these days, can be easily propagated from cuttings if you think to dig up and save a “mother plant” each fall, and if you have a sunny warm window, sun room or greenhouse space in which to keep the base plants going during the cold winter months. If you do, here’s how to save a bundle each spring by growing your own plants from cuttings – quickly and easily.

Last autumn I dug up a single plant of plectranthus ‘Silver Shield’ and overwintered it in the greenhouse. This quick-growing variety is probably my favorite of all gray-leaved plants, quickly provide a 2′ glaucous massing in the garden far more satisfying than other annuals like Dusty Miller.  To begin the propagation process,  select a stem with soft new growth, and trace down two or three leaf brackets. With sharp shears, cut 1/4″ below where the leaves emerge from the stem, (just beyond my fingers in the picture to the right.)  Gently pinch off the leaves on the lowest bracket – this leaf node will be where the new roots will form.
Here I’ve already filled several plastic six-packs with standard potting soil, watered, and allowed them to drain. Next, I dipped the stem into the rooting hormone. This product, available at most nurseries, contains both plant hormones to spur rooting, as the name implies, as well as a fungicide to help prevent the stem from rotting before the new roots have a chance to form. Make sure the stem is well coated. Once you’ve planted all the cuttings, pinch the top two or four leaves off each, allowing only 2-4 full leaves per stem, both to relieve stress on the plant while the roots form, as well as to encourage branching.
When you’ve finished potting up the cuttings, place the flat in a spot with dappled shade until to roots form. The plants will wilt slightly at first, but that’s to be expected; they will revive if kept constantly moist.  The picture to the right shows you the root formation after only 4 weeks. This cutting is ready for the garden bed. Considering this plant would sell for 3 or 4 dollars at your nursery, you can see how quickly making your own cuttings can quickly cut a substantial sum from your plant expenditures each spring!


Saving Money With Cuttings — 2 Comments

  1. Hi Michael!

    Nice report about your VT weekend at your friends house. Greetz from Christinas german friends
    Alex and Ralf

  2. Very good skill to learn indeed. Although when you get as far north as we do, unless you greenhouse all winter, it’d be a loooong eight months to overwinter a plant. 🙂

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