With as many leaves on the ground as on the trees, the world in November has a different, if as interesting an appearance as that of June or September. There is still a lot of colour around. It is just that it has migrated from up in the air, to a new location - down on the ground. Mounds of leaves lie about, waiting to be swept up, still beautiful, for as long as they are dry and piled high. They will not stay like that. Eventually they will form a flat, darkening slime carpet if left on the ground too long. This is good stuff, garden gold dust actually. Use it. Benefit from it. Do not spend money sending it to the tip. Sweep it up and put it in a compost heap to make free food for the soil.
Meanwhile the branches those fallen leaves have rendered bare are a reminder that it is now that you can take hard-wood cuttings to create new plant stock.
Hard-wood cuttings are the easiest of all cuttings to work with. Unlike soft and semi-ripe cuttings, where you need to be gentle, handling new, recently produced shoots, these are tough, hardened lengths of wood. You need not have the light touch for success here.
It is mainly hard-wood cuttings that we use when propagation from shrubs. The majority of deciduous shrubs can be grown like this. So if your granny or dad has a fine cornus or philadelphus, a buddleja you are particularly fond of, or a special hydrangea or rose, this is the time to take a cutting of it, so you can have that cherished plant in your garden too, a little piece of their garden in yours. The same applies to the black currant bush in your auntie’s garden, the one she uses to make her delicious black currant pie.
As stated already, hard-wood cuttings are easy. You simply select a good looking, decent sized shoot that grew this year, but has become woody and sturdy. It needs to be between the length of a pen and a school ruler, between 20 and 30cms long. Make the bottom cut just below a pair of leaves – or the bulges in the stem where a pair of leaves have recently been shed. The top cut should be just above a bud.
The reason you do this, is because growth hormones are concentrated mostly at these growth points. So roots will grow from the bottom bulge and leaves from the top. (Make a note of which growth bulge belongs at the bottom. and be sure to plant the cutting with bottom side down. )
Now trim off the leaves.
Mix up a batch of compost, using half multi-purpose compost and half vermiculite or grit. This will make sure that there is good drainage. The large proportion of grit or vermiculite also forces the little roots to spread out into the compost looking for moisture. This creates a strong root network.
Fill a pot with the compost. Wet and tamp it down gently.
Then take a pencil or a chopstick and make a well into which you then insert the cutting, with only the top ¼ above ground. Label it well as this future plant is going to remain a stick in the ground until spring and you do not want to forget what that stick represents.
Stand the potted cuttings in a cold greenhouse or in a sheltered part of the garden and leave it until next autumn.
You can also plant the cuttings in exactly the same way, but directly into the ground, in a warm corner of a border or vegetable bed.
The success rate with hard-wood cuttings is high. They might be slower than soft-wood cuttings taken in summer but once done, you can ignore them until they are ready to transplant. That will be next autumn.
In the past, we were told to dip cuttings in hormone rooting powder to help cuttings take and to prevent them from rotting. If you already have it in the shed, you can use it, but if not, carry on without, as many home gardeners have found that it is not actually necessary. If you take eight cuttings and five of them take without rooting powder, did you really need to use it in the first place? You most likely only needed three of them to root in the first place anyway.
I have come across a few gardeners who use willow water to raise the chance of getting cuttings to root. This is because willow is high in the hormone that promotes growth. If you stick a willow twig in the ground, it will root with impressive speed. The gardeners in question read from this, that if they dip their cuttings into water in which cut willow twigs have been soaked, it will increase the chance of those cuttings taking root. It might be worth a try for anyone interested in an experiment.
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