Many plants, for the garden and indoors, can be raised from stem and leaf cuttings. The techniques are easy, and you will gain even more pleasure from your plants by seeing them grow from the start.
Taking stem cuttings
Most houseplants can be propagated of from softwood cuttings taken in spring, and many of the shrubby plants root from semi-ripe cuttings taken later in the year. The method of taking softwood cuttings is similar to that of semi-ripe cuttings (see right), but choose the ends of new shoots. Take softwood cuttings after the first flush of spring but before the shoots have become hard, and follow the same procedure as for semi-ripe cuttings. Geranium (pelargonium) soft woodcuttings root readily, and are therefore good to try if you are a beginner.
Softwood cuttings — especially easy ones such as coleus and impatiens — can often be rooted in water. Fill a jam-jar almost to the top with water and fold apiece of wire-netting (chicken wire) over the top. Take the cuttings in the normal way but, instead of inserting them into compost (potting soil); rest them on the netting, with the ends of the stems in water. Top up the water as necessary. When roots have formed, pot up the cuttings into individual pots.
Taking leaf cuttings
Some of the most popular houseplants, such as saint paulias, foliage begonias, streptocarpus and sansevierias, can be raised from leaf cuttings, using a variety of methods. For leaf-petiole cuttings, you need to remove the leaves with a length of stalk attached. For square-leaf cuttings, instead of placing a whole leaf on the compost (medium), cut it into squares and insert these individually. With leaf-midrib cuttings, slice the long, narrow leaves of plants such as streptocarpus into sections and treat them as for square-leaf cuttings.
Make the cuttings 10-15 cm/4-6 in long, choosing the current season’s growth after the first flush of growth but before the whole shoot has become hard. Fill a pot with a cuttings compost (medium) or use a seed compost, and firm it to remove any large pockets of air.
Trim the cutting just below a leaf joint, using a sharp knife, and remove the lower leaves to produce a clear stem to insert into the compost.
Dip the cut end of-the cutting into a rooting hormone. If using a powder, moisten the end in water first so that it adheres. Make a hole in the compost with a small dibber or a pencil, and insert the cutting so that the bottom leaves are just above the compost. Firm the compost gently around the stem to remove large air pockets. You can usually insert several cuttings around the edge of a pot.
Water the cuttings, then label and place in a propagator, or cover the pot with a clear plastic bag, making sure that it does not touch the leaves. Keep in a light place, but out of direct sunlight. If lot of condensation forms, reverse the bag or ventilate the propagator until excess condensation ceases to form. Do not allow the compost to dry out. Pot up the cuttings once they have formed a good root system.
USING ROOTING HORMONES
Some plants, such as impatiens and some trade scantias, root readily even without help from a rooting hormone. Others, and especially semi-ripe cuttings, will benefit from the use of a rooting hormone. Rooting hormones are available as powders or liquids, and their use usually results in more rapid rooting and, in the case of the trickier kinds of plants, a higher success rate
TAKING LEAF-PETIOLE CUTTINGS
Use only healthy leaves that are mature but not old. Remove the leaf with about5 cm/2 in of stalk, using a sharp knife or razor blade. Fill a tray or pot with a suitable rooting compost (medium), then make a hole with a dibber or pencil.
Insert the stalk into the hole, angling the cutting slightly, then press the compost gently around the stalk to firm it in. The base of the blade of the leaf should sit on the top of the compost. You should be able to accommodate a number of cuttings in a seed tray or large pot. Water well, preferably with the addition of a suitable fungicide, and then allow any surplus moisture to drain away.
Place the cuttings in a propagator, or cover with a clear plastic hag. Make sure that the leaves do not touch the glass or plastic, and remove condensation periodically. Keep the cuttings warm and moist, in a light place out of direct sunlight. Young plants usually develop within a month or so and can then he potted up individually, but leave them until they are large enough to he handled easily
TAKING SQUARE-LEAF CUTTINGS
First cut the leaf into strips about 3 cm/11/4 in wide, in the general direction of the main veins, using a sharp knife or razorblade (be sure to handle the latter very carefully). Cut across the strips to form small, even-sized squares of leaf.
Fill a tray with a rooting compost (medium), then insert the squares on edge, with the edge that was nearest to the leafstalk facing downwards. Once the young plants are well-established, after a month or so, pot them up individually.
TAKING LEAF-MIDRIB CUTTINGS
Remove a healthy, undamaged leaf from the parent plant – ideally one that has only recently fully expanded.
Place the leaf face-down on a firm, clean surface, such as a sheet of glass or piece of wood. Cut the leaf into strips no wider than 5 cm/2 in.
Fill a pot or tray with a writing compost (medium), and insert the cuttings 2.5 cm/1 in apart, with the end that was nearest the stalk downwards. Pot up the plants when they are large enough to handle
PLANTS TO GROW FROM LEAF CUTTINGS
– Begonia rex (Leaf-petiole cuttings)
– Begonias (other than B. rex)
– Peperomia caperata
– Peperomia metallica
– Saintpaulia Leaf-midrib cuttings
– Sinningia speciosa (gloxinia) Streptocarpus