Plant Propagation Part 2
Softwood plant propagation is just as easy as taking hardwood cuttings. Take softwood cuttings from vigorous new non-flowering shoots with 3 or 4 pairs of leaves. Do this when the parent plant is in a growing spurt. Softwood cuttings are best taken in late spring to early summer, early in the morning, when concentrations of hormones in the sap are at their highest.
The cut should be about half an inch below leaf nodes, and should be about 6 – 8 inches long. The cuttings should bend easily, without snapping or breaking. Because they have a lot of new green growth, softwood cuttings can easily dry out. As the tissue is soft and immature and will wilt quickly, propagation must take place as soon as possible after the cutting is taken.
Moisture is absolutely essential; the cuttings must never be allowed to dry out. If you are taking a quantity of cuttings, wrap them in a damp cloth or put them in a plastic bag until you finish cutting and are ready to deal with them.
Use a sterile growing medium to root the cuttings. This can be sterilized soil, perlite, or clean builders sand. Remove the leaves from the bottom third of the cutting, and press them gently into the rooting medium. You can also use a rooting hormone to encourage root growth. Place the cuttings in the rooting tray far enough apart so the leaves do not touch the neighboring cutting.
The trick with softwood cuttings is to keep them in a humid environment while they form new roots. You can do this by a variety of means, from frequent misting, inverting a plastic bag over the cuttings (making sure it does not touch the plants), to putting the cuttings into a misting chamber. Remember to allow the cuttings to air out periodically.
You can locate your tray of cuttings in a cold frame, in a greenhouse, or outdoors in the summer (out of direct sun). In cooler weather, some bottom heat will help the cuttings take root.
Rooting time varies with the type of cutting, the plant being rooted, and environmental conditions. Softwood cuttings develop new roots quickly because they are taken from the most actively growing part of the plant. Usually 4 – 6 weeks will be sufficient to develop new roots so the new plant is suitable for potting up.