Last winter my hydrangeas fell victim to nutrient deficiencies. After performing a soil test to determine a path to reviving the plant, I lowered the pH; fed it some nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium; and witnessed my plant survive. Not only did it survive, but my hydrangeas thrived in these new conditions…so much so that a friend of mine asked me for a propagation.
Propagation is the process by which new plants of a species grow from various components of the parent stock. It serves as a form of reproduction, increasing the number of plants of a particular species. I had never done this by myself before, but, like learning any new skill that seems daunting at first, propagating hydrangeas is easy to achieve by using cuttings.
The following steps, provided by Southern Living, will ensure that your propagation runs smoothly:
- Select a branch with a few nodes (where the main stem branches off into various leaves, twigs, and buds) and make your cut below the node using sharp pruning shears
- Remove the lower leaves on this cut, so the branch does not exhaust all its energy. Keep a few leaves on top.
- Place the branch’s tip (lower half) into a planting hormone.
- Plant the stem and other cuttings into a tall container (at least eight inches deep) filled with potting soil.
- Cover the container with a bag, leaving air openings so it can breathe, and be careful not to touch the plant cuttings with the cover.
- Keep the container in a shaded area while watering the soil so it’s moist but not soaked for two to four weeks.
- After roots form, transplant cuttings to their final location.
Although these steps are straightforward, there are still some common mistakes to avoid. In order to grow a thriving plant from your cuttings, you MUST cut from a healthy plant. This seems obvious, but according to Homes and Gardens, “any stress from inadequate care or the wrong environment will limit the cutting’s potential for rooting.” Health is not the only thing to look out for…timing is also key. There are two ideal timing options for the harvest of cuttings. The first is springtime, as new growth emerges. The second is winter, so the cuttings will take root and resist the shift to cold temperatures.
Additionally, you want to check that your tools are clean and sharp in order to prevent the spread of diseases to your new plant and to ensure clean cuts. According to the same article in Homes and Gardens, clean cuts are important in “keeping transport systems for water and nutrients open within the stem.”
When it comes to rooting your cuttings there are two options: water or soil. The difference, according to Homes and Gardens, is that “rooting in water allows you to closely monitor root growth, but rooting in soil generally produces stronger roots better accustomed to soil conditions, limiting later chances of transplant shock.” Rooting in soil is the recommended route.
If you’ve had success gathering and rooting your cuttings there is still one mistake to avoid in the final step of transplanting: waiting too long. The root systems developing from cuttings are much different than those of the parent plant and those of the established plant your cuttings will become. As Homes and Gardens explains, “They are thinner and more delicate as they grow without much resistance.” This size allows the roots to adapt to soil conditions quickly after transplant. “However, if you leave your cuttings in water for too long to develop extensive root systems, the chances of transplant shock increase dramatically when moving the plant to soil.”
Conversely to waiting too long, you do not want to transplant your cuttings too early before their root system has become established. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden rooting will generally occur between 3-4 weeks. You will know it is time for potting when the roots are at least 1-2 inches long.
Propagating your plant is a wonderful way to honor a plant that you love. As long as you are careful, follow the above steps, and avoid the above mistakes, you will have a beautiful replica of your beloved plant in no time!