There’s nothing quite like growing your own plants, and for most kids, that means sowing seeds or planting bulbs. Learning how to take cuttings properly, however, opens up a whole new range of possibilities, not least because there are some kinds of plants that are simply too much like hard work to grow in any other way!
There are plenty of suitable candidates to choose from in the average garden, and with care and a little green-fingered good fortune, it’s possible to grow a number of the commonly available exotic houseplants successfully this way too.
Taking cuttings, of course, requires a knife or strong scissors, so all the normal safety precautions regarding kids and sharp blades apply, but with a little age-appropriate supervision, even the youngest of children can enjoy taking some part in the job.
There are two main types of cuttings commonly used – stem and leaf – but the basic idea is very similar, so all you really need to get your youngsters started with this useful approach to plant propagation is a suitable blade, a supply of compost and some seed trays or small pots. Although many gardeners like to use hormone rooting powder to make sure the cuttings take, it isn’t always necessary and with very young children, it may be something that you feel you want to avoid. Most of the examples given in the following sections should root without it, but if you do decide to use it, just lightly dampen the end of the cutting and then dip it into the powder (always taking care to following the instructions on the container) before planting it.
Many garden shrubs and trees can be propagated by this method. As with all cuttings, the trick is to select healthy, vigorous shoots to use, cutting cleanly across the stem and removing the very tip, cutting it off diagonally to leave a sloping ‘upper’ end which will let water run off and so help prevent it rotting.
Poke a small hole in your pot of compost, deep enough to accommodate about a third of the length of the cutting and then place the straight cut, bottom end into it, firming the compost around the stem to hold it up. Water it well initially and then ensure it doesn’t dry out while you leave it in a shady spot to wait for the first buds to begin to show that your cutting has successfully taken.
Stem cuttings are normally taken during the dormant period, either just after the leaves have fallen in the autumn, or before the buds burst open in spring, although it can sometimes give surprisingly good results at other times of the year also.
Suitable Plants for Stem Cuttings
Although there are many plants which can be grown from leaf cuttings, it is a method which seems particularly suited to more delicate varieties, and it’s particularly useful for many popular houseplants. The actual technique necessary does vary from plant to plant more than for stem cuttings, so you may have to do a bit of research first. While that means it’s not quite so suitable for the youngest gardeners, it could turn into a bit of an educational project for older children.
Some plants can be rooted from partial leaf cuttings, sections of their leaves being simply laid on top of the surface of the compost; begonias are a good example and new plants will develop very successfully – but only provided the growing conditions are kept clean. For others, a whole leaf needs to be cut, then you plant the leaf-stalk, and allow the leaf itself to just rest on the surface of the compost.
Many succulents, such as Echeveria, Crassula or Aloe, can also be grown from leaves, though the method is a little different. For these plants you need to wait for a few days before planting to allow the cut end to dry out and thicken slightly, forming a protective callus which protects the leaf from dehydration.
Whatever type of plant you’re growing, the main factors in success are ensuring that you select a healthy looking, undamaged leaf in the first place, use a free-draining compost, place the cutting in a warm, light and airy location – and keep everything as clean as possible to avoid disease.
As a rule, leaf cuttings are taken in the spring and early summer, though some plants will root successfully throughout the year.
Suitable Plants for Leaf Cuttings
- African violet (whole leaf)
- Aloe (whole leaf)
- Sedums (whole leaf)
- Begonia (part leaf)
Do be aware that no matter how careful your kids are at taking cuttings, and irrespective of how well they’ve been looking after them, not all of them will take, so it’s well worth setting up several of each plant, to allow for this natural failure rate – and avoid any upsets!
Once your kids have got the hang of cuttings practising on some of the easier varieties, and hopefully had a lot of success producing new plants this way, there’s plenty of scope for experimenting with others. You never know, even some of the most difficult to grow plants might just respond with perseverance – and the obligatory bit of luck!