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Plant propagation with the Rowan County Master Gardeners

By Amy-Lynn Albertson
N.C. Cooperative Extension

One of the great things about gardening is you don’t have to spend a lot of money to grow some excellent plants. If you have some time and patience, you can propagate a lot of different perennials, shrubs and trees. The summer is the perfect time to try your hand at reproducing that lilac bush or crabapple. The best time to take “softwood” cuttings is in June and July and sometimes early August. The term “softwood” is used to describe the stage of growth on a deciduous woody plant that’s not the new, green growth at the end of a shoot or the stiff woody growth at the base of the stem. The softwood lies between the two. The best way to know if a shoot has reached the softwood stage is to bend it. If it snaps, the shoot is ready to be taken as a cutting. If the shoot is very flexible and doesn’t snap, it’s too green. Finally, if it’s not flexible at all, it’s too old. The soft shoots are quite tender, and extra care needs to be taken to keep them from drying out. However, the extra effort pays off because softwood cuttings usually root very quickly. If you are rooting a few cuttings, you can use a flower pot or small flat. To maintain high humidity, cover the cuttings with a bottomless milk jug or place the container in a clear plastic bag. Some plants that are easily propagated by softwood cuttings are azaleas, blueberries, flowering cherries, crape myrtles, dogwoods, forsythia, hydrangea, rose and lots more.

The Rowan County Master Gardeners will be offering their annual propagation class July 16, and July 29 from 9 a.m.-noon. The cost is $15. Bring pruners and a knife plus cutting of shrubs that you want to propagate. The cuttings need to be softwood and 6-8 inches long. Keep the cuttings in water or a cooler. You should wait to cut them until the morning of the class. Experienced Master Gardeners will walk you through the process and help you grow your garden. Plants should be well watered before taking cuttings. Plants under stress will not do well. Cuttings from old wood or aged or declining shrubs will be difficult to propagate. Shrubs should be insect- and disease-free. Cuttings should be taken the morning of the workshop if at all possible. Participants are encouraged to bring enough plant material to share with others.

Recommended plants for propagation include most ornamental shrubs including all varieties of butterfly bushes, hydrangea and azalea, mock orange, crape myrtle, spirea, weigela, gardenia (upright and trailing varieties), holly, roses, chaste tree (vitex), Kerria, viburnum and beautyberry. Some conifers will do well, others not so much. Camellias will propagate; they take a while to mature. Don’t forget the vining plants and herbs. Clematis and lavender would be two examples. When filled, the propagation trays will be nurtured in the greenhouse until fall. At that time, a potting up session will be scheduled, with Master Gardeners to assist, and the new plants will be ready to be taken home. Participants are encouraged to come by and check on their cuttings during the summer to see their growth and development. The Master Gardeners will also have cuttings available from some of the plants in the demonstration garden. Each class is limited to 12 people and will be outdoors rain or shine under the pavilion. Go to  http://go.ncsu.edu/rowanpropagation to register, payment can be taken online or the day of class.  Make checks payable to Rowan County Master Gardeners. For more information about propagating plants or other horticultural topics, contact the Rowan County Extension Center at 704-216-8970.

Amy-Lynn Albertson is the director of the Rowan County Extension.

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