Save Your Favorite Shrub
Do you have a favorite hebe or hydrangea that may not make it through next winter? Take a softwood cutting now and you will have several new shrubs to plant next spring. I have used this propagation technique on hydrangeas, weigelas, hebes, viburnums, rosemary and lavender, but there are many other shrubs that will root from softwood cuttings. You have nothing to lose if you try; and lots of new plants if you are successful.
You will need:
- Clean pruning shears
- Rooting hormone
- Clean seedling tray (like the 4-packs begonias are sold in) or a deep clear plastic container with lid and drain holes (those from Costco with salad mix or spinach in them work well for small, short cuttings)
- Potting mixture (60% perlite and 40% sterile soil-less mix to promote good drainage)
Follow these tips for success:
- Add pre-moistened soil mix to the seedling tray or other well-draining container
- In the early morning when plants have the highest moisture content, use clean pruning shears to cut a softwood stem 2-5” long with 2 or 3 sets of leaves. Softwood shoots are those that are no longer soft and green; but haven’t turned hard and woody yet.
- Remove the lower set of leaves to open up wounds; this is where rooting will occur.
- Wound the tip of the stem by scraping off a bit of bark.
- Dip the stem into water and then rooting hormone powder, coating the wound areas
- Tap off excess rooting hormone
- Use a pencil to make a hole in the potting mix and insert the cutting into the soil; tamp soil gently around cutting, make sure the leaf-node wounds are below the soil level so roots can develop.
- Humidity is important for root development. Insert the seedling tray into a large plastic bag or cover the plastic container with the lid. Stick stakes into the corners of the pot to hold the plastic bag up off the stems.
- Keep the container out of direct sunlight; check it weekly for moisture level. Cuttings should show roots in 4-6 weeks.
Once your cuttings develop roots, you can then transplant them into nursery pots so the cuttings can develop extensive, healthy root systems. Keep them in a cool, bright spot in your house for the winter. In the spring, set the pots out after all danger of frost has passed; continue to nurture your new little shrubs as they develop new stems and leaves. I often use them as container plantings on the deck. In late fall, put them into a sheltered area of your garden to spend the winter. The following spring, you’ll have a whole new set of shrubs to move to their permanent homes in your garden and share with friends.
An extensive article on propagating evergreen and deciduous plants is available from the WSU Extension Service. For a list of plants, refer to “Cuttings Through the Year” by Joy Spurr, published by the Arboretum Foundation; it is available in the Arboretum Visitor’s Center and for checkout at the Elizabeth C. Miller Library at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle (U-Village area).
Fall Garden Clean-up Tips
A few tasks now will prepare your lawn and garden for winter and save you time and energy in the spring.
- Remove dead annuals and cut back perennials that are looking fairly lifeless. I leave my perennials up, even when they look ragged, until the birds have had their fill of the seed heads. After a hard freeze, some will look even worse and that’s the time to cut them back and mulch around but not over the crown.
- Pull weeds that have emerged recently; taking care of them now will go a long way toward keeping control in the spring.
- Cut rose canes that may get whipped around in the winter wind, but wait until late February/early March to do any hard pruning. Mulching up around the crown will help protect from freezing temperatures.
- Continue to mow your lawn until it stops growing, and give it one last fertilizer dose.
- Rake up fallen leaves on your lawn, however, you can leave them accumulating around your shrubs to act as a protective mulch. If you aren’t subject to winter winds that is.
- Clean out the vegetable bed and cover with burlap, mulch or a cover crop.
- For a lovely spring surprise, plant spring bulbs anytime before the ground freezes. They’ll need about 12 weeks of chilling before they break dormancy and start growing. To avoid heartache: deer love tulips and will leave daffodils alone.
Additional information on propagation and gardening practices can be found on our website at www.svmastergardeners.com.
[The authors, Kaye Moreton and Ann Acton, are master gardeners in the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program. Extension programs and employment are available to all without discrimination. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local Extension office.]