The cutting on the left is a reject. Note the flower bud at the top. That should be avoided, and the distance from the last leaves on the stem to the cut below is much too long and may lead to rotting. The cutting on the right is perfect. It has the lower leaves removed and just a "heel" of the stem left below. The rooting powder should be applied from just below the remaining leaves to the bottom of the heel. Use a pencil to make a hole to put the cutting in and gently firm around the cutting. Just shoving it into the medium will remove most of the rooting hormone. ANDREW MESSINGER
Four of the many rooting hormone choices. Hormodin (left) is one of the more popular choices, but for annuals use #1 and not #3, which is for woody plant material. Clonex on the right seems to be very popular among cannabis growers. ANDREW MESSINGER
This geranium has resided in this shop window for several years. The owner takes cuttings through the winter, which become the plants he puts in his window boxes and planters. This plant could yield quite a few usable cuttings. ANDREW MESSINGER
The cutting on the bottom left is from the storefront geranium. It needs to be trimmed down to one or two leaves on an inch-and-a-half stem. The cutting behind it, struck in a peat pot, is the perfect size with just the right number of leaves. Behind that is a take-out food tray with wire arches that clear plastic can be draped over to form a greenhouse. On the right is a cutting from a citrus-scented geranium. It has an appropriate number of leaves, and the stem length is correct though the bottom needs a little trimming. A similar cutting was placed in a peat pot with sterile medium. The pot is sitting on a small plate and the plant is covered with a plastic container to make a greenhouse. A little bottom heat and two weeks later it will be rooted and ready to be the mother of next year's plants. The covered tray behind is just another suggestion. ANDREW MESSINGER
Remember that geranium in the terracotta planter you liked so much and wished you’d had more of but the garden center couldn’t get more?
Or was it that stunning Balcon geranium growing in a window planter with its tricolored foliage and ivy habit that you lusted for? Maybe it was the incredible New Guinea impatiens over at your friend’s house who couldn’t remember where they’d bought it and you couldn’t find it anywhere? Ah, and that outstanding coleus that would look so terrific in your planter in front of the house? The one that their landscaper had planted but had no idea where it came from or what it was called? Maybe it was a wonderful tender ivy that you fell in love with?
All these and more can be yours, and all you have to do is know how to take cuttings of them, root them and get them through the winter. It’s easy, simple and all you need is stuff you have at home or can buy at local garden centers. Ah, but time is running out. These outdoor annuals can be overwintered inside as new plants from cuttings, but as the days get shorter and the nights get colder your opportunity to do this will only last a few weeks — at most.
All these plants are tender annuals and don’t really live from year to year. However, we can trick them, and by making more of them during the winter you can have quite a few ready for your garden come next May. Many, however, are grown originally from cuttings or clones in commercial nurseries and are patented to protect the originators’ efforts and breeding programs. Yes, you can grow a few on your own and no one will arrest you. But if you do this for profit, the hammer can and should come down on you.
A few basics are needed aside from the plant material that we’ll get to shortly. These cuttings are best rooted in a sterile medium such as a Jiffy peat pellet, a Jiffy peat pot or a small plastic pot (2 inches) filled with a mix of peat and coarse builders sand — not beach sand. Your efforts will be aided by the use of a rooting hormone, which stimulates root growth. These are available as powders, liquids or gels, and there are even some sprays. Some will come in various strengths, and for annuals the lower strength like Hormodin 1 is best.
You’ll need a structure to put your cutting in to keep the humidity high and the soil temperature around 72 to 75 degrees. There are plastic domed trays that can be used, propagation domes and homemade rigs made from deep black plastic take-out food trays. You can bend wire to make a frame over the tray, creating a tiny greenhouse,and you can even use a glass jar or wide tumbler placed over the struck cutting all on a kitchen saucer.
The hard part here is to keep the inside of your tiny greenhouse warm (not hot) and humid (not wet) because the cuttings have no roots to supply moisture to the shoot and leaves so we try to create an artificial atmosphere that supports the plant. Bright light is necessary, but sunlight will doom your project as it will cook the cuttings inside your mini-greenhouse. Keeping the soil warm enough can also be a challenge, but there may be places around your house that will work. Maybe it’s on top of the refrigerator; be creative to find the right spot. You can also purchase heating mats and heating trays that will also come in handy in the spring when you begin starting seeds.
Cuttings need to be as short as possible and still have a leaf node and one or more healthy leaves and no flowers or buds. The bottom leaf is removed with a small stub left below where the leaf was cut off. This is called the leaf node. The small piece of stem left below the node, a third to a half inch long, may also be where new roots emerge as the point where the cut on the stem was made calluses and the hormone stimulates root growth.
Geranium cuttings, including scented geraniums, ivy geraniums and the old-fashioned potted geraniums (all Pelargoniums and not true Geraniums) can all be cut and rooted and will tolerate a number of hours before they need to be struck. Impatiens are not as forgiving and need to be struck quickly after cutting.
Ivies can be cut as mallets. A section of stem is cut on either side of the leaf, about a third of an inch on each side. The mallet consisting of the leaf stem and the two sides of the main stem is treated with the hormone then the mallet placed just below the soil surface like an inverted “T.” Planted too deep and it will rot. Planted just right it will root.
Never water the cuttings as all they need is an occasional misting. You can use a misting bottle or a misting can. Remember, no sun but still keep the soil warm, and never, ever any fertilizer.
Rooting on most of these plants will take a week or two, but if you keep on tugging on the stem to check, rooting will never take place. Be patient and wait at least a week to 10 days before you ever so gently see if there is any resistance from emerging roots. As you feel more confident that rooting has taken place you can begin to remove the humidity cover by raising it or moving it to the side to allow room air to enter and after a few days the canopy can be completely removed. Allow the roots to continue to grow for another week or two then you can transplant the well-rooted cutting into a larger pot.
In most cases the rooted cutting will become the mother plant from which you’ll take additional cuttings during the late fall and through the winter, thus increasing your collection for next year’s garden. Be patient and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Practice and gain an understanding of what’s going on. What’s gone right and wrong will be your teacher. Maybe move on to Swedish ivy and Tradescantia (wandering Jew or creeping Charlie), jade plants, aloe and more. Unfortunately, this won’t work with perennials — at least not at this time of the year.
The entire exercise will lead to you being confident to move on to taking cuttings of houseplants next summer, and then if you get hooked on this free way of gaining more plants you may even move on to trees and shrubs. Trust me, it can become a lifelong addiction that’s incredibly rewarding as long as you are dedicated to learning from your mistakes. Keep growing.
One fine body…