Make plants for free

 

In making your garden or outdoor space better for wildlife, plants are vital. Fill your garden with them and you will be well on your way to your little precious bit of the planet helping create a healthy world for nature – and that includes all of us!

However, I realise it can be expensive to buy loads of plants from garden centres, which is where propagating your own plants, such as by cuttings, is a brilliant way of making LOTS of plants for free.

If this sounds like it requires you to be an expert gardener, don’t worry. You definitely don’t need green fingers or a degree in horticulture to do this. And I have a very big secret to share that you rarely hear on gardening programmes to give you even more confidence!

 

Step by step

At its most simple, all you do is cut a length of plant stem, remove the lower leaves, and put it in a pot of compost. Do just that and it might work, but there are some simple tips that will massively increase your chances of success. Here is how to do it in ten steps.

  1. Prepare some smallish pots of watered compost. If you can make the compost free-draining by adding some grit (50:50 is ideal), all the better.
  2. Choose a wildlife-friendly plant you want to make a cutting from and cut a length of new stem about 15cm long. There are all sorts of plants you can take cuttings from – see my recommended list at the end of this feature. Important: your cutting should not have any flowers or flower buds on it.
  3. Pop each cutting into a sealable plastic bag. A wilted cutting won’t work.
  4. Cut off all lower leaves with sharp secateurs or a knife (taking care when doing this) – you just want a couple of postage stamps of leaf left at the top at most.
  5. Then cut neatly just below what is called a node, the point where a leaf was attached, to leave about 10cm or so of cutting.
  6. Put your cutting down the side of the pot, all the way to just below those retained leaves at the top. It can help to poke a hole first with a pencil. Put several cuttings to one pot to give yourself more chances of success. Firm your cuttings in.
  7. Put a plastic bag tent over the top, held in place with an elastic band around the pot. Use some sticks to create a frame that the bag can sit over so that the plastic doesn’t rest against the cuttings.
  8. Put in a light, warm position such as a well-lit windowsill, but not in direct sunlight.
  9. Keep moist but not sodden.
  10. Once a cutting has put on some new growth, which can be in as little as 2–3 weeks, lift it gently out and plant in its own pot. However, the later you take cuttings in the season (such as in late summer), the longer it takes for them to put out roots, so just be patient, give them the time they need.

The big secret

Expect some of your cuttings to fail! It happens to the best. Forget those that don’t work and just celebrate any successes. A 50% strike rate is good. And 50% of 20 cuttings equals ten new plants, which would probably cost you £100 or more to buy.

If you make more new plants than you need, why not give them away to friends and family so that they can boost their greenery? And when you go visiting, take a plastic bag – they'll probably be delighted to let you take a cutting from anything they've got that takes your fancy.

Wildlife-friendly plants

  • Some small trees, such as dogwoods, hawthorns and birches
  • Most shrubs that lose their leaves in winter. Wildlife-friendly shrubs include Abelia, Ceanothus, Cistus, Deutzia, Escallonia, Fuchsia, Philadelphus, roses, Weigela
  • Some evergreen shrubs, such as Hebe, hollies and privets
  • Most climbers such as Clematis, ivies and honeysuckles
  • Most herbs, such as mints, catmints, Hyssop, lavenders, Rosemary, Sage, thymes.
  • A wide range of garden flowers such as bee-balms, Lamium, penstemons, perennial wallflowers, verbenas.

When to take cuttings

Although some plants do better from cuttings at certain times of year, there is no absolute rule and feel free to try anytime between spring and autumn.