Soft woods

If there is more than 4in between the tip and the base of the cutting, place the cutting on a sheet of glass and make a nodal cut -that is a cut at the base of the stem just (£in) below a bud or leaf joint. This provides as hard and solid a surface as possible and will help prevent rotting.

If the cutting was taken with a heel, neaten the tail that will also have come away with the stem.

Remove the leaves on the bottom third of the cutting, which will be reliant on the remaining leaves to produce sufficient food to keep it alive until its roots are fully established.

Dip the base of the cutting in a powder fungicide such as Captan to protect it against rotting. Softwood cuttings do not need to be treated with a rooting hormone, but the "softwood" strength (0.2 per cent IBa) can be mixed in with the powder fungicide on the "belt-and-braces" principle.

Make a hole with a dibber and plant the cutting up to its leaves in the compost, taking care not to damage the base of the cutting. Plant cuttings so their leaves do not touch. Label and firm them in by watering from above the compost, using a watering can with a fine rose; pressing by hand may damage the cuttings.

Place the cuttings as quickly as possible in a well-lit propagating environment such as a mist unit, a closed case or a polythene tent that will conserve moisture within the cuttings.

The advantage of a mist unit is that it keeps the top of the cuttings cool, whereas air

6 Remove the leaves off the bottom third of the cutting. Dip the basal cut in a powder fungicide.

7 Make a hole with a dibber in the compost. Insert the cutting up to its leaves. Plant any more cuttings.

8 Label the cuttings clearly. Water from above the compost. Place in a well-lit protected area.

temperatures are high in a closed case or polythene tent. A high aerial temperature will force the cuttings to grow upwards, and food will be diverted from the important function of root initiation. If the cuttings are shaded to reduce the aerial temperature, then the light intensity penetrating to the leaves of the cuttings is decreased, and this reduces food production and hence the rate of regeneration.

The problem then becomes a vicious circle that is not easy to resolve without a mist unit, which maintains both a cool, aerial environment and high water status within the cuttings.

Softwood cuttings, because they are the immature part of a plant, are susceptible to all the vagaries of their environment: so the longer they take to root, the greater are the chances of them succumbing to some outside influence. Thus the speed with which they regenerate is vital. The rate of root production will be dependent on the temperature surrounding the base of the cuttings; in general, the higher the temperature, the faster the roots are produced. Best rooting will occur with a temperature around the base of the cuttings of 21-24°C/70-75°F.

Spray softwood cuttings with a liquid fungicide at least once a week to protect them against rotting and disease.

Harden off the cuttings once they have rooted successfully, gradually weaning them from their controlled environment; finally pot them up in John Innes No. 1 compost or similar (see page 12) and label.

9 Spray the cuttings with a dilute solution of liquid fungicide at least once a week.

10 Harden off the cuttings gradually when they have rooted.

11 Pot them in John Innes No. 1 compost once they are weaned and label.

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