Soft woods

Soft wood is the most immature part of a stem, and, when propagating, it is the most difficult kind of cutting to keep alive. However, soft wood does have the highest capacity of all kinds of stems to produce roots: the younger and the more immature the cutting, the greater will be its ability to develop roots, and so propagate successfully.

Soft stem growth is produced continuously at the tip of any stem during the growing season. As it matures, the stem gradually hardens and becomes woody. The faster the growth at the tip, the more stem without wood will be present.

Softwood cuttings, then, are taken in spring from the fast-growing tips of plants. Growth when the buds first break is remarkably rapid, and, if cuttings are made as soon as there is sufficient growth, the highest rooting potential will be available. Tips of plants taken slightly later in the season, around the beginning of June, will be slower growing, more mature and have a lower capacity to root, and they are referred to as greenwood cuttings.

It is possible to obtain softwood cuttings later in the season by forcing the plant, that is by increasing temperatures well above the norm, which will accelerate growth. This can be done, for example, by placing deciduous outdoor plants in the warmth of a greenhouse, or by placing house plants in a temperature of about 29°C/85°F. The very highest capacity to produce roots can be achieved by pruning the parent plant vigorously in winter, which will encourage rapid

Woody Cuttings

1 Prune woody plants hard in winter to promote stems with a high capacity to produce roots.

2 Fill a container with cuttings compost. Firm to within f in of the rim.

3 Cut the fast-growing tip off a stem in the early morning in spring.

growth; by increasing the temperature around the plant in spring; and by then taking the cutting as soon as sufficient tip growth is available.

Softwood cuttings are extremely susceptible to water loss. Their immature leaves have not fully expanded and so have not completely developed their own mechanisms for reducing water loss. Even a relatively minor water loss will hinder the roots developing. By the time a cutting is wilting all root development will have ceased.

The secret of success is to collect the cuttings in small batches and to maintain them in a fully turgid condition before planting them.

Fill a container with cuttings compost and firm to within f in of the rim.

Take a cutting in early morning when the stem is fully turgid. By mid-afternoon water loss from the plant will exceed uptake and the plant will be under water stress.

If the stem has grown less than 4 in since bud-break, remove it with a heel, that is with the swollen portion at the base of the stem that had the very fastest growth when the new stem started to develop at bud-break Place the cutting in a polythene bag or <1 bucket of water immediately. Keep the poly thene bag shaded to avoid "cooking" the cutting—a major cause of failure..

Plant the cutting as soon as possible. If it cannot be dealt with quickly, keep it cool in the salad-box area of a domestic refriger ator, where the low temperature will prevent excessive water loss.

4 Place the cutting at once in the shade in a polythene bag or a bucket of water.

5 Cut the base of the stem ^ in below a leaf joint if the cutting is more than 4 in long.

OR Trim the tail if the cutting was taken with a heel.

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