It was the best of cutting; it was the worst of cutting

I’m terrible at cuttings. Remember the buddleia cuttings I made, in anticipation of our landscaping work? I killed them both: one never took; one seemed to be going OK, but it turns out the Welsh Rose and I were both separately watering it, and I think that did for the new roots.

Who kills buddleia? Who manages that? Me, it turns out.

With that in mind, it was with both hope and trepidation that I went to a workshop on propagation held by Grow Sheffield at the Union Street co-working cooperative: hope, that our tutor James might pass on some useful knowledge to make my cuttings succeed; but trepidation, that no advice might ever be enough to defeat my brown thumbs in this particular aspect of gardening.

A couple of weeks later, how are my Salvia cuttings from the workshop doing? Not too badly, with perky leaves and some (slow) new top growth:


What did I do differently? Well, I didn’t bother putting any plastic bags over the pots; and I’ve rapidly moved the healthy-looking plants onto the front windowsill, without a saucer under them, to stop me doting on them and thus drowning them. And I didn’t pull as many leaves off as I would normally, which is definitely a risky strategy: reducing water loss, but also reducing the plant’s capacity to bounce back.

But given all of these things should have made them more likely to wilt, not less: what did I do differently in their favour? The only thing I can think of is: I cut at a stem node, and at a sharp angle, exposing as much of the cambium and pith as possible. I’ve been told by others that this shouldn’t make a big difference, but it makes sense to me: these materials contain meristematic cells which, like node or bud cells, can sprout into growth as non-stem plant organs when stimulated, and thus potentially produce roots.

My gut feeling is that, when you try to propagate from cuttings, there are many factors that can improve the chances of success but no silver bullet. It’s almost a case of “here’s a list of ten factors: pick six;” although not quite as straightforward as that, because some are more important than others, and there’s no single objective ranking of those factors. Maybe I’ve picked a key factor for my own personal cutting-propagating style. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Anyway, here are this weekend’s cuttings on the left, next to my old, dying ones on the right:


I call this particular piece “The Buddleia Cuttings of Dorian Grey.” I’ll move the pot on the right up into the attic next weekend!


  1. Julieanne · June 2, 2016

    I was taught at Waterperry to cut at a stem node at an angle. They didn’t explain (I didn’t think to ask), but your explanation makes sense. Good luck this time round.


    • jpstacey · June 3, 2016

      Yeah, I’d heard it from a few sources initially, but then saw people online not bothering. I think you can not-bother if you use a rooting compound or willow tea; or if you’ve had practice in the exact number of leaves to remove or not-remove…. But I need to have as many odds as possible in my favour, clearly!

      The sage has started to smell of sage again when you rub it. I think its essential-oil production shut down for a while, so that’s a really good sign. The buddleia wilted for a few days, but some of them have perked up…!


  2. Pingback: EOMV: hope feels a long way away even though it’s only fifteen miles | The next square metre

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