Legend has it that my mum can root anything. She can entice roots to emerge from any plant cutting, any old stick and even a McDonalds® straw. OK, I made that last part up. But, if I want to create a new plant through a clipping from an established one, I often hand it over to my mum to ensure success.
Mum even roots things by mistake. She produced accidental plants from two different Christmas arrangements. The first was clipped Russian Sage branches in outdoor planters. She nestled the white sticks amongst evergreens in the left-over potting soil to decorate for the holidays. She left them out all winter like many of us tend to do. When spring arrived she noticed new buds on the Russian Sage sticks. Sure enough, when she lifted the sticks out, a healthy root system dangled below. New garden shrubs were born.
The second set of surprise shrubs came this past winter after I gave my mum the Christmas bouquet we created together for a Patch article on . Several weeks later I popped in on mum and saw variegated, green and white leaves growing from the Red Twig Dogwood stalks in the arrangement. When I asked her how she did it, she claimed she hadn’t even noticed and “merely kept the bouquet watered.”
Three methods for rooting sticks have worked for me. The first is just the basic “water bath” method. This simply involves cutting a branch from a bush and placing it in a vase or bucket of water. Try to make a nice clean cut on an angle with good clippers or a sharp knife to help the stick absorb as much water as possible. Slice the limb just below a “node.” A node is the place where a side branch buds from. When you see a decent root system, pot-up the new plant. When it has grown strong, move the new addition to its permanent home in the garden, or give it away as a gift.
The second method is even easier, but only works for a very few specimens. Sedum and the glowing-yellow Forsythia blooming right now are so easy to replicate that you can just shove them in moist ground. My friend Carolyn gave me some Forsythia cuttings when I first moved back to Connecticut. She told me to just plunk the cut end in the dirt and make sure they stayed wet (which was easy in April.) Not only did they survive, the little twigs started to grow leaves within a couple weeks. I moved houses so someone else owns them now.
I keep meaning to create new Forsythia this way again, but never get around to it. Plus, I can’t currently use this method since my two dogs, roofus and doofus, think any stick outside is their personal property. As soon as I shove a branch in the earth to root, one of them rips it right out, runs around in circles with it crosswise in her mouth and ends the game by plunking down to chew it to bits. They do this with new bare root roses that I plant too, which not only must hurt them, but infuriates me.
The third method involves rooting a branch in place in an underground effort. This technique works best on bushes whose branches sway down to the ground and back up again. I have created new Montauk Daisy and Lavender shrubs this way. Again, it doesn't work for all bushes. Take the lowest hanging branch and pull it to the ground. Mound enough garden dirt over the portion of the branch that touches the ground to keep it in place. Make sure the growing-end is not buried. Keep the ground moist without displacing the dirt. After several weeks, gently look under an area of the soil to see if roots have sprouted. If a good set of roots exist, cut the bough near the base of the original shrub. Then remove the dirt pile with care and pull out your new plant. Be patient, it may take some time, even a growing season at times.
Sometimes this "down to earth" rooting happens inadvertently when planting or mulching. That is how I discovered this technique. I found rooted bits of branches while performing spring cleanup on a Montauk Daisy. Dirt accidentally covered low-slung branches and new roots sprung forth and gripped the ground. Now I have three good sized Montauk Daisies instead of one. I decided to try it on purpose with a Lavender bush and it worked beautifully. I have used this method many times to satisfy my thrifty nature and churn out new plants for free.
Only certain sticks will root. Many plants don’t replicate this way. Hydrangeas, for example, are a whole different story and require a more complex ritual involving cutting new wood, rooting powder, special soil medium and extreme vigilance. Frankly, I’m just not very good at it. Although maybe I’ll take some snips of my favorite Hydrangeas to mum to work on and see how her McDonald’s straw is coming along.