Root cuttings

Root cuttings
    As the wintry weather continues, many of us will be spending our time sheltering from the rain rather than venturing out into the garden. 

At this time of year, the focus is very much on maintenance and preparations for spring. One task that is best performed now is taking root cuttings.

This is a great way of increasing your stock of perennials, such as mint, rhus, flox, Japanese anemones and Primula denticulata. They can then be potted during the summer.

Root cuttings do not require any special aftercare, while each parent plant can be used to produce large numbers of new plants.

In addition, plants grown from root cuttings are free of foliar pests and pathogens that could affect their parents, such as stem and leaf nematodes.

Taking root cuttings

Taking cuttings is a relatively easy task. Firstly, you should use a fork to lift the plant out of the ground gently, ensuring you do not damage the roots.

Wash the roots to remove soil and use a sharp knife to remove the young, vigorous roots, cutting them off close to the crown. Fibrous lateral roots should be removed and the thin end of the root discarded.

Take care not to cut off more than one-third of the root system from the parent plant, which should be replanted as soon as possible.

Each root should then be cut into 5-10 cm lengths, making a horizontal cut at the upper end and an angled cut at the lower end. 

Planting your cuttings

Fill your pots with cuttings compost and lay your roots on the surface, spaced around 4 cm apart so that the horizontal cut at the top of the root is just below the surface.

Cover your cuttings with a thin layer of compost, water lightly and place in a cool place indoors or in a cold frame.

In the spring, your plants can be potted up individually when the cuttings show signs of growth and are well-rooted. They can then be grown on and planted out the following year.

Take care not to overwater your cuttings until they are well-rooted and growing strongly to prevent rot from developing.

Taking roots from different plants

Some species of plants have thinner roots and therefore require longer cuttings to ensure they have enough food reserves to enable survival and regeneration. For these plants, which include Japanese anemones, Campanula and Phlox, aim to take cuttings of 7.5 to 12.5 cm and lay them horizontally 2.5 cm apart.

To take cuttings from woody plants, dig down to expose part of the root system and remove roots up to a finger thickness. These should be cut into 5 to 15 cm sections.

Some plants, for example Eryngium and Pulsatilla, have long taproots and resent root disturbance. Dig down the side of these plants to take cuttings from a few roots.

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