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How to propagate conifers

Turn late-summer cuttings into sturdy new plants in just 12 months

For centuries, conifers have been propagated at little or no expense to the gardener by taking cuttings from parent plants. In just 12 months, large numbers of yews, cedars and junipers can be produced for hedging and foundation plantings. (Spruce, fir and pine trees don’t respond well to propagation by cuttings and are better grown from seed.) The trick is to select shoots carefully: they should be pruned from parent plants that are free of disease and insect infestations. Also, remember to take cuttings from the top of the plant, as bottom branches may grow horizontally rather than vertically.

Fill a clean, 15-centimetre terracotta pot with moist, sterile cutting or seed propagating mixture. Firm the soilless mix to within one centimetre of the rim.

Cut off a vigorously growing tip from any stem of the parent plant, making a clean cut about five millimetres into the brown wood. The cutting should be primarily green, with a small section of brown hardwood at its base. (Note that the tip of a conifer shoot is green; it gradually turns yellow, then brown farther down the stem.)

Trim the leaves or needles from the bottom three to four centimetres of the cutting. (Don’t remove them from the growing tip! Some leaves or needles must remain to enable the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen.) Lightly dip the base of the cutting into a 0.8 per cent IBA hardwood rooting hormone, which is available from most nurseries.

Make a 2 1/2-centimetre-deep hole in the soil using the wooden end of a pencil or small paintbrush. This prevents the rooting hormone from rubbing off as the cutting is inserted. Pop it into the hole and gently firm the mix around the stem. Add about four more cuttings to the pot, spacing them five centimetres apart for good air circulation.


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