When people think of propagation, the inclination is always to take cuttings during the active growing season. And while that’s a great option for most plants (since you should be regularly pruning and trimming during this time, anyway), some are best propagated in the fall—and for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s an ideal time for them or they risk not surviving the winter, fall propagation is actually something gardeners should embrace with certain plants.
There’s always a risk with propagation since the cuttings aren’t guaranteed to root or survive; however, it’s the same risk you take when planting seeds. Some don’t germinate. So why not try your hand at propagating plants in the fall that may otherwise not make it through til the next season?
Pros of propagation:
- Guarantees qualities of parent plant appear in the baby
- Increases your plant collection at minimal cost
- Lets you have multiples of your favorite plants
- With fruits and veggies, resulting crop is consistent between varieties
Cons of propagation:
- Propagated cuttings can take awhile to root and mature
- Lose natural genetic diversity you get when growing from seed
- Mutations don’t happen, which can be good but also prevents beneficial changes
- Babies are susceptible to the same pests and diseases as the parent
Considering both the pros and cons, it’s up to you to decide whether propagation is for you or not. Ultimately, if you have a variety of plant you really love and want to keep the same traits in the new plants, propagation via cuttings is the way to go! Otherwise, you may just want to buy new seeds next season.
Once September hits and the end of the growing season is upon us, it’s actually a great time to take cuttings from a lot of plants—especially perennials and shrubs that you aren’t sure will survive the winter. Taking cuttings toward the end of the season allows the plant to get strong during the growing season, which increases the viability of the cuttings. Cuttings from tender perennials, like geraniums, can be taken once temperatures start to cool for the year. After the first frost, you can take cuttings from hardier, woody plants (as well as seed pods from plants like azaleas and rhododendrons).
How to encourage successful cutting growth
Nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to cutting survival, but there are things you can do to help them be as successful as possible. One of the most common things is using a rooting hormone, either a gel or powdered, to help with initial root growth. The hormone gets applied to the trimmed end of the cutting and is especially helpful with plants that have a lower propagation success rate. The gel version can be applied directly, but for the powder you may want to dampen the end of the cutting a bit before putting the hormone on so that it sticks.
Another thing you can do to help is keep the cuttings out of full sunlight. Since they’re putting energy toward developing roots, they’ll be a bit more sensitive and not as strong as an established plant. Placing the cuttings in an area with a mix of light and shade (or dappled sunlight) that’s fairly humid will help increase their chance of survival and strong growth.
Some of the best plants to propagate in the fall are those you want more of next season or whose traits you want to carry over. When taking cuttings from any plant, you should make sure to use a sterilized pair of shears and take a cutting that has three to six growth nodes.
Because most lavender varieties hate cold weather (especially container varieties), they’re a great plant to take cuttings from at the end of the growing season before a frost hits. Lavender cuttings can be softer or harder (more resistant to bending), depending on the time of year. Softwood cuttings are usually taken in spring, so if you’re looking to root and overwinter your cuttings, the ones you’ll take in the fall will be hardwood. They root slowly but have a higher survival rate than their spring counterparts.
Most varieties of geraniums root reliably in the fall, which means you can take cuttings from your favorite one to have even more to plant when spring rolls around. Geraniums don’t have the same kind of dormancy period as a lot of outdoor plants, exhibiting slower growth during the colder months (but growth nonetheless). Although this allows them to be propagated at any point in the year, fall is the best time if you’re interested in trying to plant more geraniums in the spring. To take a proper geranium cutting, be sure to use a sterilized pair of shears and make the cut just above a growth node.
Trailing and upright varieties of verbena plants have a low success rate when overwintered, making them ideal candidates for fall propagation. Similar to lavender, you can take cuttings in the spring; however, the ones taken later in the season are more likely to survive even though they’re slow to grow. A proper verbena cutting is about three inches long with no flowers and only a top couple sets of leaves.
This is just the beginning. A lot of plants can be propagated during the fall, whether through cuttings or seed pods. It’s an ideal time to get them set up indoors before the cold hits and to make sure that your favorites can be replanted in your garden the following year.
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