Making your garden bloom on a budget - part 2

PUBLISHED: 16:53 11 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:51 20 February 2013

Delphinium 'Blue Dawn' will respond well to softwood propagation in the spring. Alternatively, take basal cuttings from close to the crown.

Delphinium 'Blue Dawn' will respond well to softwood propagation in the spring. Alternatively, take basal cuttings from close to the crown.

In the second of our two-part special Anne Green-Armytage suggests more ways to keep down the cost of gardening. This month, propogating plants.

Blooms on a budget

In the second of our two-part special Anne Green-Armytage suggests more ways to keep down the cost of gardening. This month, propagating plants.

If you have an established garden, there are countless opportunities for making plants for free. Many shrubs and perennials will grow readily from cuttings, a method which has the added advantage of predictability. While collected seeds can be variable, particularly if they are taken from F1 cultivars, if you propagate vegetatively you are in effect cloning the plant, creating an exact copy.

Penstemons, pulmonarias, delphiniums and chrysanthemums can all be increased in this way, taking softwood cuttings in the spring or summer. Far from making the garden monotonous by having too many of the same plant, you may find that using larger drifts of fewer plants actually increases the impact of your planting; and having echoes of the main groups further down the border or in another part of the plot gives the garden continuity and rhythm. In addition, taking cuttings provides an insurance policy: penstemon plants, in particular, are prone to rotting off during a cold, wet winter.

Shrubs are usually propagated from hardwood cuttings taken later in the season. Good candidates for this are lavender and rosemary (again a good insurance as this often suffers from die-back), deutzia, with its dainty white blossom, dogwoods (Cornus), viburnums and even roses.
This is a particularly good treatment if you have a problem with roses suckering. The suckers come from the root stock on to which the rose is grafted, so a cutting, growing on its own root stock, will be sucker-free.
Some shrubs are reluctant to root

from cuttings, but will readily respond to layering. This is a technique which, at its simplest, involves pegging a branch down on to the soil and allowing time and nature to do the rest. After a few months, possibly as much as a year, the rooted branch can be detached from the parent plant and potted up or planted out.

Many climbers, including ivy, jasmine (Jasminum officinale) and climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) layer themselves spontaneously. But layering is particularly useful for plants such as camellia, magnolia and rhododendron, which are otherwise difficult to propagate domestically.

The easiest way of all to multiply your plants is simply to divide them. Many perennials, including hardy geranium, hosta, catmint (Nepeta), and day lily (Hemerocallis) are well disposed towards this treatment; in fact, they will positively love you for it.

An established clump can get congested over a few years, so lifting and dividing it will rejuvenate the plant as well as giving you three, four or five new plants for the price of one.

If you end up with too many, you can give them away or swap with friends and neighbours, which, to my mind, has to be one of the best rewards of gardening on a budget.

For traditional and contemporary garden prints and canvases by Anne Green-Armytage, visit

Taking a semi-ripe cutting

In summer, choose non-flowering, semi-ripe shoots; that is, this seasons growth which has started to firm up.
Cut just below a growing point and trim to 10-15cm (4-6in), also taking off around half the leaf area.
Insert three or four cuttings into a pot of moist, gritty compost and cover with a plastic bag.

Taking a hardwood cutting

In autumn, once the leaves have fallen, take this year's growth, using pencil-thick pieces of 15-30cm (6-12in).
Make a straight cut at the base of each piece, just below a leaf node, and a sloping cut at the top, above a leaf node - that way you'll remember which way up to plant them.
Line them out in a trench, bedded into sharp sand for extra drainage, or around the edge of deep pots of gritty compost.
Bury them to two-thirds of their length, as roots will form from the stems.
Leave the cuttings for a full growing season, ensuring they don't dry out.

Taking a softwood cutting

In spring, use a sharp knife to take non-flowering shoots of around 5-10cm (2-4in).
Trim just below a growing node (leaf joint) and remove the lower leaves.
With a dibber I use a pencil insert into a pot or tray of moist, well-draining compost (add grit or sharp sand), and cover with a plastic bag, blowing into it first so that it doesnt touch the cuttings.
Ventilate occasionally (twice a week) by removing the bag to prevent rotting off.
Once the cuttings have rooted, harden off in a cold frame and pot on.


Layering can be initiated in autumn or spring; evergreen plants tend to respond better in the spring while deciduous plants are less fussy.
Take a young shoot close to the ground and cut it slightly at a leaf node to encourage new roots to form. If the branch is particularly resilient, wedge a small piece of wood in the cut to hold it open.
Bury it 10-15cm (4-6in) deep. If it seems liable to spring back up, make it more secure by using metal hoops to peg it into the ground.
Point the tip of the stem upwards and attach to a cane to ensure it grows in the right direction.
Once roots have formed, detach the branch and pot up or plant out.

Plant division

Lift the plant with a fork and shake off excess soil.
If the root ball is quite small, pull it apart by hand; if its larger you may need to use two forks back-to-back. Insert these into the centre of the root ball and lever them away from each other until the plant separates. Alternatively, if the roots are inextricably intertwined, use a sharp knife or spade to cut off clumps, making sure you have roots and shoots on each section.
Remove any tired, woody sections from the centre of the old clump and discard.
Replant the young vigorous pieces, feeding and watering well. Carry on watering regularly until the new plants are well established.

Latest from the EDP Norfolk Magazine