Propagating Softwood Cuttings

I like to know the names of the plants in my garden, partly because I can Google them for information about cultivation and routine care. I also want to know their geographic origin because I have organized my garden in Mediterranean climate zones, and want the plants to be in the right zone.

That’s a bit wonky, I know, but that’s how my garden is organized.

Despite that need for plant names, I lost track of the name of a plant in the Australian area of my garden. Here is the plant:

Teucrium betonicum - close up

Teucrium betonicum

By chance, I came upon the plant’s name while searching the Internet for examples of landscape designs for Mediterranean climate gardens. It is a Madeira Germander (Teucrium betonicum), which is from the Madeira Islands, which are in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Canary Islands. That area is within my informal definition of the Mediterranean climate zone.

Other germanders are native to other parts of the Mediterranean area. A popular plant for Mediterranean climate landscapes is the Bush Germander (Teucrium fruticans). My germander is considered “relatively rare,” which I find appealing for some reason.

This plant grows vigorously, rising to just over six feet with evergreen foliage and showy spikes of rose-violet flowers. According to my landscaping plan, however, it is in the wrong place. This plant grows vigorously, rising to just over six feet with evergreen foliage and showy spikes of rose-violet flowers. According to my landscaping plan, however, it is in the wrong place.

I’d like to move the plant to the Mediterranean area of my garden. I might give that a try during the winter months after it is out of bloom and into dormancy. It might move easily and survive nicely, or the process might kill it.

I might look for a replacement plant, but I haven’t seen this “relatively rare” plant in local garden centers and searches of mail order sources were unsuccessful.

An alternative approach is to propagate the plant from tip cuttings. This strategy requires time for the new plants to grow to maturity, but it is easy and inexpensive. I could use three specimens in my Mediterranean garden, and growing three new plants would require only slightly more effort than growing one.

As it happens, late spring/early summer the right time of the year to propagate shrubs. The most difficult part of the process is to take cuttings at the right maturity, called softwood. Greenwood cuttings are too young, and woody cuttings are too mature. Softwood snaps when bent, while green wood bends without snapping and wood does not bend.

Take a softwood cutting that has two or three leaves, and neither bud nor blossom. Cut an inch or so below the bottom leaf, then remove the bottom leaf. This leaves the leaf node from which roots will develop. Treat the leaf node with root hormone (available at garden centers), and insert the cutting into moist potting soil. Press the soil around the cutting to eliminate air pockets, and place the cutting in a warm spot with indirect light. Keep it moist (not wet) for about a month, and test for root growth by tugging gently on the cutting. Once roots have formed, maintain the plant as it grows to begin enough for transplanting in the garden.

This outline of softwood propagation shows that the process is not difficult; more detailed descriptions of the process are available in books or on the Internet.

If you haven’t tried propagating a favored shrub from your garden or another’s garden, right now is a good opportunity to try this “real” gardening activity. Propagation is most satisfying when you could use several clones of a plant to develop your garden or to give to friends.

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