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You don't need a greenhouse to propagate semi-hardwood cuttings

July 12, 2017

As we age we seem to prefer things that are slightly sweet or "semi-sweet." Semi means partial or half.

But if semi means half, why is an 80,000-pound 18-wheeler called a "semi" when it's more of a maxi? It's really the trailer part that is referred to as "semi," as in semi-trailer. So with the truck that pulls it, it's a semi-tractor-trailer or simply a "semi."

So, wood on a shrub that isn't quite hardwood nor softwood is what else, semi-hardwood.

And early summer is a great time to take semi-hardwood cuttings of your spring-flowering shrubs and root them.

Many ornamental shrubs such as witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and flowering quince (Chaenomeles x superba) are easy to root.

Tree cuttings are often more difficult to root, with the exception of birches, crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia spps.), some elms, and all willows, all of which root easily.

Take semi-hardwood cuttings from partially mature wood of this season's growth, best from early July to early fall. Semi-hardwood will feel slightly firm but bendable.

You can, if you want, treat your semi-hardwood cuttings with rooting hormone powder. To keep from possibly spreading disease to your entire supply of rooting hormone, pour some of the powder into a deep dish and dip your cuttings in this rather than directly into the jar. Toss out any leftover rooting powder from the dish.

You don't need a greenhouse to successfully propagate semi-hardwood cuttings, but it helps if you can keep humidity high.

For just a few cuttings, use a flower pot or plastic trays covered with plastic wrap. You can also remove the bottom of a milk jug and cover the cuttings with the top part of the jug. Be sure that anything you use to root semi-hardwood cuttings has drainage holes in the bottom.

Oddly, semi-hardwood cuttings root best in rooting medium that is low in fertility. This keeps the cuttings from trying to grow too fast and using up all of their stored energy.

A good mixture is half peat moss and half perlite, or half peat moss and half coarse sand. Avoid using vermiculite alone, as it can hold too much water and rot the cuttings.

Push the cuttings one-third to one-half their length into the soil, and make sure you plant them right side up. The tiny unopened leaf buds will be pointed up. Space the semi-hardwood cuttings close together without crowding any leaves out of the light. Keep the cuttings out of direct sun but in bright indirect light.

Be sure to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Misting the cuttings every morning with plain water helps them root better.

Once rooted, grow the plants out for a bit by transplanting the rooted semi-hardwood cuttings into pots or a sheltered area of the garden and let them grow bigger before transplanting to a permanent spot.

Root semi-hardwood cuttings every other year, and you could become a semi-annual, semi-professional in no time. And that could be semi-sweet.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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