This article was originally published on the web at fuchsiaclark. pwp. blueyonder. co. uk, however that website is defunct at December 2016. The copyright remains with the original author(s).
This chapter is concerned with the asexual propagation of fuchsias from cuttings as opposed to sexual propagation from seed which will be dealt with in a later chapter. Increasing stock by taking cuttings is a lovely facet of growing almost any plant. It is a cheap and easy way of increasing your stock whether the cuttings have been taken from your own stock plants or from someone else’s. Almost every serious gardener derives a great deal of pleasure from propagating his or her own plants and almost without exception end up taking too many cuttings. These soon become unmanageable, the surplus given away or destroyed. In this chapter propagation will be taken to a new level whereby even an absolute novice will be able to propagate successfully and the expert, especially the show person, will have an even greater awareness as to the type, size and condition of material to be propagated. Taking the correct type of cutting can make a tremendous difference to the size and the amount of flowers the cutting will produce. Using the techniques I developed during my years as a National Showman, I was able to at least double, sometimes quadruple, the number of flowers produced by cuttings using my special techniques as opposed to the accepted norm which has been handed down since time immemorial. In this chapter I shall be using illustrations taken using a digital camera. Being able to photograph and record the various aspects of gardening digitally to a computer, compact disk or photograph has given gardening a new dimension.
When to start propagating? The individual, facilities available, expertise and enthusiasm determine when to start propagating. My fuchsia year starts in October. At this time most of the plants are past their best and in need of attention. Briefly, I gently prune each plant, give them the hot water treatment to eradicate all pests and diseases, ease down on watering and as early as possible pot each plant down into a smaller plant pot. They are then housed ready for the onset of winter. Each of the actions described above will be subject of in-depth chapters later on. I like to start looking for cuttings about the middle of December, soon after the shortest day. From this moment the plants quickly sense the lengthening of each day and the increase in light intensity. These factors coupled with a frost-free cool temperature induce the production of new short jointed compact growth. The growth rate of new side shoots (cutting material) is governed by temperature and available light. The highest possible natural light penetration must be achieved in your greenhouse or growing area. Clean off any dust, dirt or old shading from the glass inside and outside this area. Using an extra layer of polythene inside the greenhouse to conserve heat is always a compromise. Using too much heat in an attempt to increase growth is misguided and will lead to unwanted elongation of the internodal length of the side shoots, your cutting material. It will also reduce the flowering potential of the ultimate plant. This is explained in more detail a little further on. One point worth remembering which will illustrate the heat/light requirement of plants is knowledge that the only place where these two factors are always uniquely balanced is outside, never in the confines of a greenhouse. To plants this is an alien environment. As light intensity increases so does the temperature and vice versa. Plants, whatever species, are all uniquely adapted to detect these variables and will react accordingly. If the growing area is warmer than the ambient light factor then the plants will start to stretch increasing the internodal length in their quest to reach a higher light intensity. They probably assume they are growing under a leaf canopy or other shade and strive to reach more light. In addition to elongation, excessive heat leads to lush weak growth that is always susceptible to attacks from insects and fungus such as botrytis and rust. A cool, light, frost-free area is ideal for producing material for good strong compact plants for show, display or just decoration. If you intend propagating use only the best materials.
The two photographs below illustrate these points. Cuttings will be taken from both plants and compared. Photo ‘A’ has been grown cool, 5°/10° C. 40°/50° F, whilst Photo ‘B’ has been grown warm, with a minimum temperature of 12°C. During the same period, both plants have made similar growth.
Plant ‘A’ has small compact growth where as ‘B’ has large lush growth. Close up photographs of cuttings taken from both plants will aptly illustrate this point.
Taking cuttings. Almost everyone interested in gardening, in whatever form, has at one time or another taken cuttings. Be it of houseplants, shrubs from the garden, or other specific species of plants. The point I must stress is that the following paragraphs apply strictly to the propagation of fuchsias although I do try to apply some of the techniques to other species as well.
The next set of photographs will illustrate the various types of cuttings their benefits and drawbacks.
This is a tip cutting which is the earliest type of cutting available on an over wintered plant. See photograph above. If taking this type of cutting, make a cut about 3mm below a pair of leaves. This tip cutting will root quite readily when inserted into a rooting medium but it will be slow growing and take quite a long time to produce a reasonably sized flowering plant. It may be a must if there are problems with your stock plant. Not a cutting I would use for a show plant.
This is a typical cutting taken from a plant over wintering in a warm greenhouse. See photograph above. When viewed by a novice it appears to be ideal and easy to handle. Excessive heat and poor light has stretched the internodal length, the distance between successive pairs of leaves, to excess. The large leaves make it a prime target for insects. It will not make a specimen show plant but maybe useful for increasing stock or growing up into a standard. This sequence will be described later. The removal of the lower leaves for rooting is optional.
When choosing cuttings for your own use, especially for show plants, a little more care and observation is required. Before taking a cutting, examine the stock plant carefully and select only those cuttings that have a perfect leaf formation. Each leaf across the leaf axils must be identical both in size, shape and colour. Any imbalance or deformity in leaf structure will show itself later once the plant starts to shape up and flower. It will also be difficult to shape.
Another important factor when looking for cutting material is illustrated by the photograph above. Look carefully over the whole plant for three leaf cuttings. These make excellent show plants and will carry at least a third more flowers than the two leaf cuttings. Whilst on the subject of three leaf cuttings it never ceases to amaze me how many growers, especially show people, never appreciate the true potential of these cuttings. As soon as the cutting has rooted they pinch out the growing tip, apical meristem, to encourage side shoots to develop. This is fine, but what they have failed to realise is, that if they had allowed the cutting to develop a little longer it would have grown sufficiently for the tip to be removed and rooted. This would provide another identical plant. Again, once this tip has rooted the growing tip can be removed for a second time and rooted. This process of never destroying a perfect cutting is not fully realised. All the cuttings taken from this initial cutting will be identical. In a normal year this process can be repeated three times. The final cutting can be grown on as a whip to produce an excellent standard which when it reaches its optimum height the growing tip can again be taken out and rooted. The sequence can be started all over again. The following photographs illustrate these points.
In photograph 'C' the original cutting is on the left and its growing tip, which has been removed and rooted, is on the right. In photograph 'D' the growing tip has again been removed from the second plant and will be rooted to make a third identical plant all from the one original cutting. When the third cutting has been rooted it will be grown on to form an excellent standard whip. Whilst on the subject of three leaf cuttings these will only be found on second year plants growing from the old leaf axils on ripe wood. Once a three leaf cutting has been stopped all the resultant side shoots developing in the leaf axils will only have two pair of leaves. There are always rare exceptions to this rule, excluding triphyllas and species of course. One of my own seedlings, 'The University of Liverpool' is a perfect example. Size for size this fuchsia will produce more flowers than virtually any other because of its unique habit of producing so many three leaf branches.
Having stressed the point regarding the selection of only the most perfect of cuttings I shall now elaborate a little more on the subject. In selecting material for your own use avoid taking any cutting with an imbalance in leaf structure. The following photographs clearly demonstrate the issue.
In the first picture notice the difference in size of the leaves across the pair of leaf axils 'A' and 'B'. The average grower would not notice or would ignore the imbalance, take the cutting and root it. What is not apparent at this stage is the imbalance in the side shoots developing in the leaf axils. The second picture shows the side shoot emerging from the axial of the undersized leaf to be underdeveloped in comparison to the side shoot in the opposite leaf axial. This imbalance will continue through to maturity leaving that portion of the plant slightly behind in both growth and flowering. It can also effect the leaf and flower size which really becomes obvious as the flower buds develop. The undersize leaf and flower detract from perfection in show plants and give the Judge the opportunity to down point an otherwise perfect exhibit.
The cuttings which make the finest plants are those produced on a second/third year plant grown in cool conditions as described above. The first batch of cuttings are taken as soon as they are large enough to handle and before the temperatures start to rise. The rise in temperature coupled with low light conditions will quickly cause the shoots to elongate and get too lush. The next set of pictures show the size, shape and balance of perfect cuttings. In several of the pictures a £2 coin is used to show the comparisons.
There are several tools which can be used for taking cuttings, the penknife, Stanley knife or scalpel. The penknife is advocated by most gardening experts for use in the garden but it is of little use when taking softwood cutting like fuchsias. The knife blade bruises and rips the tissue on such small soft cuttings. It maybe useful for hardwood cuttings in the garden but is of little use in the greenhouse. The Stanley knife can be used but it is a little too cumbersome and heavy. The ideal tool is the scalpel with a long tapering blade. It is light, easy to use, very sharp and the blades easily interchangeable. When using the scalpel, I have always been in the habit of wrapping an elastoplast around the tip of my index finger. It can save using one later to cover a nasty wound.
Propagating is a fascinating pastime enjoyed by almost every gardener. Most literature available on propagation is very basic and nearly all reiterate what has been written in the past e. g. ( just remove a side shoot between two sets of leaves with a sharp knife, insert it in a rooting medium such as peat or a mixture of other inert substances, provide some bottom heat and your cutting will root) It may well do so but the plant will be very mediocre and not provide the quality of plant or profusion of flowers that a cutting which has been carefully selected, will provide. Before taking cuttings examine the parent plant carefully to get an overall indication what material is available. Apply the techniques outlined above and select only the best cuttings available. Using the scalpel, remove the cuttings from the parent plant, then examine them carefully, especially the underside of the leaves. Use a magnifying glass if need be to look for insects, their eggs or fungi spores such as rust. The propagator provides the perfect nursery for the proliferation of insects and various types of fungus. The picture below is a good example. The cutting must be destroyed as soon as possible before the pustules ripen and the spores exhausted to atmosphere to infect the rest of the stock.
Once all the selected cuttings have been examined place them carefully in a saucer of tepid water about 1. cm deep for approximately four hours to prepare them for the propagating frame. This is essential in more ways than one. Firstly, it helps them recover from the shock of surgery, secondly, it allows them to easily charge themselves with water ready for insertion into the rooting medium of the propagator. If the parent plant is suspected of having had rust the previous season, then the water in the saucer should contain a solution of a systemic fungicide diluted to the manufacturers recommendations. The system I use is illustrated below. The first dish uses just water, but they are difficult to keep upright so I now use perlite soaked with water. The cuttings stand firm and are easier to both insert and remove. Perlite can prove to be a little expensive, too expensive in some establishments.
Invariably, little thought is given to the preparation of cuttings. It is not generally appreciated just how much energy a cutting needs to expend to extract sufficient moisture from a rooting medium to survive. This is very noticeable if the cutting is placed directly into the rooting medium without being soaked. As soon as the air temperature rises the cutting will flag to conserve moisture recovering only when the temperature falls. It is for this reason that not only the old fashioned gardeners, but most of the modern ones advocate covering the propagator with glass or plastic. Not only does soaking the cutting before insertion reduce the rooting time it also eliminates the need to cover the cutting with glass. Let us examine the situation in detail. Firstly, a cutting removed from the parent needs moisture to sustain it until such time as the wound to the stem can callous over and roots form. If the cutting is inserted directly into a rooting medium without being soaked it will need to be covered with glass or plastic to maintain a high degree of humidity to prevent flagging. This creates a problem. Within the confines of a closed propagator the heat source will create a micro environment, maybe 10°/15°C above the ambient greenhouse temperature, especially during the early part of the year. The cuttings will revel in this environment and root quite readily. The first problem will be the loss of some cuttings to botrytis. The second problem will be an unwanted elongation of the internodal length. Cuttings that are fully turgid, having been soaked in water as described and left uncovered, will take a few days longer to root but will remain compact, sturdy and losses minimal. I am sure many growers reading this chapter will be able to identify previous mistakes and disappointing results. The photograph below shows my propagator at 14th. January, 2003. The air temperature is thermostatically controlled at a minimum of 15°C whilst the propagator is set to 20°C +/- 2°C using four independent sets of warming cables and thermostats. In addition, a fan is kept running continuously to circulate air over the cuttings. (For a more detailed explanation, see the article, 'Greenhouse Management' ). This greenhouse, the smallest of four, is used for propagating and growing on rooted cuttings. It also houses tender house and conservatory plants during winter months.
Once the selected cuttings have been inserted into a rooting medium, I use finely riddled potting compost with about 10% perlite added to aid aeration, they are then placed on a warm bench or in a propagating frame. They must be inspected at regular intervals to remove any that have succumbed to botrytis. Inspect the leaves carefully and look for signs of discolouration. Any showing signs of yellow blotches must be examined for rust. Carefully lift the leaf with a pair of tweezers and look underneath. If orange pustules are present remove and destroy the cutting. I am presently conducting controlled tests using various fungicides on fuchsias and other species with promising results. These will be published later.
Watch the cuttings carefully for signs that they have rooted which is indicated in two ways. Firstly, the change in colour of the growing tip, the apical meristem, which takes on a lighter appearance than the rest of the cutting and secondly, roots start to appear through the drain holes in bottom of the trays. If these are not visible, test one or two cuttings by gently taking hold of the stem and apply light pressure. It they move leave them a little longer. It is very important indeed not to leave the cuttings too long in the propagator after they have rooted. This will induce elongation and lush growth. As soon as practicable move the rooted cutting to a light airy position. They will benefit tremendously from a constant circulation of air but not a cold draft.
To elaborate a little further on the benefits and drawbacks of taking different types of cuttings, the rooting medium has been washed away from the two cuttings illustrated below to show the development of the root systems.
The first picture shows a close up of the bottom of a tip cutting where the wound has healed and calloused over to form the root system. This is where the rooting hormones are most active. Appreciate that the distance from the first pair of leaves, just visible in the picture, to the roots is only 4mm. This is the type of root system that will form on a tiny tip cutting where only the bottom of the stem and one pair of leaf axils have been inserted into the rooting medium. This cutting will develop into a plant but will take a long time. Compare this cutting with the one on the right. This was a compact short jointed cutting, illustrated above, where the lower leaves had been removed. Three pair of leaf nodes were inserted into the rooting medium. If you examine this cutting carefully you will clearly see three distinct sets of roots. A set at each node. These will ensure this cutting gets away to a good start. Probably, what is not appreciated at this time is that from each of these leaf nodes, in addition to providing extra roots, they will also produce four extra side shoots. These will appear from below soil level once the cutting has been potted up and becomes established. These extra side shoots will, in the first year, quadruple the amount of flowers in comparison to those produced by the tip cutting on the left. In addition, had it been a three leaf cutting then it would have sextupled the amount of flowers. For obvious reasons, this is the type of cutting that provided all my show plants. The excellent framework these type of cutting produce make them especially valuable as second and third year show plants. Whether you exhibit your plants or not, the extra flowers produced are well worth being selective when propagating. As a point of interest, I never divulged my techniques whilst actively engaged in exhibiting. My competitors could never understand how I was able to produce such compact floriferous plants. The secret is now out!
Whilst on the subject of propagating, I always carry on a test programme, testing all manner of things, from plant foods, insecticides, fungicides, to light and its effect on cuttings etc. The testing of these items will be explained later, but relevant at this time is the use of rooting aids. All the literature I read and nearly all the specialist speakers I listened to, advocated the use of rooting aids which I faithfully used. In an effort to understand more fully the benefit of using these aids, I decided to run a test programme to test their effectiveness on fuchsias. See photo below.
In testing composts, soluble feeds, insecticides etc. , control samples and written records must be kept. In addition, I keep a photographic record, which form the basis of my lecture aids. I ran a test programme using several rooting aids, Seradix, Baby Bio Roota, Doff and Boots own. All were tested using cuttings from the same plant. Each rooting aid, used as directed by the manufacturer, was tested on sets of three cuttings. Three using Seradix, three using Doff and so on. All were rooted together in the same container along with three control samples. The photo above shows the results. The cutting on the extreme left was one of the control samples rooted without a root aid. After repeating this test many times, I found that cuttings rooted without any chemicals whatsoever were just as successful as those treated. In addition, I tested these aids on hard wood cuttings with virtually the same results. Now, I never use a rooting aid on fuchsias or on any other plant that I propagate. This is not to say that they are not effective on other species, just that they are of no benefit to me. If you use any of these chemicals, achieve success and have confidence in them, then continue to use them. In testing any product or method always use control samples and keep records otherwise your findings have no credence and your efforts wasted.
Whilst on the subject of propagation I feel it worth while discussing the purchase of new fuchsia varieties. Many new varieties come onto the market each year and enthusiasts like to buy them, whether as a collector, for show or exhibition. I am at a loss to know why some nurserymen charge extra for a new variety. The only possible reason would be the payment of Royalties. How many actually have to pay this levy is debatable. However, having bought your new variety, whatever the cost, the likelihood of losing it within the first few weeks are very high. It is both annoying and expensive if you have to replace it. When a new fuchsia or other plant is purchased follow a strict procedure to safeguard your investment. On arrival pot it up and leave it for a while to recover. Once established try to propagate as many cuttings as possible. If the initial plant fails you will have of stock for the following year. The photographs below illustrate the sequence to follow. It is paramount when buying a new variety to ensure that the growing tip is intact. If it has been removed by the nurseryman, then reject it. When buying a plant you want the whole plant including the growing tip. If ordering by post, insist that the plants are 'unstopped'. Once the plant has grown sufficiently, illustrated by the first photograph, remove the top portion. This can now be sub divided to provide at least three extra cuttings. Remove the tip leaving the lower pair of leaves intact. Carefully divide this pair of leaves into two extra cuttings using a scalpel or sharp blade. Cut down the centre of the stem as illustrated below. Root all the cuttings as normal. You should now have four for the price of one. If the new variety is to your liking you will have ample stock for the following year, if not, it is just as easy to discard four plants as one.
Before moving on to the next stage there is one point I would like to stress which concerns the quality of your plants for the future. This will be especially interesting for the show person striving for success on the show bench. In order to explain I need to digress slightly. When showing at national level, my fellow competitors constantly remarked on the size, quality and flouriferousness of my show plants. I did nothing to enlighten them. The reason for the quality was very simple, 'constant reselection'. Each year I would take upwards of maybe 20/30 cuttings of each of my selected show cultivars, Ting a Ling, Lady Isobel Barnett, Joy Patmore and Heidi Ann and many others. These would be grown on throughout the year and the best exhibited. At the end of the season, I would select only two of each variety to propagate for by next seasons cuttings. The other plants which did not perform so well, for whatever reason, would be discarded. I would only select the best cuttings from these plants for my own stock. Reselection, repeated year after year, culminated in me having my own unique specimens of each show cultivar. Each year the quality improved, making show plants relatively easy to produce. I'm sure if you look at some of the photographs of my show plants, all grown in six inch pots, you will appreciate how meticulous reselection can improve the quality of your plants and indeed your enjoyment. Initially, it all starts here, the careful selection of cutting material. Remember this motto. 'Select the best reject the rest'.
After fourteen to twenty one days, the cuttings in the propagating frame should be well rooted. This, as you are now aware, is indicated by the colour change in the growing tip. The photographs below illustrate this point, also the lovely sheen on the leaves, which is a sign of good health. The sight of a batch of cuttings such as these excites the imagination and whets the appetite.
It is now time to remove the cuttings from the propagator and place them on a shelf or bench as near to the light as possible. If the cuttings have not been covered during propagation then they will not need acclimatising, but will soon need extra nourishment. This is provided by potting them up in fresh compost. For many years I followed advice given by the experts. Once the cuttings were ready for potting up I diligently followed their advice, potting the cuttings into 2. 5 inches or 6cm pots using fresh riddled compost. They were then watered in, so simple. This advice worked fine later in the season, April and May, but during the earlier months I found that losses to botrytis were running at nearly 20%. This was unacceptable so I decided to carry out some controlled testing. During testing the problems quickly became apparent. Firstly, potting freshly rooted cuttings into pots was not the answer, the shock was too great. Once watered, the temperature of the compost within the pot would fall rapidly to the lowest overnight temperature. It would remain at this level during daytime even when the greenhouse temperature increased. Wet cold compost and poor air circulation is a scenario for botrytis and losses will occur. Whilst conducting these controls I discovered that not only could I eliminate losses through botrytis, I could increase the quality of my plants to such an extent that it would allow me to almost double the size of the plant and the number of flowers. This allowed me to grow specimen plants in a pot size smaller than previously. For example, the size of plant I had previously produced in a six inch pot I was now able to produce in a five inch pot. The sequence I now use is as follows:
Once the cuttings have acclimatised to their growing environment it is time to start boxing them up as opposed to potting them individually. The medium in which the cuttings were rooted will be almost inert. Leave using small pots until later in the season and use seed trays, large 36cm X 22cm or small 22cm X 18cm. depending on the number of cuttings to be boxed up. Prepare the seed trays by filling them with fresh soil-less potting compost that is damp but not wet and add a liberal amount of perlite, sharp granite or sharp sand to aid root deflection. It should feel a little on the gritty side, difficult to compact. There is a very good reason for this which will be explained a little later. Into the small seed trays plant six cuttings, into the large twelve cutting. Space evenly and gently firm them in.
Do not water them at this time and depending upon temperature and humidity, leave them as long as possible before watering. Watch them carefully and once the leaves start to lose their luster it is time to water. The reason for this delay is important. If the cuttings are watered immediately the roots will remain quite happily in the root ball. They will not send roots into the fresh compost where the nutrients are. On the other hand, if left as long as possible before watering, the cuttings will quickly send out roots into the new compost in search of water and will establish themselves very quickly. The gritty compost described above helps deflect the roots making them work through the compost instead of going straight out to the side of the tray. When required, water only with warm water and never use water that has been kept in the greenhouse for any length of time. The temperature will have fallen to the lowest temperature overnight and will be too low to use on new cutting.
Once the cuttings are established and showing obvious signs of new growth pinch out the growing tips to encourage side shoots to develop.
Keep pinching the side shoots at every two pair of leaves. They must be kept in full light and the boxes turned regularly to ensure even growth. In this situation, the roots have an unrestricted root run, the compost will not stay too wet or dry out compared with cuttings potted into small individual pots. The compost warms up quickly during the day and holds its temperature longer encouraging the cuttings to grow. Avoid low light and high temperature levels.
In order to gain the maximum benefit using this method leave the cuttings in the trays as long as possible. The criteria for moving the cuttings and potting them up is when they have grown to a size where they are starting to compete for light. [See photo above] This is when they must be potted up otherwise unwanted elongation of the internodal length will occur spoiling their compact shape. Once you have decide to pot up the cuttings, ease off on watering to allow the compost to become just damp to make splitting easier. This is where using a gritty compost comes into its own. Knock the tray repeatedly to loosen the compost and roots from the side of the tray then tip them out onto the potting bench. Split the cuttings and gently shake off as much compost from the roots as reasonably possible.
This compost will now be almost inert, devoid of nutrition and of little use to the plant. Depending on the size of the root ball which can be gently trimmed, pot the cutting into a 9cm. pot using an enriched potting compost. [See article on 'Composts and Nutrients'] Once potted refrain from watering immediately. Try to allow at least 24 hours for the compost to settle and gas then water gently with warm water to settle the compost.
Using this method for growing on cuttings is far superior to potting freshly rooted cuttings into small pots. For example, if a fresh cutting were to be potted up into say a 6. 5cm. pot it would require potting up again within a few weeks into a 9cm pot and by the time the cuttings in the trays are ready to be potted those already in 9cm pots would be root-bound. This means boxed cuttings, when potted would, size for size be growing in a pot one size smaller than fresh cuttings potted up immediately after rooting. The other advantages have been mention previously.
Above is an example of freshly potted cuttings grown in trays. They have already been stopped three times and grown in light airy conditions. The defoliated 9cm. - 3. 5 inch plant shows the type of framework developed using the methods outlined above.