Wednesday 11 March 2015

Taking cuttings from your woody herbs ...

I was supposed to go and see the Rubens exhibition at the Royal Academy today, but it was just too nice outside in my garden to spend the morning cloistered indoors with a bunch of porridgy nudes. I'm convinced the great man must have been a total misogynist: what other reason could there be for him to have painted such lumpy, washed-out, unattractive ladies? Maybe I'm mistaken and they were simply his type. Maybe I'll make it tomorrow ... if the sun's not shining ... and I don't get a better offer.

And so today I've been busy digging in the dirt outside, which, for me, is a total joy at this time of the year. My sage bush is looking its age - a bit like one of Rubens's women, and my rosemary bushes are in danger of getting devoured alive. I love rosemary, and manage to add it to just about everything I cook. So in order to big up my supply lines I've taken some cuttings of both the sage and the rosemary.

In a few weeks' time my rosemary will probably be in flower, and as the sap is rising and the growth hormones are stirring it seems to me that this is probably the perfect moment to take cuttings. And the process is about as easy as tripping over the door mat.

All you need to do is slip off a side shoot of about 5 to 6 cm (2 + inches) from the main stem of your plant. It's not brain surgery so you don't have to be too exact. Just bear in mind that if the cutting is too long it makes it more difficult for the emerging roots to support the whole thing, and get it growing as an independent plant.

The (groovy pink) arrows in the photo above are pointing to suitable side shoots that could be slipped as potentially viable cuttings. And the photo below shows a whole bunch that I've slipped off.

I gathered my little bunch together and put them in a jar of water for a few minutes so that they would stay hydrated, and to ensure that the ends were wet when I put them in the rooting powder. That way a lot more of the powder sticks to them.

I used some special seed and cutting compost for potting them up. It's better than regular compost because it's got a finer texture with better drainage so that the cuttings don't rot before they root, and the finer texture creates less obstacles for nascent root growth. You could make your own. There are hundreds of recipes out there in cyber-land, but I took the easy route and bought some from my local garden centre. 

Now you need to remove all the leaves from the bottom 3cm of each cutting. The idea is not to have any greenery that will sit below the soil line or be in contact with it as it'll probably rot and ruin the chances of your cutting taking root. 

Next  dip the cutting in some rooting powder to help the rooting process along as much as possible. You can buy rooting powder in just about any garden centre. Then using your finger make a hole in the compost at the edge of the pot and plant your cutting, gently firming the compost around it to hold it in place. You should aim to have about a couple of centimetres of the stem below the soil line. Carry on with your other cuttings, planting them all around the edge of the pot, so that they'll be easier to separate after they've taken root and started to grow into independent plants. 

When they are all planted up you need to place them in a sheltered spot and make sure that they stay moist without allowing the soil to get waterlogged. I've place mine on top of one of my larger pots that I have yet to plant up for springtime. The pots with the cuttings will be able to draw a certain amount of moisture from the larger pot beneath, and they'll be able to drain into it as well. 

With any luck I should have enough little plants to share with my friends in town who like to grow cooking herbs on their balconies. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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