It’s impossible to ignore the fact that we’re now officially in autumn. Even if we’re treated to an Indian summer flowers are fading, berries are ripening and leaves are changing colour. My bulb order has arrived too, which is a timely reminder of the changing seasons. September for me always feels more like the start of a new year than the actual New Year. Perhaps it’s the link with start of the academic year which I have found hard to shake off. It could also be that the success of next year’s garden relies to some extent on the work I’ll put in now. There’s the sowing of hardy annuals which will sit in my greenhouse before being planted out in spring to give me an early flush of cut flowers. There’s the bulbs I’ll plant between now and December, and the biennials that I sowed in early summer which have just been planted out into the garden and on to the cut flower patch.
It’s not just about the spring garden. Now is a great time to take cuttings of your favourite summer plants, particularly those you worry might not make it through the winter. Tender salvias, pelargoniums, fuchsias and penstemons might survive if we have a mild winter or if you’re lucky to live in a frost-free spot. With our unpredictable climate it’s always worth having a backup plan though, and now is the perfect time to take some cuttings from these plants as an insurance policy.
Grab a few plastic bags and a pair of clean secateurs and have a wander around your garden seeking out those plants you want to keep. I’ve taken some cuttings of Pelargoniums ‘Blanche Roche’ and ‘Tomke’ along with some tender salvias. Scour the plants for some non-flowering shoots and remove with your secateurs or a sharp knife. The cutting should be about 8cm long. Remove it from the plant above a set of leaves and place in a plastic bag. Cuttings are under stress once removed from the plant – the plastic bag helps to retain moisture and alleviate this stress.
Once you’ve gathered a selection of cuttings you need to pot them up. Fill 9cm pots with a free-draining compost mix. I like to use some normal potting compost that I have in the shed mixed with some perlite to improve drainage; seed compost works well too. Trim your cuttings to below a set of leaves – this is where there is a concentration of hormones which will encourage roots to form. Remove any lower leaves, then push the stems into the compost. Spread them around the edge of the pot so that they aren’t touching. Water and cover with a clear plastic bag.
Cuttings will root more quickly if you put them on a heated propagator. This can be the same one you use to germinate your seeds in spring. It isn’t essential though, your cuttings will just take a little longer to form roots.
Check the base of your pot to see if new roots are pushing through and then pot each individual plant into their own pot. Keep them somewhere frost-free over winter and water sparingly as fungal problems and rot are the most likely reasons for rooted cuttings not surviving the winter.