When I was a child, I could push any morsel of old stick into a grubby tray full of mud and it would form roots in moments. Now that I’m grown and know better, I provide my darlings with clean compost and pristine pots. They sit in the mini greenhouse exuding sulk, petulance and strop until one stem is left standing. I find that I have to take many cuttings, just to ensure a couple of success stories.
Lilium (Asiatic lily) “Lollypop”
It’s time to molest Osteospermums (Cape daisy) and tender Pelargoniums with a pair of sharp scissors. In either case, choose strong shoots without flower buds. If none presents itself, snip off the blossom, which would exhaust the cutting before it can make roots. The trip from the plant to the potting bench should be a short one. This is not the time to discover that your minute container of rooting hormone powder is underneath heavy granite statuary, boxes of lawn treatment and bales of compost. Maybe it’s just me, then. I’ve tidied the shed and now I can’t find anything smaller than a shovel. Get your kit together, including cutting compost. This is low in nutrients and of a sandy, well drained composition, which will help to slow rot in your trembling specimen of hope.
Thalictrum aquilegifolium (meadow rue) “Alba”
Snip 2 inch (5 cm) tip cuttings of Osteospermums, just below a leaf node. Remove most of the leaves, leaving a top knot with which it must survive for the next month. Dip the end in water, then rooting powder if you manage to locate it. Wetting it helps the near mythical chemical to stick, while you fanny around trying to find a dibber. Make a hole at the side of the pot and drop in your victim. Don’t wedge the soil in tightly but gently firm it in position. I place three per pot, since that’s my lucky number; optimists go for up to six. Swath the tray or pot with a polythene bag or cover, which must not touch the foliage. Open the shelter occasionally, to release moisture, stir the air and to check on progress. Remove anything that festers. Keep the cuttings well watered but not soggy and they should take in three to four weeks. Reduce irrigation when temperatures drop. Label it at the start, since after nine months of gestation and frost free over wintering, you are going to want to know the baby’s name. Ambivalence will be embarrassing.
Osteospermum (Cape daisy) “Violet Ice” – last year’s cutting
The technique for Pelargoniums is the same but different. Take longer tip cuttings at 4 inches (10 cm) again, below a pair of leaves. Strip it mostly naked and place it without rooting powder. Water well to start with, then only irrigate when the soil is dry. Restrain your generous instincts, or decay will ensue. Pot on your plants when new leaves start to grow. If the shreds of green form a puddle in the pot and a smell of cabbages hangs about, you should chalk that up to experience and start again, with clean pots and fresh cuttings. I’ve learned more from my failures than ever I did from outrageous triumph. Keep going and you will have a fabulous display of your favourite summer sparklers at a fraction of the usual cost. Unless you have to buy a lot of rooting powder.