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Plants for Free by Sue Adams

plants for free

Plants for free

Winter is the perfect time for taking hardwood cuttings of some garden shrubs, in other words plants for free. It is easy to do and exactly replicates the plant you have taken the cutting from as you are in effect cloning them. It is therefore an ideal method to use if you want a row of identical plants – for example if you are planting a hedge. Even better – it costs nothing.

Hardwood cuttings are taken from some deciduous plants and climbers once the leaves have fallen. You can also use the same method with a few evergreens. You need to take your cuttings early enough in the winter for the cut surfaces to callous over and the cutting to start to establish roots before top growth starts again next spring.

From left to right:
Cornus Sanguinea Alba at three years old
Rosa Eglantyne cutting at two years old
Hardwood cutting of Rosa Eglantyne

Plants for free

Good examples of plants for free which respond well to this type of propagation are:

Deciduous plants:

Dogwoods (such as Cornus alba)


Abelia (such as Abelia grandiflora)






Ornamental and fruiting currants (Ribes)




Shrubby honeysuckles (Lonicera)







Climbing roses






Left to right:

Variegated Ivy


Philadelphus Coronarius

plants for free

This is what you do to achieve plants for free:

Choose a healthy section of stem which is newly grown this year. Ideally it should be roughly straight, about the thickness of a pencil (unless it is something like a clematis obviously) and with several sets of leaves projecting from the sides as roots and stems develop from these leaf axils. Remove any soft, recent growth for the end of the cutting and aim for something with a finished length of about 18 to 25 cm long.

Cleanly cut the stem straight across below a leaf bud or pair of leaf buds at the bottom of the cutting. Then cleanly cut the stem diagonally above a leaf bud or pair of leaf buds at the top. This diagonal cut at the top both helps water run off so the cutting is less likely to rot and also helps you to remember which is the top and bottom of the cutting. You may get several cuttings from one strong healthy stem.

Firmly push the cutting into your prepared planting medium making sure you get at least one set of leaf axils under the ground – and ideally two. You can push your cutting straight into the soil in a corner of the garden where the earth is rich and moisture retentive. I tend to choose a north or east facing corner of the garden where there is less risk of the cuttings drying out in the summer. Alternatively, you can push, say, four cuttings into a large pot filled with a rich compost.

Label your cuttings, ensure that they do not dry out during dry weather and wait – at least until the following winter.

Once you see healthy top growth – which can take a couple of years, but usually takes just one year – you can move your plant to your desired spot. On the other hand, if you have planned things really well you will have originally pushed your cutting into the ground in then place you wanted it to grow anyway. So there is no need to move it again.

Left to right:
Climbing roses

Plants for free
plants for free

There are a few things to bear in mind:

Always take at least three times as many cuttings as you want – I find failure rate can be high, but if you succeed with them all then you can always give some away.
If you are not sure whether a plant is suitable for propagation this way then give it a go – you never know.
If you know a plant is difficult to propagate in this manner there is no shame in dipping the root end of the cutting into some hormone rooting powder before you push it into the ground.
When you do move it to its final destination, do so at the same time of year – i.e. winter, when the top growth is dormant and the roots have time to establish themselves in their new home.

And there you have it – it really is that simple to have your plants for free.