Mid-may is a good time to take cuttings from clematis. These will be immature softwood cuttings. By now many clematis have put on a spurt of growth through the spring and are getting ready to flower. Softwood cuttings wilt very quickly so it helps to have everything prepared beforehand. I’m using a cuttings compost made of two parts horticultural grit to one part vermiculite. I also gave all my kit a good clean with bleach spray; cutting surface, blade, scissors, dibber, pots, hands, the lot. I watered the compost once in the tray, this makes it easier to dib the stems in, and also gave it a good squirt with fungicide spray.
So, suitably prepped, off to take cuttings.
The clematis in the picture above is a few years old and well established. It has thrown up plenty of new stems this year. Look for a good length stem (fresh growth) and cut it back to above a good strong pair of buds at a leaf node. This will also stimulate the parent plant to produce new stems, brucie bonus. Proceed directly to the potting bench and start to trim.
The advice with cuttings is usually to trim above a leaf node for the top cut, and just below the next leaf node for the bottom cut. These are nodal cuttings. Clematis stems are too long for this to be practical, it is next to impossible to manage. They would flop about and be very tricky to get into the compost. The only alternative is to take internodal cuttings. To do this, cut above a leaf node for the top cut, and a few cm below that same leaf node for the bottom cut. Happily, clematis will root ok when cuttings are taken in this fashion.
I’ve taken a slightly slanted cut so that the resulting wound is a little bigger. This is where the roots will grow ( I hope…). Next I trimmed the leaves a little. Clematis often have lots of leaf growth, several leaves and leaflets on each side. If I left them all on they would be too fiddly to manage but more importantly the cutting would lose too much moisture.
Trim one side off entirely, and trim back the remaining side so that one set of leaves is left, and if they are a decent size, trim one of the leaflets so that two remain. If the leaves are really large it might be necessary to cut the leaf in half.
This should leave you with a short stem with one leaf group.
This is the prepared cutting. It should be possible to get 4 or 5 from a decent length of stem.
Note that the very top section of the whole stem is too flimsy to use for cuttings, discard. Next I sprayed the trimmed stem, the peg, of the cuttings with fungicide and dipped the end in root hormone powder.
Using a dibber I eased them in to the gritty compost, doing my best to arrange them so that the leaves weren’t touching, to avoid chance of rot. I crammed in about 20 cuttings in total, from three different varieties. One is unknown, one is c. ‘Rebecca’, the other is c. ‘Mme J Correvon’. I will take more when the other clems I have are more well grown.
They will root more reliably with bottom heat and definitely need a humid atmosphere. This is to keep the leaves moist. I’ve put the tray of cuttings into the heated propagation bench which covers both requirements. They should root in 6 to 8 weeks. If you’re trying this, resist the temptation to see what’s happening, don’t tug the cuttings or turn them out. If they look green and happy, leave them be until you see lots of roots coming out of the bottom of the pot, at which point they can be potted on.
I have done this a couple of years running, with very sporadic success. I think I nursed 2 plants grown this way through their second winter, they are half decent plants now, and one more made it through from last summer. Mixed results to say the least, pretty poor survival rate. Several factors contributed to this I think. I did not have a suitable heated/humid environment, and I was also slapdash with my hygiene discipline. Having addressed both of those issues, I have high expectations for this year. Here they are all tucked up in the hot bench.
Why not give it a try?
I’ll be back in a couple of months with an update on rooting, if they get that far…