Third time lucky? I’m going to propagate this damn ceanothus if it kills me. It is fast becoming my propagation nemesis. The Joker to my Batman. The Khan to my Kirk. The Kryptonite to my Superman. You get the idea. I have tried hardwood cuttings, and softwood cuttings, both of which failed miserably. It is now a good time of year to try semi-ripe heel cuttings so here goes.
First I cleaned up my workspace, in particular the cutting surface, scissors, blade and dibber, and washed the pots out.
I then cut the sprigs from the shrub. There’s plenty of material in these few stems.
Semi-ripe is when the end of the stem is still soft but the base is firming up. Heel cuttings work well. To get a heel cutting, hold the side shoot near the base and gently pull it down and away from the main stem.
It should take a sliver of the main stem with it, the heel.
Heel cuttings are good because the area where the side shoot joins the main stem has a preponderance of cells that can morph into root cells. Taking a heel like this ensures that a bunch of these cells are taken with the cutting – more than would be taken if simply snipping it off. In fact the heel itself is surplus, it needs to be removed as it will rot off and jeopardize the cutting. I trimmed the heel close to the base of the side shoot using a sharp blade.
Next the majority of the stem needs to be stripped of leaves. If these are buried they will rot and likely kill off the cutting. The stem is fragile, I’ve read that it’s best to trim using a blade from base to tip rather than the other way round. This minimises the chances of stripping the stem. I was sorely tempted to just tear off the leaves with my hands but I resisted.
A nice clean stem is what I was after with a few leaves left at the top.
I repeated this process for each side shoot, popping the prepared stems into a damp Ziploc bag to keep them perky, as this took a while.
I took loads because I wanted to try a couple of compost mixes and a couple of environments. I filled two 7cm pots with my usual mix of two parts grit to one part vermiculite, and another two with two parts multipurpose compost to one part grit. I set up the cuttings around the edge of each pot, dipping each in water and then rooting hormone powder, just the tip. I used the dibber to poke a good hole in damp compost then popped in the stem and gently firmed in. There were eight stems per pot with two spare, so two pots had nine in.
I put each pot into its own Ziploc bag, added a little water, then stashed in the greenhouse. Two pots went in the heated bench, one of each compost mix, the other two went on unheated staging.
Now, only time will tell…
I’ll be back with an update in a few weeks, hopefully root-related!
UPDATE 19 Jan 2018. Neither of these groups amounted to anything much. I still have one or two stems of the unheated batch, but I am not hopeful. It turns out that ceanothus cuttings do not enjoy being cooped up in a bag, especially if heated. They just rot off. Shortly after setting these up, and based on some of the comments I got after this post, I did another batch in a terracotta pot that has just been left in the cold-frame, otherwise unprotected. Several months later, no visible roots, but they all still look very well. Read more here.