Cloning new plants is best done in winter | Gardening advice

AAs someone who grew up in the tropics, surrounded by light and life all year round, I will probably never get used to the garden’s long, slow decline as we inevitably slip into the UK winter. However, over the past 20 years I have developed some coping mechanisms to help me find my horticultural solution. From winter-flowering houseplants to autumn sowing, there are some easy ways to see active growth and the promise of a fresh start even in gloomy weather. But maybe nothing is as effective as the wonders of life which are hard woodblock prints.

As with most forms of vegetative propagation, the removal of hardwood cuttings intentionally harms a plant which in its efforts to heal itself sends out new roots and leaves to create a perfect genetic clone. Since this type of cutting is taken when the plant is dormant – anytime from mid-autumn to late winter – they generally suffer less shock than under the pressure of active growth in summer, which in my opinion makes these cuttings the easiest to do. All you need to clone is a pair of secateurs, a spade and, depending on the type of soil, some sand.

All you need to clone is a pair of secateurs, a spade, and maybe a bit of sand

First, use sharp, clean secateurs to cut off a few short 20-30 cm long sections of young stems that have grown in the last year. The genius thing is that this can only be the remainder of a fall pruning that you would be doing anyway, which means you can create free plants from what would otherwise be garden waste. Excellent candidates for this treatment are fruiting shrubs like gooseberries and currants, as well as flowering marvels like hydrangeas, roses, and viburnums, and deciduous trees like willow and dogwood. Even climbers like jasmine and honeysuckle will work.

Now, place your cuttings on a table and pinch out the buds at the top of each section, as this will result in denser, bushier growth when your cutting finally sprouts. Making this cut at an angle is a useful tip. So when it comes to planting, you know which end goes up, which is pretty much the only thing that matters to getting it right.

Then all you have to do is dig a narrow trench – it just needs to be deep enough to bury the cuttings two-thirds (pointed end up) – and place your cuttings about six inches apart. If you are growing in really heavy soil that is prone to waterlogging, you may want to place about 4 inches of sand at the bottom of the trench, but on most other types of soil I don’t think this will be of much benefit. Finally, fill the trench with soil and then water it generously.

Now all you need to do is be patient as it will likely take around 12 months (depending on the species) to form strong root systems. Prevent the trench from drying out in the spring and summer, and by that time next year you will have your own little clone army in exchange for very little work.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek

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