How to Propagate Soft Fruit
Grow new plants from existing Blackberry, Gooseberry, Raspberry, and other soft-fruit bushes
Though it was rainy and blustery this morning it cleared up just in time for me to pot on some cuttings. I take them from time to time in order to propagate true to the parent or to increase numbers of plants which do well.
Such was the case earlier this year when I took Lavender cuttings and posted on how easy it is to propagate them. From that batch I was able to create more than twelve new lavender plants, many of which are now growing in my garden and allotment. You can do the same for soft-fruit such as raspberries, red currants, thornless blackberries, and the like.
I don’t expect this Cape Gooseberry to survive the winter so I’ve taken cuttings
About eight weeks ago I decided that the time had come for me to begin propagating soft fruit. It’s my intention to plant more in my allotment to create wind barriers and dependable perennial crops. It would be an easy thing to order a load of new plants from nurseries but why spend money if you can have those plants for free?
Another reason I decided to propagate one particular fruit was due to hardiness. Cape Gooseberries grow well in the Isle of Man throughout the summer but they tend not to make it through winter, as I found out last year. Fortunately I brought one bush indoors so I was able to grow it on and then plant it outside in June. The problem with this is that it’s now so large that it would be difficult to dig up and move back inside. I also don’t want to grow it from seed again since it took so long the first year to get to a decent size, let alone set fruit. The solution: take cuttings.
How to Propagate from Cuttings
1. Determine if the plant you want to propagate from will grow from fresh growth or mature growth or both. Then cut healthy pieces of this year’s stem, vine, and branch and bring them back to your potting bench. If you’re going to be out for a while, pop the pieces into a plastic bag so that they don’t dry out.
2. With a sharp knife, trim pieces to about eight to 12 inches (20-30 cm), cutting just below a bud or where a leaf comes out of the stem. If the growth has leaves growing on it, gently trim all of the leaves off except for the ones at the very top. Make a note of where the bottom-most part of the each piece is since it will not grow if you push the wrong end into soil. A tip from Carol Klein at Gardeners World is to use a sloping cut at the bottom end and a horizontal cut at the top so you won’t get mixed up.
3. Dip the end of each piece into Rooting Hormone Powder and then slip it into a [terracotta] pot filled with a free-draining potting mixture so that 75% of the cutting is under the level of the potting mix. The mix doesn’t need to be particularly nutritious at this point but it should allow excess moisture to flow through and away from roots quickly. Also, if the cutting already has leaves, leave two at the top to help feed the plant. For cuttings with buds, leave two or three of them above ground.
4. Pop a clear plastic bag over the top of the pot and set the ensemble someplace warm and sunny. Ensure that the potting mix is kept damp and you should see signs of leaf and root growth within three to six weeks. If the sticks start to brown up and the leaves shrivel then you can guess what’s happened. No matter though since it’s easy enough to start over again.
The process I used is pretty much the same as the one I use for lavender so please have a look at that post for more information. The cuttings I took more recently were from my own Cape Gooseberry and some cane fruit that I got from friends. While I was at it I also took some rose cuttings and I also decided to experiment with propagating lemongrass in compost rather than water.
Of these, the quickest to take were the Cape Gooseberries and the slowest were by far the lemongrass. I posted on propagating lemongrass in water some time ago but a friend who tried the method complained that the plant died when she planted it in soil. You have to be very careful at that stage since the plant’s root morphology is different when grown in liquid.
When propagating, you leave the cuttings in their initial pot until you find healthy roots sticking out of the bottom. It’s then that you can plant up each cutting individually and then grow them on from there. All of my pots were showing good sign except for the lemongrass which only had a couple of roots coming through. This plant doesn’t normally need rooting compound in order to be propagated but I think that I’ll use it the next time I try growing it in soil. Upon upending the pot I found that only two of the seven stalks had sent out roots.
All the other cuttings had outstanding root systems which I gently tugged apart before planting up each new plant in its own pot. They’re now in the conservatory where I’ll keep them until next year. If all goes well then I’ll have about a dozen new soft-fruit bushes and a lovely rose that I’ll plant up in the allotment. If I had to purchase these plants at a nursery I’d probably have to spend around £50 so I’m pleased with the little bit of effort I put into the project. It’s not a huge amount of money for some but that’s how much rent I pay for my allotment for a full year.
Healthy root growth on most of my cuttings
In case you’re thinking that it might be too late to take cuttings yourself I’ll let you know that I’m not yet finished. I hope to trade for some black currant cuttings from other allotmenteers and I have two existing red currants that I plan on propagating at the same time. The best time for both these fruit bushes is in the dormant season so I’ll be busy with them in winter.