We've been making cuttings from manuka for a year and a half now. And the first batch we did are growing amazingly well. They are over 1 metre tall and flowering. Already!
So I thought I would make some more. We've done a lot from seeds, but if cuttings grow better, then that would be a good thing to do too.
Softwood v Semi-hardwood cuttings
At this time of year the manuka trees are just starting to grow and produce new growth tips. Cuttings taken from brand new tips are called softwood cuttings. Because the wood is 'soft' I guess.
The last lot of cuttings I took, in autumn, were from semi-hardwood cuttings - so the wood is firmer and the new shoots are tougher.
The other type of cuttings that you can take are hardwood cuttings, which are taken in late autumn and winter, and when the plants are dormant. This type is usually used for deciduous trees, so not appropriate here.
Both softwood and semi-hardwood are supposed to be good for manuka.
OK, so how did it go?
How to take cuttings
Here is a cutting with its leaves stripped off the bottom half, ready to plant.
I dipped it in root-forming hormone powder, and put it in a planting bag full of potting mix. Gave it a bit of a water.
They look pretty good don't they?
But...a week later, this is what they look like:
Oh dear! Not doing well at all.
So what do we learn from this?
There are 3 things that might have gone wrong.
1. Cuttings need to be fresh off the tree
The first is that I snipped off some branches of manuka from a tree that was not right by my potting station. It took a couple of hours before I got to turning them into proper cuttings and planting them. I did put the branches in water, but maybe that wasn't enough. I think they will do better if they are cut then potted straight away.
2. Cuttings in autumn are best
The 2nd thing, which I'm picking is the main culprit here, is these were taken in spring. So they are softwood cuttings. Actually, VERY softwood, the manuka trees I took these from were only just beginning to sprout and grow.
I think that spring is best for planting seeds, and autumn is best for doing cuttings. The ones we did in autumn were just so much more robust, not all flimsy and floppy and new-growthy.
3. Do not over-water
The 3rd possibility is they might have had a bit much water. It would be ideal to mist them while they strike. But the Department of Weather has not obliged, and it has been raining. Not intensively, but definite rain.
The way to solve this would be to put them under cover, and manage the watering manually. Which would be good if you are a commercial grower, but hard in your backyard.
The best way to do cuttings at home
So the best way to do cuttings in your backyard is to do them in autumn.
Usually it is not so rainy in autumn as in spring, so the rotting effect is lessened.
The trees will still be growing, so they will produce growth hormones to develop roots, and will strike easily.
And the tips will be semi-ripe, so they will be less vulnerable to wilting and keeling over.
Right then. A good experiment. I might concentrate on seeds this end of the season.