One of my most favorite successes as a lavender farmer last year was the propagation of 500 lavender starts to plant in our new field. In Part 1 of our propagation blog series we looked at what propagation is, and why you may want to propagate your lavender. Now it’s time to get ready for Part 2: Cuttings!
When should I take cuttings?
Propagation in the fall can only be done from the hardwood (woody/base part of the plant), whereas propagation in the spring can come from either hardwood or softwood (the new, green stems of your plant) cuttings. There are pros and cons to each type of propagation, but the general consensus is that softwood cuttings are easier to take root (and there’s no chance of damage to the plant), but hardwood cuttings have a higher overall success rate. However, in my experience doing cuttings for the first time last year, the softwood cuttings were not only simple, but I had a 90% success rate (of the 500 cuttings I took, 450 took root into healthy lavender starts.)
The type of propagation you choose depends entirely on your preferences and what time of year it is. This blog is focusing on spring/softwood cuttings for propagation.
What tools and equipment do I need?
Before you begin, make sure you have:
- Sterilized scissors, pruners, or sharp knife
- Small bucket or bowl with 1-2 mm of water in the bottom
- Seedling plug/trays
- Seed starting mix
- Rooting Hormone (powder)
How and where do I cut the stems?
When you’ve selected the plant(s) you want to propagate, take your scissors and container (with a small amount of water in the bottom) outside to the plant. Ideal stems are:
- 3”+ Long between nodes
- Healthy Color
- No Buds
- At least two nodes (a node is a bump where the stem is starting new growth/leaves).
Cut the stem long (you can trim it in the greenhouse), but again, ensure that it is at least 3” long from the bottom node to the top node. Place it in the bucket, so it can stay moist in the water while you take additional cuttings. If this is your first time propagating, be sure to take approximately 30% more cuttings than you need for total plants (so if you want to make 3 new plants, take at least 5 cuttings). It’s always better to have more than you need instead of coming up short – if they all survive, you can find other places to plant them, or give them away!
How do I plant the cuttings so they take root?
Step 1: Prepare the soil.
Back in the greenhouse, fill your seedling trays with seed starter soil, water them, and use your pencil to make a hole in the center of each plug approximately 1” deep. Once your seed trays are prepped, you’re ready to start planting!
Step 2: Select what part of the stem to keep.
Select a cutting from your bucket. Find the straightest, healthiest part of the stem to focus on (it could be anywhere on the stem – not necessarily the very bottom). You are looking for straight 3-4” length of stem with a node at the top. It is fine if there are other nodes along the stem, as long as there is a minimum of 3 inches ending in a node.
Step 3: Prepare the stem for planting.
Cut (or pinch) the remaining stem off from the “top” node, leaving the leaves on either side. Don’t worry if you couldn’t find any stems without buds forming – just pinch them off now. Remove all other leaves along the stem. Your final cutting should be 3-4” of straight stem with two leaves at the very top (like a Y with a very long tail). Depending on how late you are taking your cuttings and how long you cut them, you may end up with a few nodes along the stem- this is fine – just remove the leaves.
Step 4: Plant the cutting.
Moisten the end of the cutting in the bucket water, then dip it into the rooting hormone up to approximately 1”. Place the cutting in the pencil hole and press the soil gently around the cutting, to keep it upright. Repeat the above steps until you’ve planted all your cuttings.
Step 5: Water & Sunlight
Before walking away, add a little more water to your cuttings. I like to use a spray bottle to water for the first week or two (rather than a watering can or cup), because there’s less chance of the soil moving around and disrupting the cutting. If you don’t have a spray bottle, just use a very tiny container, like a tablespoon, and gently water the starts with that. Be sure to leave your starts in a warm (not hot) sunlit place. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a windowsill is fine.
That’s all there is to it – you’re halfway to brand new lavender plants! It may seem like a lot of steps, but once you do your first one, you’ll see how simple it is. Be sure to water your starts every day while they’re in their seed starters – there’s very little soil, so it won’t retain much moisture.
In Part 3, I discuss how in 4-6 weeks you’ll be ready to transplant them to 3” pots, and then out to the yard 4-6 weeks after that!