In today's waterwise world it is time to find plants that use very little water to decorate your garden.
Proteas are one of our indigenous plants and have become very popular for our modern waterwise gardens. Buying proteas from a nursery can be very expensive so how do you get to grow them without spending a fortune. The best and easiest way is to propagate your own protea plants from cuttings of plants you or friends already have.
There are a number of ways to take cuttings and it is not just a hit and miss procedure that many gardeners employ. Cuttting off a slip and pushing it into the ground might work but the chances are it won't and you will be disappointed and give up before you have really tried.
When to take cuttings
There are a number of different subspecies of proteas and times to take cuttings differ from specie to specie. Below is a calendar for three species.
Protea cuttings to be taken from December to April, pincushions between March and May and Conebushes between February and April. (see special paragraph at the end of the article for conebushes)
As not every piece of plant material you use will grow you should improve your chances by selecting the right plant material. The following test on your cuttings will help you select the correct cuttings.
Before taking a cutting test the plant you want to take cuttings from by selecting the branch you want to use. Bend the top of the branch down to where you intend to cut the the branch off the main bush. If you can get the top to touch the base the cutting will be too soft and the chances ae it will not grow. Use the same test on a thicker stem and if it cracks and breaks off the wood is too hard and also will not grow.
The best cuttings come from the semi-hardened side shoots which are found just below a forming bud or flower. Cuttings should be taken early in the morning before the plants have been subjected to heat or drought stress. Once you have selected your cuttings they should be kept cool until they are planted.
How to take a cutting
The best time to take protea cuttings is on a cool or overcast day to ensure that the cutting does not dry out. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears and cut the edge of the cutting straight, not angled as you would do with roses. Clean off the lose bits around the edges of the stem as these tend to rot if left on the cutting.
Once you have made a cutting its best to plant it straight away but if that is not possible then wrap the cuttings in plastic wrap and keep them in the refrigerator till you are ready to plant them.
Planting your cuttings
Cuttings can be planted in pots or clear plastic bags or in the ground. If you are planting them in the ground ensure that it's in a semi shady spot, that the soil is kept moist and that it is firm enough to keep your cuting upright once planted.
As protea cuttings tend to rot its a good idea to use sterile soil in your containers when planting them. All you need to do to sterilise your soil is to place it in a shallow tray in your microwave and cook it as long as it takes to cook a potato, about three to four minutes. You can use the normal potting soil mix which you must first sterilise and let cool before planting your protea cuttings.
To make your own potting soil mixture use two parts of coarse washed river sand to one part good quality peat moss.
Take your protea cutting and carefully strip of the leaves on the bottom two thirds of the stem. Always leave some leaves on the stem. Before planting them in your containers or beds dip the bottom end of the cutting into a plant hormone which will encourages root growth.
Once you have done that you should plant the cutting into its container burying the bottom third of the cutting in the ground or soil. Push the soil down around the cutting to ensure that it stays upright.
For plants that are being cultivated in the ground its a good idea to stake them as wind will damage the new roots that are forming if the plant should be blown over.
Protea cuttings like a warm, moist environment and good ventilation which helps in the control or prevention of fungal infections. Before planting the cuttings should get a good dose of a general fungicide which will help to keep the new plant healthy.
If you would like your cuttings to grow into lovely big protea bushes do not transplant them until they are ready to be moved. A succesful cutting should have roughly the same amount of roots as it has foliage before deciding to move it. This normally takes about three to four months to occur.
If you plant your cuttings in see through bags or containers you can see the roots without disturbing the plant. Before digging up the new plant water the soil around the protea plant to soften it. Dry soil is abrasive and is likely to damage the root sytem of the plant resulting in the plant dying.
In April I made some cuttings using the top softer branches near the buds of a cone bush. Instead of cutting the slips at right angles I cut the slip half way through and then tore the rest off the bush so that on one side I had a piece of bark and some wood below the original half cut that I had made. I did this on all the slips and then dipped them in a relatively strong hormone compound and put them in pots of potting soil.
Everyone of them has survived and some have started grown new stems. I had two pieces of stem left over after the procedure above and just tore a piece out each stem to give me the bark overlap and dipped them in the hormone and pushed them into the ground with no extra frills. They are also growing.
I think the timing of taking the cutting is all important and keeping it well watered once in the ground or pot is the other half of the trick.
The bark tear trick is also used for carnations so that should have some bearing on the success as well.
I use the Dip Root Hormone.