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Taking, Preparing and Setting Up Cuttings

By Jack Henderson, Danny Kashou and Irene Jones
Presented at the March 2010 Society Meeting (notes by Kim Schultz)

Jeff Hopper introduced the speakers who would be taking questions from the membership:

  • Jack Henderson, who lives in east El Cajon
  • Danny Kashou, who lives in the Grossmont area
  • Irene Jones, who lives on the coast

Jack Henderson
Jack began with show and tell. He showed a miniature hacksaw (or coping saw) he bought from Home Depot, which is the best tool for trimming trees. He uses regular clippers or pruners to trim leaves. He also has a PVC pipe cutter that he’s modified this year to take cuttings.

He puts alcohol on the cutting edges to prevent spreading disease between trimmings, and seals all cuttings with DAP. He takes his cuttings at the end of March to have cuttings ready for the sale in April.

When he prepares to take a cutting, the first thing, the most important thing he does is label the cutting. There are metal tags available at the sales table and they prevent having “unknown” cuttings later.

He prefers a tip cutting to center-cut ones since the center cut ones take longer to root and the tip cuttings can bloom this year. But the branches will grow up even from ugly center cuts, as shown by an example.

Jack used to plant his cuttings in rooting tubes, but the roots used to break off when the plant was removed from the tube. Now he uses Perlite to do gang rooting, 15-20 cuttings in one large 5-gallon pot at a time. (See photo.) Put an inch and a half of Perlite in the bottom, water it once, keep it warm. When he’s ready to transplant the plants (when the plants start putting out leaves), the Perlite just shakes off.

Q. Would you do one cutting in a bucket like that?
A. Jack would do fifteen to twenty in the 5-gallon size, although he can fit a whole lot of cuttings in the 1-gallon.

Q. How long does Jack wait after taking a cutting to put it in the pot?
A. Jack gives them a little bit of Superthrive in water and dips them in Rootone and gives them two weeks. After potting he checks to see that the roots are coming. Once the leaves start coming out, then he transfers them to potting mix.

Q. Do you water the Perlite?
A. Jack waters it when he first puts them in, and after that he sprays the cuttings when they seem dry. Lately he’s been trying Rootone with honey.

Jack said that people at Home Depot said the Rootone manufacturer went out of business. He got another kind of rooting hormone from Lowes, but the label did not say that it contained fungicide, which was the nice thing about Rootone. He was looking online and found a place with $10 in shipping for a $5 bottle of Rootone, so he’s going to look somewhere else.

If he’s taken a center cut, he dips the bottom in Rootone and seals the top with DAP to keep it from drying out.

When he takes his cuttings out the Perlite and puts them into a container, he stakes his plants. If the plant moves in the soil, it may break the roots and slow down growth. The 99-cent store offers stakes 3 for a dollar that can be cut into smaller sizes. The labels he uses are the metal ones the Society sells. Write on them firmly with a ballpoint to emboss the name on the tag; it won’t wear away or fade in the sun or rain.

Jack got started twenty years ago. He bought three sticks and stuck them in pots. They grew and he was hooked on Plumerias since they were so easy to grow. Now that he knows so much, it takes him three or four more times to grow them. ;)

Also Jack has a small greenhouse that he uses for cuttings and highly recommends it. He purchased the 10' x 14' greenhouse from Harbor Freight and used a 20% off coupon from the UT.

Danny Kashou
The wonderful thing about Plumerias is that you’ll probably see three different methods for doing things and they’ll all be right. The techniques you use should depend on your particular situation: time of year, health of trees, type of trees, etc.

When Danny wants to make a cutting, he considers the reason for taking the cutting: to make another plant, to reshape a tree, to trim misformed branches, to trim an overgrown tree, to turn a tree that’s growing against his house or a wall.

To stop growth going toward a house, you need to cut the branch within a couple inches of a joint to prevent further growth in that area. Conversely, if you want a part of your tree to grow in a particular direction, if you cut 5-7 inches up from that point to engender new branches.

Danny uses regular garden shears or a small hacksaw or coping saw to take his cuttings. The most important thing is to make sure the bottom cut is a clean cut. He uses a sanitizing solution of 1 cap of bleach to 1 gallon of water, or 1 parts per million, to clean his tools when needed. At home, it’s not as critical, but Danny has traveled abroad and taken cuttings from trees that have dirt or other muck on them.

Danny doesn’t use lime paste or anything to seal the mother tree. Don’t leave an area on the tree where water could collect and start rot. Make cuts on an angle so that water can drain off.

The most important thing is to make sure the bottom cut is a clean cut. There are two schools of thought on this. One says you should get a 45° angle cut on the bottom of a cutting to start roots. Roots don’t grow from the side of a cutting, only the bottom, so cutting at an angle creates more surface area for roots to grow. Danny has found that cutting at an angle creates a less clean cut, and he likes a nice square level cut to allow a maximum area for the roots to grow.

The best time of year to take a cutting is right now, early spring, when the trees are in a waking-up process. The chance of frost is gone and the trees have a glow; the trees haven’t leafed out yet. It also gives the cutting the maximum amount of time to root before fall.

After Danny takes a cutting, when it’s still dripping latex, he dips it into Rootone to help it callous over. If he gets a cutting that hasn’t been treated that way, when he goes to plant it, he dips it in water and then Rootone. Sometimes he’ll take latex from leaves and put it on the bottom of a cutting to make a nice seal, keeping the cutting upside-down for a day or so until the seal is firm. He knows other people use DAP or lime paste but Danny finds latex with rooting hormone works the best. Danny passed around photos and examples of cuttings to show what he was talking about.

Once Danny has cuttings with rooting hormone on them, he puts them in a black pot, sitting on top of pumice (or sometimes Perlite, or a mixture) in bright sun outside. He stays away from adding water since water rots cuttings, going by the axiom, no roots, no water. Once he has roots, he’ll put them in soil.

Q. How long do you leave the cuttings to root before you plant them?
A. Look for a swollen bottom, what Danny terms “forward motion.” The roots are coming down.

When he prunes later in the year, when there are leaves on plants, he cuts the leaves off, leaving a 1-inch stub on the plant, and waits 1-2 days to as long as a week to take the cutting off the tree. He waits until the latex subsides, so the energy and strength of the plant is retained.

If there are inflos, Danny doesn’t cut them off. If there are blooms, later in the season, he does cut those off.

Danny dips his cuttings in Rootone and sets them in newspaper.

Q. Does Danny prefer green growth to old wood?
A. Older growth is best, although some green is a good sign.

Danny roots in 1-gallon pots. He also does bag rooting with heat mats.

Q. Is the bag ventilated in the bag rooting method?
A. No. It’s sealed tight with a rubber band.

Bottom heat is good when rooting. Set the cutting on top of the soil and give them a misting, called a Hawaiian shower. He twists the cuttings to see if there’s any resistance; once there is, he knows it’s growing roots.

Danny is not fussy about soil mixes. He uses cactus mix, Perlite, and humus. He only buries the cutting 2-3 inches. He keeps them next to his pool outside.

Q. How deep do you put the stem in the pot?
A. 2-3 inches in a nursery pot. When it’s rooted, then he’ll put more soil on top. Even huge branches, Danny will only put 3-4 inches in a nursery pot and prop it against a fence to support the weight of the branch.

Q. After ten years, what do Plumeria roots look like?
A. Depends on the pots. Danny’s seen big trees with shallow roots and vice versa. He thinks Plumerias have a lot of root die-back.

Irene Jones
When I joined this Plumeria society in 2002, I started trying to root lots of Plumerias, and it was then that I discovered how difficult it can be. I am certainly no expert. Every year I try and improve my rooting method.

I use my gardening clippers or a pruning saw to take a cutting from a tree, then I recut with a hacksaw because I once heard Bud Guillot say that it causes less damage to the plant tissues.

I wipe my tools either with hydrogen peroxide or Physan 20. Physan 20 is an effective control of fungi, algae, bacteria, and viruses. Over the counter hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant and antiseptic.

I make sure to write the name of the variety on the cutting either before or after I make the cut, so there’s no forgetting the name of the variety.

I don’t put anything on the branch of the mother tree after I take a cutting. However, I do make sure the cut is on an angle so that rain water doesn’t pool in the scarred area. I immediately clip most of the leaves off the cutting.

Spring is the best time to take cuttings because the life force is strong at that time, but I’ve been successful with winter rooting so I do take cuttings later in the year.

I dip my cuttings in Rootone because it has a fungicide component, however, I don’t count on Rootone as a rooting hormone because the rooting hormone (NAA) in it is a weak one.

For a rooting media, I use Perlite, pumice, or peat moss: sometimes 100% of one of them or sometimes a combination.

There are many different ways to root Plumerias, and I’ve experimented with a lot of them to find the best for me and my microclimate. I’ve had lots of failures; hundreds of cuttings actually have gone in the trash.

A lot of variables can affect how easily a cutting will root:
1) your microclimate;
2) your methods;
3) where the cutting came from;
4) time of year cutting was taken;
5) variety of cutting

John at Jungle Jack’s mentioned to me last year that when he brings in his thousands of cuttings from Thailand in January, he’ll get a 90% take. As the season progresses, by June a shipment of cuttings may have a success rate of 60%, depending on the variety. He roots in a nice heated greenhouse with perfect conditions.

Regarding my microclimate, I live in south Carlsbad, about 4 miles from the ocean. My yard is situated near the bottom of a valley so the temperatures in winter can be cold and I need to protect my plants. In May and June, my backyard gets a lot of coastal gloom, and very little heat. This makes rooting a challenge. Last year, there wasn’t consistent heat in my backyard until mid-July. I do not have a greenhouse.

One important lesson I’ve learned is that because I live close to the coast where it’s cooler, and because I want to have well-rooted plants by the end of the summer, I need to start rooting early in the year in my garage. If I wait until my backyard warms up, it’s too late to get the plants established by winter.

I think everyone would agree that heat is necessary to successful Plumeria rooting. However, the question of light is a matter of opinion. Last year I focused on giving the cuttings high-intensity light to see if that would enhance the rooting process. I purchased a 600-watt metal halide lamp system for this purpose. And, of course, I used heat mats to add heat to the bottom of the cuttings. I found that the cuttings produced lots of leafy growth, but didn’t root well. They sent their energy to the newly formed leaves and not to making roots. And the cuttings tended to shrivel as there weren’t roots to uptake water and the use of a metal halide lamp and heat mats reduces humidity. Spraying the cuttings with water wasn’t enough to counteract the lack of humidity.

This year I’m trying a completely different method. I started in January with 150 cuttings. It is a two-step process. Heat is still involved via the heat mats, but this time I’m keeping the cuttings in darkness. The darkness idea came from John Tarvin of the South Coast Plumeria Society. He wrote an article last summer for the PSA newsletter about rooting in the dark.

This is the two-step process I’m using, and, of course, the principles can be adapted to as few as one cutting.
1) Using 5-gallon pots with 1-inch of pumice on the bottom, I placed cuttings on top of the pumice inside the pots. The 5-gallon pots were placed on a heat mat, and covered with plastic to conserve moisture and give darkness. In four weeks, most of the bottoms of the cuttings were swollen and ready to go on to the second step.

This method allowed me to frequently check the bottom of the cuttings. If there was a problem, I could recut the bottom of the cutting, and start the process again. This works so much better for me than planting directly into soil because if there is a problem with a cutting, it could be months before I see the rot above the soil line.

2) The next step was placing the cuttings in baggies with either damp peat moss or sphagnum moss. This is an experiment I’m trying to see if one type of moss works better than the other. So far I prefer the peat moss because it’s easier to see the roots once they form.

Before the cuttings are placed in the baggies, I use a rooting hormone. Currently, I’m using two products, either singly or combined. One of the products is Dip ‘n Grow which is a liquid with .1% IBA, and the other product is Rootburst Powder which has .8% IBA. Rootburst Powder is comparable to Hormodin 3. IBA is an acronym for Indole-3-butyric acid, and it’s a well-known rooting hormone, readily available in various strengths at most garden stores.

Next, I taped off the ends of the baggies with electrical tape and placed the baggies in a rooting bed which has several layers of fabric on top of a heat mat, surrounded by a wood frame. I use Hydrofarm heat mats and their electronic thermostats to keep the temperature between 80 and 85 degrees. It is important not to lay the cuttings horizontal on the heat mat as they can be burned, and unfortunately, I’ve already made that mistake. Instead, I’m laying the tips of the cuttings along the edge of the wood frame which surrounds the heat mat, and the baggies are inside the frame on the fabric on top of the heat mat. The whole box is covered with plastic to keep in the heat and humidity and provide darkness. When the humidity gets low, I sprinkle water over the fabric underneath the cuttings. In two weeks, I saw my first roots in some of the baggies.

So far, this method is working well for me. I know this setup seems elaborate but it allows me to root in the winter and early spring in my garage. Once summer comes, I will be able to discontinue using the rooting bed.

This past winter I also rooted in a Thermoplanter. This little item is designed to grow tropical plants, but I’ve used it for gang rooting Plumerias. There is a heater in the bottom that runs at 80°F. It uses very little electricity and provides a constant temperature. You can move it around, either outside or inside depending on the weather.

Now what about cuttings that rot or don’t root at all? This could happen through no fault of your own. Reasons for nonrooting could be one of the following:

  • The cuttings were disturbed and the newly formed, fragile roots broken off.
  • The cuttings were from trees that were cold damaged. After we had our cold winter here in California four years ago, I found some cuttings wouldn’t root.
  • The cuttings were from trees that were weak. I recently brought back a cutting from Oahu that I cleaned because it was covered with black sooty mold. Underneath the mold was an infestation of scale. The cutting was slightly shrivelled. This cutting never rooted.
  • The cuttings came from trees that have the Plumeria beetle larvae. These would usually be cuttings brought in from Hawaii, and it’s said that a Plumeria tree with larvae is weakened by the pest and cuttings won’t root or graft well.
  • Some cuttings just won’t root no matter what you do.
  • If all fails and your cutting is rotting, you can always try grafting the tip!

Q&A with all presenters:

Q. Have any of the presenters used a potato peeler to score the edges of a large cutting to encourage growth along the sides?
A. Danny has not; Irene and Jack have tried it but haven’t had any success with it

Q. For Danny, when he uses pumice, how wet is it?
A. It’s damp, with the dust washed out.

Q. Could you elaborate on the bag rooting method?
A. Irene: It varies. John Tarvin recommends compacting the peat moss tightly in the bag and leaving it slightly damp. Mark Terrell of Texas leaves his soil light and fluffy. Irene used John’s method and found it hard to compact the peat, so Mark’s idea is looking better.

Q. When I cut and lower a tree and end up with midcuttings five inches around, is there any advice or hope in rooting them?
A. Irene is still waiting on some midcuttings to root; they went right into the thermal planter.

Q. When you have Plumerias planted in the ground, can you cultivate the soil around the base of the tree normally?
A. Danny: Yes, he treats it just like he treats the ground under his citrus trees and it’s fine.

Q. How much does a thermal planter cost?
A. About $60 with shipping.

Q. How much do the mats cost?
A. Search online for the 4 foot by 8 foot mats and on places like eBay you can find them for $60-90. Hydroponic supply stores also carry them.

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