Propagating Azaleas Using Softwood Cuttings

In our previous post, we discussed the care of azaleas.  In this post, The Plant King tells you how to propagate azaleas using softwood cuttings.  Why use cuttings?  In simple terms, we are making a duplicate or exact copy of a plant.  We may like the flower color, or plant height or another characteristic that intrigues us.  We make exact duplicates or clones of plants by using softwood cuttings.  If we were to plant from seed, then there is no telling what mother nature would give us, smaller flowers or other variations that are not interesting. It is, for this reason, that plant nurseries and home gardeners use cuttings instead of seeds.  They know exactly what plant they are producing for a particular and fickle market of buyers.

Azaleas are easy-care flowering shrubs that reward gardeners with massive blooms.  They’re a must-have in your garden. Azaleas are closely related to Rhododendron, in fact, they are in the same genus. There are literally thousands of azalea varieties and cultivated hybrids available. They come in many flower colors, including red, pink, yellow and white. Though most plants flower for about two weeks in April and May, there are also summer-blooming varieties that add color and grace to any garden later in the season.  Keep reading to find out more about propagating azaleas using softwood cuttings.  After all, who doesn’t want more azaleas?

azalea-blue-bush

Let’s get Started: Azaleas and other ornamental shrubs in the home landscape can be propagated by softwood cuttings. In most cases, plant propagation is dictated by the calendar.  Softwood cuttings are taken in June and July and sometimes into early August from the current season’s growth. Cutting material should be flexible but mature enough to snap when sharply bent.

Here’s what you’ll need for propagating azaleas using softwood cuttings:

  1. With pruning shears remove 3″ to 5″ of new growth.  I usually add the cuttings to a plastic bag with a wet paper towel inside to prevent excess water loss from newly cut stems. Choose only healthy plants with no insect damage, no leaf discoloration, or disease.
  2. Bring the cuttings back to your garden bench and cut them again at the base with a sharp knife just below the point where one or two leaves are attached to the stem (node).  This clean cut will have much less tissue damage and will increase success rates so it is worth the extra time.
  3. Remove the leaves from the lower half of each cutting and scrape the bark from one side of the stem. This wound will help to induce root production.  Wet the lower portion of the cutting with water then roll the end of the cutting in rooting hormone. Tap off any surplus material. Softwood cuttings root more successfully when a rooting hormone is used.
  4. Stick the lower end of the cutting where the leaves were removed about 2″ into the rooting medium. Firm the medium around the stem to make the cutting stay in place.
  5. Mist with water regularly and cover with a clear or white plastic bag. The bag prevents excess water loss and will again increase success rates.  Place in a location with bright but indirect light. Rooting should take approximately 6 to 8 weeks.

Things to keep in mind when choosing plant material:

  • plants must be healthy pest and disease-free
  • younger plants work better than older plants
  • lateral shoots work better than terminal shoots
  • take cuttings in the early morning when plants are well hydrated
  • if not planting immediately refrigerate cuttings

azalea-softwood-cuttings

Rooting Medium: There are many options for rooting medium. It must not only retain moisture but also drain well and provide physical support.  For our example of propagating azaleas from softwood cuttings, we find it best to work with masonry sand or potting mix.

  • peat – partially decayed vegetation or organic matter
  • vermiculite – a mineral used in soilless growing systems
  • perlite – a form of amorphous volcanic glass that looks like styrofoam
  • masonry sand – all-purpose sand used for masonry work
  • potting mix – most potting soils are made of peat, vermiculite, and bark

It will take several years for a rooted cutting to become a nice size plant. That is definitely delayed satisfaction.  Still, many gardeners find rooting cuttings and growing the young plants to be fun and rewarding.

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