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How to propagate berberis by taking cuttings

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Berberis, or barberries, can be great as specimen shrubs or used as hedging and offer a range of berries suitable for birds and other wildlife. With these plants, you want to prune annually to stimulate the new growth on the different stems that are left behind, deadhead in some cases if you don’t want the berries to follow the flowers. And if you have a healthy shrub or you want to turn one or two plants into an entire row of plants, the fastest way to do that is to propagate by taking cuttings, either hardwood or semi-hardwood cuttings.

Which variety do you have?

Before you start propagating you need to know what variety you have. There are two main parent plants that you can have. The first is berberis darwinii, a native of Chile and Argentina.  This is an upright evergreen and it has smaller, spiny leaves, yellow flowers, and blue coloured berries and is often used as a ground cover too. The second is berberis thunbergii which is the Japanese version. This usually has red or green foliage and berries but you can get more interesting varieties with yellow leaves or even variegated marbled leaves. that offers bright red foliage in the autumn and subsequent berries.

Knowing which variety you have will help you determine which method to use. If you have the Japanese variety which is deciduous you want to use a hardwood cutting but if you have the darwinii variety which is evergreen, you can use semi-ripe cuttings. 

Berberis darwinii can be light pruned after flowering in spring to remove dead flowers
Berberis darwinii

When to take cuttings

When to take cuttings from berberis darwinii

If you have the berberis darwinii, you want to use semi-ripe cuttings. These are cutting that you want to take between the middle of summer around July through Autumn, around September. You want to get the growth when it is semi-ripe when the bottom is hard and the tip is soft.

Two varieties of berberis thunbergii

When to take a cutting from berberis thunbergii

If you have berberis thunbergii you want to use hardwood cuttings which you take later in the season after the plant has lost all of its leaves and generally take less care. 

How to take cuttings 

Step 1

No matter which variety you have the process of actually taking the cuttings is very similar. Want to start by sharpening and disinfecting the tools you are going to use which can be secateurs or scissors. The tools you use need to be very sharp so that they can make a quick, clean-cut and they need to be clean in between multiple cuts to make sure you don’t transfer any diseases.

Step 2

You want a cutting that is between 10cm and 15cm in length no matter the type of wood. When you take the cuttings you want to be sure you prepare them for propagation immediately. It’s best to propagate the cuttings within 12 hours of removing them from the parent plant but its much better to plant them straight away. 

With the basic method of cutting you want to cut just below a leaf and remove any of the bottom leaves so that you have about four leaves total left on top. 

Berberis harlequin that is a deciduous variety. Prune in spring after flowering

How to propagate

Have containers that are appropriately sized for the cuttings. Because the cuttings can fail and not establish themselves most gardeners like to take a handful or so even if they are only propagating one plant. Then you can pick the strongest out of all the cuttings.

Step 1

Fill a container with the appropriate compost for cuttings or propagating and after you dip the end of the cuttings in hormone rooting powder

Step 2

Insert them directly into the middle of the pot. Firmly pack them in place and water well, allowing the water to drain through the container entirely.

Step 3

Then take all of the containers and put them either in a greenhouse or cover them with plastic, in the form of a plastic top, bag, or cup to create a greenhouse effect and place them in an area that’s warm with indirect sunlight such as a windowsill or cold frame.

Berberis are evergreen and deciduous shrubs that can reach up to 5 meters tall if you let them depending on the variety but there are some ground cover types of both evergreen and deciduous. They boast a range of pink, rose, red, and even yellow and green-tinged displays which make for wonderful hedges or small bushes in any garden.

You want to keep an eye on these to make sure they don’t dry out but also don’t overwater as they are very susceptible to root rot at this stage. There are propagating kits you can purchase at garden centres, nurseries and online which have equally matched bottoms and tops which give you control features for things like ventilation.

If you don’t want to invest in kits you can always plant them in containers and then use things like Chopsticks to make a tent around the cutting which holds up the plastic bags that you secure around the pot with something like string or a rubber band.

The new growth is going to be a little shy during that first year above the surface because the plant is putting most of its energy into establishing itself. After one full season has passed and your plant goes into dormancy again you should be able to remove it from the container and transplant it to its final home. You will notice the yellow roots very visibly through the drainage holes once you reach this stage.

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