General gardening topics

How to take a Mahonia cutting

Last updated on April 25th, 2022

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Mahonia is a very strong evergreen shrub that brings with it bright yellow flowers and shiny green foliage in the winter. During the summer it produces bright blue berries for birds, these come after the yellow flowers they are renowned for. So if you have a beautiful Mahonia shrub that has brought with it a great deal of colour and texture to your garden you can take stem cuttings from your bush and propagate more plants successfully.

When to take a Mahonia cutting

With Mahonia shrubs, the ideal time to propagate them from cuttings is around March. 

Preparing your Tools

When you are ready to take your cuttings make sure you prepare them beforehand by sanitising the tools you are going to use. If you are taking multiple cuttings you will want to sanitise in between each cutting. This can be done in a lot of ways, including using commercial products or natural household cleaners, for example, a mixture of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach.

Many gardeners who take multiple cuttings like to use one-time-use alcohol wipes because they can easily clean their tools in between taking each cutting. Make sure you also sharpen your tools (whatever they may be) so that you can make a clean and fast cut without further damaging your plant. Remember that each cut leaves your plant susceptible to infection, just the same way as any cuts you receive leave you susceptible to infection.

How to take a cutting

evergreen shrub is known for its bright yellow flowers which are sometimes fragrant which are followed by black or purple berries. It's an evergreen shrub with spine-toothed thick leathery leaves so provides all year round interest and growing to around 1.5 meters tall doesn't grow too large. It does prefer well-drained soil but does grow well in clay so the soil may need to be improved a little to ensure adequate drainage.

Step 1

You want to take a young, tender stem that is no more than one year old. You should always make your cut just below a leaf node for the bottom of the cutting and take a cut that spans between 8 and 25cm in length.

Step 2

Next, you want to cut the cutting just above a leaf joint to form the top of the cutting because there will be a small bud in the leaf joint that will form the next plant. If the top leaf is very large (as is usually the case with Mahonias) it will probably be top-heavy and fall over, a little trick is to roll the leaf up and put a rubber band around it. We don’t want to remove the leaf because it will feed the cutting whilst it is taking root.

Always take more cuttings than you need

It’s always best to take more cuttings than you think you’re going to need, simply because they don’t always survive. It will be a much better investment of your time and energy if you take four or five cuttings at once to propagate one Mahonia versus taking just one cutting and having that single cutting fail.

How to insert the Cuttings

Step 3

You should plan on immediately transplanting the cutting into its container rather than taking the cutting and waiting for a few days. You can prepare the containers before you step outside to take your cuttings. You should always plant at least half of the stem into the potting mixture, maybe one-third, only after you have dipped the end into the rooting hormone. Rooting hormones will go a long way toward protecting the plant against fungal disease and helping it to establish a healthy rooting system.

Ideally, you want to push the cutting right down so that the top leaf and joint are just above the soil level. This will ensure you get a nice stocky plant that grows from ground level and not just a long stem.

Step 4

Once you have your cuttings it’s important that you fill the appropriately sized container with compost mixed with a little grit to help with drainage, specifically potting compost, and then dip the bottom of each cutting into rooting hormone powder before placing it in the container. The rooting hormone powder not only helps expedite the growth of the rooting system for your plant but it provides some extra protection against fungal diseases, which are very common during the propagation process.

There are many different options for plants and containers when you are propagating from cuttings. For example, you can invest in a full system, a kit that has a tray and perfectly fitted containers with tops. These tops are plastic lids that come off and then secure in place with ventilation caps on the top so you can control the amount of airflow. The whole idea is to make a miniature greenhouse.

You can always recreate these conditions yourself using materials you might have at home, for example, regular pots with plastic cups on top or a plastic Ziploc bag. If you’re going to use something like a bag you want to add things like chopsticks or pencils along the perimeter of the pot to create a tent so that the plastic material doesn’t actually touch the cutting.

It’s worth noting that you can be fairly successful using some old pots filled with compost mixed with grit and leaving them outside, checking the soil is kept moist if you don’t want to invest in propagating systems.

When everything is in its pot, you want to keep it in an area that is warm with a lot of light but not direct sunlight. You also want to keep your cuttings well watered but avoid overwatering because this is what causes fungus.

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