How to grow Berberis from cuttings

The genus Berberis contains approximately 600-700 deciduous and evergreen shrubs, examples of which can be found throughout most of the temperate and subtropical regions of the world. They are generally easy to cultivate and will thrive in full sun and semi shade in almost any soil so long as it does not become waterlogged.

While all berberis species are fairly easy to grow from seed, they can often hybridize when similar species are in close proximity. Furthermore, cultivated varieties will need to be propagated vegetatively, so to guarantee producing genetically identical plants consider growing all berberis from cuttings.

Berberis are best taken as semi-ripe cuttings in August or September. Fill 3 inch pots containing good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Alternatively use a 50:50 mix by volume of horticultural grade and fine-grade moss peat. For larger amounts of cutting material large seed tray in a cold frame.

Using a sharp, sterilized blade, take 3-4 inch long heel cuttings. A heel cutting is one which is pulled away from the stem, but with a piece of the stem still attached. Avoid choosing damaged, unhealthy, overly-vigorous or atypical material. The best shoots to select are those which are more horizontal in habit with short internodal growth.

Once the cuttings have been taken, immediately place them in a damp plastic bag to prevent the shoots from drying out. Once finished, keep the bag in the shade or, if practical, a fridge until you are ready to prepare the cuttings. Remove the bottom third leaves, but species or cultivars with particularly long leaves may need to have the remaining leaves cut down in size to reduce transpiration. Place one cutting per pot or space them 2 inches apart in seed trays. Evergreen berberis cuttings will do better in 4 inch pots containing John Innes 'No 2' potting compost and plunged outdoors until planting time.

Berberis will not need rooting hormone powder but if you do decide to use it, use a dibber prior to striking to prevent the powder from being rubbed off. Genty water in and then place outside under the protection of a cold frame or in a vented propagator within a polytunnel or unheated greenhouse.

Come the following April or May, the pot grown cuttings can be potted on 5-6 inch pots. The seed tray rooted cuttings can be carefully teased out of the compost and potted on into nursery rows outside for 1 or 2 years before transplanting into their final position.

Main image credit - Simon Eade

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