I hope this page stirs up some additional conversation on the best way to plant cuttings. The following is based only on 2-3 years of trial and error with mopheads only, not on a lifetime of plant study.
I have been most successful taking cuttings in November after the leaves are gone and in the growing season from about April 1st to August 1st.
Some demographics since you may need to adjust for your area.
I'm in Zone 7b in central Alabama and we have had an exceedingly hot and dry summer this year. My water bill has almost doubled for the last three months - (July-August-Sept 2000) - 4 out of 5 days for the last 60-90 days have probably been in the 90's. With Alabama red clay soil underneath the soil I've mixed to put the plants in the ground, the heavy evaporation has required watering almost every other day - often every day to keep the leaves from wilting.
My cuttings from July are still growing, but anything I started in August has died. Some of that may be due to overwatering that was needed to keep the in ground plants from wilting. They are near where I have my pots. Perhaps their demise was also heat stress, perhaps that was the end of the growing cycle - speculation on my part. It seemed that the growing switch on the plants was turned off on August 1st as there has been no appreciable growth on either the in ground plants or my potted plants since then.
My growing season cuttings up to August 1st probably had a 70% success rate. Some of the lack of success was due to my trying them in different amounts of sunlight and different amounts of water.
Last winter I had an 80% or better success rate with my November cuttings and they were unprotected and outside the entire time. The temperatures did not get much below the high teens on the worst days. Overall we had a mild winter. I've read that temperatures in the low teens and lower will kill the stems.
I use two types of cuttings. The first I'll call stem cuttings from the center of a stem. The second are top cuttings with a leaf or bud from the top of the stem. I used the woody stems from the prior year until June or July, then I used some of the current year green stems after the nodes had developed. Generally I had better luck with the woody stems.
For either type, take about 4-6 inches. You don't need them very long, usually the distance between two adjacent nodes is sufficient. For stem cuttings, get two nodes on the cutting. Cut the bottom just below a node for a root start and cut the top just above a node for a leaf start.
For top cuttings, cut just below the first (or second, if the first is too close to the top) node as above for the root. Then trim away all but two or three small leaves on the top, 1-2" or less, and leave them on. They may eventually fall off, but they seem to help some root development - don't leave any blooms on and not big leaves, they will take too much life out of the cutting. If the top is just a bud, that's fine.
Put 70-80% of the stem below the ground level in the pot. One of the earlier problems I seemed to have was leaving too much stem above the ground. Only an inch or so is needed.
Some people put the cuttings in water to force the roots to start - that may even be the "correct" way.
I scratch off just a bit of the outside layer of the stem on one side of the bottom node. Dip the bottom in water and then in a root powder. Plant into a gallon pot with about an inch of stem above ground plus the top node (or leaf or bud). Often I plant 2-3 to a pot to allow for some spoilage. If I have more than one success in a single pot, I will transplant directly into the ground, or into separate pots after 6-8 weeks depending on season and the amount of growth. I don't know why, but every time I've tried to use a smaller pot than 1 gallon, I've only had limited success. I guess hydrangeas are smart plants!!!
I use a soil that is 3 parts top soil, 1 part peat moss and 1 part dried manure. Get the soil damp through and through before planting. I usually add a pinch of Miracle-Acid to each pot as I fill it with the mixed soil.
The growing season potted cuttings seem to show a little new green in 10-20 days. For those with a bud or leaf on the top, there is apparent new growth even if the potted bud or leaf fade. During the growing season, if I don't see any life after 30 days, I'll recycle the pot..
For the late fall cuttings, be patient. I thought I has lost most of the cuttings over the winter since they showed no signs of life for a couple of months. But Mother Nature came through and they began to show signs of life sometime I think in March. I don't recall the exact timing.
For the growing season cuttings, the biggest problem was keeping the pots moist without drowning the cuttings. I found out too late that black on the leaves meant too much water instead of not enough. Brown and wilting meant not enough water. I would fertilize them whenever I fertilized the in ground plants with just a pinch of Miracle-Acid in the pots placed away from the cutting. It would dissolve into the ground after 1-2 waterings. Not more than one pinch every two weeks.
For the fall cuttings over the winter, I just let the natural rainfall take care of everything. I literally did nothing to them until spring. I intend to add a little Miracle-Acid to them this November to see what happens. I also hope to have some kind of a heated greenhouse-shed for protection. I'm not optimistic that we'll get two mild winters in a row.
Susan suggested on the Message Board the following: Once they are planted in the soil, place a clear glass jar (i.e. mayo jar) over the cutting to make a small "greenhouse" for the new plant. This tends to keep the humidity higher which promotes new growth and insulates the temperature.
Thanks Susan, I'm going to try that on a couple of plants this fall. This may also be important for anyone living in a lower Zone number.
(Later Note) I tried the "greenhouse" procedure described above. Unfortunately we had some very hot days while the new plants were in this "greenhouse." The result was a complete drying out of the air and soil in a matter of a day or so. The cutting were lost. The advice here is to watch closely for over drying if you try the "greenhouse" effect.
One of the things I have found is that there seems to be two new growth phases on the growing season cuttings. As I said above, there should be some new growth after 10-20 days. They seem to progress for about 30 more days. At that point, I would occassionally lose a plant from something - I don't know if it was over watering or maybe the food in the cutting had run out and there was not enough developed root to get new food. Whatever the case there seems to be a period a few weeks after the first new growth when the plant is at risk. I don't know what to advise here. I intend to watch it much closer next year. If anyone has any thoughts about this or any of the above information, please post it and I will also add it to this page. The latest version of this document can be found at http://www.conweb.com/hydrangea/cuttings.shtml
Rev 1.b 1/31/01
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