Butterfly Bushes from Cuttings-Photos

wyndyacre(z6B SW Ont.)January 28, 2008

Recently, on a couple different forums, there have been some threads where we talked about how to propagate Butterfly bushes from cuttings. Since I recently did a bunch and took photos of the process, I offered to post them here with some directions.

BBs are fairly easy to start from cuttings. Even right now, in the middle of winter, most zones will probably still have some viable branches on their BBs. I've taken some cuttings this week from 'Nanho Purple' in the garden but also found a potted 'White Profusion' in the bargain bin at a local nursery that had been stored outside but still had lots of live branches and leaves. That is the plant that I took photos of as I cut it up for propagation.

After I cut all the branches off, it looked like this. I have put it back outside into a cold frame for the rest of the winter and will have a nice 3 qt. size plant to plant out in the spring.

I trimmed all the skinny bits off the main branches and further cut the branch into 6" pieces. Make your bottom cut just below a leaf nodule and your top cut just above a leaf nodule. Pull any leaves off the bottom 2/3 of the cutting and if the top leaves are large, cut them in half. You want enough leaf material left to provide photosynthesis but not so much that the cutting will transpire quickly and wilt. As you lay your cuttings down, make sure you maintain polarity....that is, make sure the UP end of the cutting still faces up and DOWN end faces down. You don't want to stick them in the mix upside down. :)

The top row of cuttings in the photo haven't been stripped of their leaves yet. The bottom row has. There are some uncut branches still laying across the flat of ProMix.

I chose to stick my cuttings in a flat filled with ProMix. It is a sterile, soiless mix of peat, perlite, vermiculite and a shot of fertilizer ideal for cuttings and starting seeds. There are other brands but the main point is that it is soiless and sterile.

In a greenhouse with a misting system I have used straight Perlite but it doesn't hold moisture as long and I don't have a misting system in my own GH.

After your cuttings are prepared, dip the bottom end in some rooting hormone. If using the powdered type, you can first dip the cutting in water to help the powder stick.

Then push the cuttings into the container of ProMix. I use the clear, plastic domes over my flat to help retain humidity or you can use a clear, plastic bag over your container. Place your container in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight. I have placed mine on a heat mat. They are also on a light table but the since the table in my GH, I don't use the lights.

In ideal conditions, the cuttings will begin to root in a week but will take about a month in our conditions at home. Resist the temptation to pull them out to look every day! You can gently pull on them after a week or so. If you see swellings on the ends, that is roots beginning to develop. Try not to pull them out too often or you may damage fragile little roots. When you have a nice little ball of roots, gently dig them out and separate to pot up into 3" pots and continue to grow on until they can be planted outdoors.

Don't forget to harden them off-they need to be gradually exposed to outdoor conditions like sun, wind and rain.

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taitai(Z5 WI)

Great job on the pictures and instruction. Thank-You. I even liked the cat :)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 6:57PM
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wyndyacre(z6B SW Ont.)

Thank you taitai-Daisy the cat likes to get in on everything.

I do wish there was an edit feature on this forum though. :)

I meant to also say that I used a #2 rooting hormone and that the ideal diameter of the cutting is about pencil thick, give or take a bit.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 7:06PM
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Great instructions! Thanks!

So, I guess if there are no viable leaves as on your's, it wouldn't work? My leaves are all gone due to a lot of freezes (ice) this year.

If I do this in the growing season, when would be a good time?

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 7:52PM
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Thanks for the post wyndyacre! Nice pics, I didn't get out to my BB yet, but it is warming up a bit so maybe the snow that is blocking the way to it will not be so deep tomorrow.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 8:01PM
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mechele211(TN 6b)

Thanks for posting this. I checked mine a couple of days ago and the Nanho Blue is still green. My Black Knight will have to wait for next summer for cuttings, leaves all dried up now.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 9:45PM
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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

Thanks for the tutorial. I have a hard time with Butterfly Bush, I think it just does not like our heat and humidity.

The info about the process is great.


    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 5:51PM
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jay3fer(6a GTA ONT)

Wow; thanks for this. I'm thinking my bb's are gone, but will check tomorrow to be sure. Just to repeat the pp's question, it WILL NOT work if all the leaves are gone, right?
Thanks again!

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 7:12PM
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Very nice post...I was just thinking about going out to
take cuttings for a friend. Will they root in water?? I'm
giving it a try.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2008 at 6:10AM
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wyndyacre(z6B SW Ont.)

It is not imperative that your BB have leaves on it still-only that the branches are still alive. You can check this by scratching the surface of the branch to see if they are green underneath.

Given some warmth and water, you'll be surprised at how fast the branches begin to leaf up, even before any roots form on the cuttings.

If you find the tips of your branches are dead, try cutting down farther, closer to the base of the plant. They may still be live down there.

Of course, if there are still some viable leaves left on your plant, then you'll know for sure the branches are still alive.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2008 at 5:38PM
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Thanks for the info Wyndacre. I just might take cuttings from a Purple Prince on the weekend to curb my gardening appetite at this time of year. :O)

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 8:56PM
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thanks sooo much!! i'm sooo terrible at cuttings!! i never get them to root! they always die. but i always do the soda bottle and soil thing and leave the cap off. maybe that's why. i'll have to try another mixture. i'm trying cameilia's now and they are not rooting. errrrr!!! :'))

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 11:48AM
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wyndyacre(z6B SW Ont.)

Just over two weeks later, I have some roots on my BB cuttings. Not enough to pull them out and pot on yet, but they have begun. I'll probably wait another couple of weeks to pot them up into 3" pots.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 11:51AM
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You're a natural ;)

I recommend this book to one and all:

Dirr, Michael A and Heuser, Charles, Jr. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation: From Seed to Tissue CultureÂ; (Second Edition 2006); Varsity Press, Inc. ISBN: 0942375092 or ISBN: 13: 978-0-942375-09-1

Add it to your birthday or Christmas list.

Some things are too simple!


    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 8:38PM
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Wow, thank you for posting this! Very educational!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 4:19PM
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wyndyacre(z6B SW Ont.)

I might add that this method of propagation can be used for many other shrubs as well, at this time of year.

This is called using "hardwood" cuttings method or because it is done during the winter also called "dormant" cuttings. Because the BB used in the example was stored in a protected spot, it wasn't exactly dormant but I started other BB cuttings at the same time from dormant plants in my garden.

The cuttings require no leaves, in fact most won't have any because of the time of year. But the cutting will usually begin to grow leaves and even flowers (like forsythia) before the cutting actually grows roots. The cuttings are taken from the last years growth of the shrub, about pencil thick.

Some of the easier shrubs to propagate using this method are forsythia, willows, dogwoods, spireas, blue mist, BB's etc.

There are other methods of propagation, used at other times of the year as well. Softwood or greenwood cuttings are used in spring or early summer using new growth from the tips of the shrub or growth that is just past new, that easily snaps off. In this case the cutting already has leaves but you just strip off the leaves at the bottom of the cutting which you dip in rooting hormone. The rest of the leaves remain although if they are large, you can cut them in half to reduce the amount of transpiration. You want some leaves left to provide photosynthesis.

There seems to be a little confusion as to what method of propagation to use at which time of year and how it is done. It would be really helpful to get a couple books on propagation to research and understand the different methods and why they are used.

Hope this information helps a little.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2008 at 1:53PM
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gardenlady48(z5 IL)

Thank you for your time posting all the info on cuttings. I have been researching BB and the process of turning one into a standard form. I saw this davidii variety in the botanical garden in MO. The only concern expressed to me was typically in zone 5 they die back to the ground so maintence would be an issue. BUT, since I've seen many of mine leafing out on branches not pruned back early, what would keep that stem from leafing out at the tip? The stem that has been prunned and trained? Just wondered if you or anyone on this forum has tried this technique. Guess it's worth the experiment. Thanks, Pam

    Bookmark   March 8, 2008 at 11:36AM
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I want to "Thank You" for your indepth explaining of this propagation technique. It has been so helpful to me! can not wait to try it!

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 2:04PM
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I don't bother with putting my BBs in a propogation chamber anymore. I just put them in a pot in the shade with some simple potting soil and take all the leaves off. I pinched the tops out of one I propogated from last year and put the tops with no leaves in a pot about a month ago and forgot about it. I have 3 plants now that are doing awesome. When I trimmed my confederate rose back this spring, I did the same thing, I cut the branches in about 8-10 inch sections and stuck them in a pot. I noticed new growth this week. It's fun, I love free plants.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2009 at 1:47PM
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I've tried to root some rose cuttings but they just die, is there a certain way to cut them or what. My technique was to just cut some 6" pieces dip in some hormone and stick into a pot of plain topsoil.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 6:18PM
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awesome post. i have been wondering for some time if doing this sort of thing were possible with a BB. now that i have read this im going to try this method on many other plants. keep up the great work

    Bookmark   June 1, 2010 at 12:01PM
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wyndyacre, this is a great thread. You are having very good luck with your BB cuttings, they look great.

Can the same techniques you are using here also be used to grow other woody plants like maple trees and junipers? Anything I would need to change?

I have read that many maples can root fairly quickly but most conifers take a very long time to grow roots.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2010 at 1:08PM
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Is there an ideal time to propagate a BB? I have one BB that's been doing well and would love to start a few new ones. Now that tomorrow's August 1st, do I have time to start a new BB and plant it?

If not, when should I propagate the BB? I see the original post started in mid-winter. Will a BB last all winter in my 70 degree basement?

Thanks for the assistance.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 9:25PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Jamie, I would be doubtful about success from a cutting started this late in your zone. But, what's to lose by trying? This is usually done in the spring, when new growth appears. (This is also the best time to trim/shape - NOT in the fall.) I don't usually use stems as thick as those pictured in the above instructions, and never bother with pots anymore. Just stick them in the yard where you want new BB's. (If they dry out, they will not make it.) This past week I did put some new cuttings in the yard from a branch that had to be removed. If they don't make it, well, I was trimming that branch anyway... nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 11:57AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Just wanted to report back that some of the cuttings I mentioned on Aug. 1 have rooted, grown new leaves, and even a few small flowers. If it had not been so dry, I think my success rate would have been much higher. Other plants prioritized my watering time, and it was just really hot, too.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2011 at 11:32AM
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