How do I root and/or transplant a cutting from a lilac bush?
Hardiness Zone: 5a
Deb from Skowhegan, ME
I don't know if there are right and wrong ways, but what I did about a month and a half ago worked, so let me share that with you. Where my husband works, there is a well established lilac bush, so I brought a little hand shovel along when I visited him. Down by the roots of the main bush, there were lots of smaller stalks coming up which had root systems of their own starting.
As I dug around those newbies, I could see that there was some very minimal attachment to the larger bush's roots, but I dug through that with my shovel as I dug. I brought them home, sprinkled growth hormone powder on the roots, and stuck them in containers of good dirt. About two weeks ago, I transplanted those into the ground, and as I did that I could see that the roots system had really grown while they were in the pot.
The new lilac bushes are looking very healthy in their new homes in my front yard, and there are new branches and new foliage on it even since I transplanted them into the ground. I am hopeful that they will bloom next year. (06/03/2008)
Everyone said that getting a "woody" type of stalk plant to root is impossible, so I googled "Propagating Laurel" and got some information from a professional grower, but in the end, I just did it my way. Here's how:
Make a propagating bed:
To make a propagating bed, take an old box and line it with a plastic garbage bag. If you use cardboard, put the bag on like you would a pillow case, so the bottom is also protected from the elements. (For my box, I use an old plastic soda-pop delivery crate and lined it with a piece cut from a $1 store shower curtain)
Next buy yourself a bag of playground sand (at Home Depot or Walmart) be sure the sand does not have any herbicides in it so plants won't grow (Like for doing brick work porches). Playground sand is clean! Also buy a bag of potting soil. Mix both of these together and pour the dirt/sand mixture into the box. But before you pour in the dirt/sand mix, set the box up on bricks, rocks or anything so they'll have good drainage. Next poke many holes into the bottom of the plastic and the box for good drainage (important). Now all you have to do is propagate your plants:
This is best to do in spring or fall and NOT while the plant is flowering. If the plant is flowering, be sure to cut off the flower as this where the plant will put most of it's energy. Here's what I did with my English Laurel. Before you begin, take all your cuttings and put them in a large glass of water overnight or for 1 or 2 days so they get a huge drink of water! This is super important as it will be their last drink of water until new roots grow (except what water they can take in through mist on their leaves)
How and where to cut your stems:
You want your stem to be no more than 6 or 7 inches long and half of that should be stuck down into the sandy soil. Cut the end of the stem at an angle and make sure you have the area where the "leaf-buds" are set into the dirt as that's where the roots will first start to form. (This is what a professional plant and flower grower told me.) The leaf-bud area is where the tiny next leaves form or where you've pulled off several old leaves. You can cut some small notches there if you like. Dip this in rooting hormone.
Also, you need to have at least 3 or 4 green leaves on the plant so the plant will continue to get chlorophyll. You need good drainage and sunlight that's not very hot. (Mine have northern exposure.) Also, never let your new rootlings soil totally dry out. If you can, keep a spray bottle with water close by to give them a good misting several times a day. One person told me to cover mine with a clear piece of plastic to keep moisture in) but when I did this all of my little plants died! So I found out it's best (for me) to keep them uncovered and just mist the leaves once in a while. (Since they have no roots, the only water they get is through the misting, but you also need to keep the soil moist so the roots will form.)
Before I stick my plants in the sand/dirt box I first poke a hole for the stem with a stick or a pencil then dip the stem into a glass of water, then into rooting hormone and be sure to get rooting hormone into the "leaf bud" areas too (not just on the end of the stem). Some leaf-bud areas I notched with a sharp knife and some I just pulled the old leaf off. I tried everything. Also, some propagators will cut the 4 or 5 leaves that are left in half with a pair of scissors, as this saves space in the propagating bed.
I started propagating my English Laurel last spring and summer, then left them be (they wintered okay here in the mild Seattle winter). Only half of my plants thrived, the other half didn't make it, so for me the ratio of living, rooting plants to plants that didn't root was about 50-50%. And, just last week I planted my very rooted laurel hedges. Once you plant your lilac, you'll need to water them daily for the whole summer. Also, after they've been in the ground for 1 month and they are used to being there, (so no transplant shock) then you should lightly fertilize them. I love the way I can now get plants for free by propagating them myself! In fact, I have a new batch "brewing" right now! I'm hooked on propagating! Sometimes I'll see some ivy or a bush I like that's growing at a gas station or a store, so I'll ask the owners of the property if I can have a cutting. You can't beat the price. Free!
And some good news for you is that I know that getting a living cutting from a lilac bush is possible because when I bought my place 3 years ago it came surrounded with a hedge, made up of many lilac bushes that are third generation cuttings taken from the previous owner's aunt and the place she lived before that and before that. They look beautiful right now (and smell delightful too!), but I wish they were evergreen, as I have no privacy in the winter.
Here's some great propagating information I found:
Propagating Deciduous and Evergreen Shrubs, Trees and Vines:
Ed Humme answers your questions - Summer and Winter Cuttings:
Propagating for Beginners:
Plant Propagation, the Basics:
Rooting of Plant Cuttings:
New Plants from Cuttings:
I searched "Summer Lilac" on Dave's Garden here's the URL:
* Here's how they said to propagate summer lilac:
by dividing the root ball (as suggested by Tsiegl)
from softwood cuttings
from semi-hardwood cuttings
My favorite place (and least expensive) to buy already rooted cuttings:
I took cuttings from an old fashioned lilac bush the spring of 2004 just after blooming was done. I rooted them outdoors in 6" pots enclosed in plastic bags kept in shade. I normally like to root cutting of any kind in straight moist perlite or sand, but happened to use potting mix that time. Rooting took place within 4-5 weeks and I planted out the one I kept for myself that late September. Growth has been moderate from 6" cutting in 2004 to about currently a little over 4'x4'. I hope to get blooms next year.
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