While most gardeners do not have much space to increase their stock, and many do not need to replace their tree fruit, they need to know how to propagate soft fruits, so that they can be replaced from time to time. The techniques involved are all fairly simple to master.
Currants, gooseberries, blueberries and grape vines are usually increased by taking hardwood cuttings. This process does not need any propagators or other equipment other than a pair of secateurs (pruners) or a sharp knife.
The best time for taking hardwood cuttings is autumn, preferably early autumn. Select a few shoots that have grown during the previous year and are now firm and well-ripened. They should be straight and about 30cm/12in long.
Choose a sheltered site, away from drying winds and hot sun. Make a narrow trench by inserting a spade into the soil and pushing it to one side to open up a narrow V-shaped slit. If the soil is heavy, trickle some clean sharp sand into the bottom of the slit and insert the cuttings. Place them about 15cm/6in apart, planting them so that about half of the cutting is below ground. Place the spade into the ground about 10cm/4in away from the initial slit and lever it so that the slit closes up, firmly holding the cuttings. Firm down the soil gently with your feet.
By the next autumn the cuttings should have rooted. They can be dug up and transplanted to their final positions or moved to a nursery bed for another year.
Blackberries and hybrid berries are best increased by the simple process of layering, as are strawberries, although the latter are usually obliging enough to do it themselves, leaving the gardener to transplant the new plants.
At some time during the growing season choose a healthy blackberry cane that is long enough to touch the ground. At the point where the tip makes contact with the soil, dig a hole about 10cm/4in deep. Place the tip in it and bury it by replacing the soil. If it is in an exposed position and it is possible that the cane will be blown or knocked out of the ground, you can secure it with a peg, although this is not normally necessary. By late autumn the tip will have rooted. Cut the new plant from its parent shoot, about 30cm/12in from the ground. Dig up the young plant and transplant it to its fruiting position.
If you want to grow a few new plants in pots, perhaps for selling, the young plant can be transplanted directly into a pot. However, it is possible to cut out this stage by burying the tip of the parent cane into a pot of potting compost (soil mix) instead of a hole in the ground; it will root just as easily. The pot can be let into the ground, which will prevent it from being knocked over and it will not dry out as quickly as it would if left standing on the ground.
Strawberries can be treated in a similar way. After fruiting they send out runners, which will drop roots at intervals along their length to produce new plants. To make sure that they root, you can peg them down or cover a short length of runner with soil, but this is usually unnecessary as the plant will root itself quite naturally. Again, the runners can be pegged into pots of compost (soil mix) if you want ready-potted plants.
Taking hardwood cuttings 1: Take the hardwood cuttings in the autumn, with
each cutting measuring approximately 30cm/12in in length. Cut the cutting off just below a bud.
Taking hardwood cuttings 2: Dig a slit trench by pushing a spade into the ground and levering it backwards and forwards. If the ground is heavier, open the slit a bit more and part fill it with some clean sharp sand.
Taking hardwood cuttings 3: Place the cuttings vertically in the trench at about 15cm (6in) intervals.
Taking hardwood cuttings 4: Dig the spade in a short distance from the trench and lever it so that the slit
Taking hardwood cuttings 5: Firm down the soil around the cuttings with your foot and generally tidy up the
surface of the soil with a rake.
Layering 1: Blackberries, hybrid berries and strawberries can all be increased by layering. Choose a healthy shoot, dig a hole near the tip and then bury it.
Layering 2: After a short period the tip will have produced roots. It can then be cut from the parent plant and replanted where required.
Layering 3: If you would like to have potted specimens, then
bury a flowerpot in the ground, fill it with compost (soil mix) and bury the tip in this.
Raspberries are usually increased by division. It is a simple matter to lift some of the suckers that emerge a little way from the parent plant. In the autumn dig up a healthy, strong-growing sucker and cut through the root that is still attached to the main clump. Replant this in its fruiting position. It is advisable never to divide diseased plants for replanting. If you are in any doubt, it is always better to start from scratch, using certified disease-free stock that has been sold by a reputable nursery.
Methods of Propagation
Division: Blackberries, hybrid berries, raspberries and strawberries
Layering: Blackberries, hybrid berries and
Hardwood Cuttings: Blackcurrants, gooseberries, grapes, red currants and white currants
Semi-ripe Cuttings: Blueberries
Grafting: Tree fruits