Propagation Group

Mount Arrowsmith Rhododendron Society:  Propagation Group

As part of our mandate to raise public awareness of the genus ‘rhododendron’, we have an active Propagation Group.  An informal sub-group of our main membership, the Propagation Group takes cuttings from a wide range of hybrid and species rhododendrons, from heirloom varieties no longer available in stores, to garden standbys, to rare and unusual types.

Group members get together in planting bees, where raw cuttings are prepared by stripping away lower leaves, wounding the stem, and dipping in hormone powder.  The prepared cuttings are then stuck in propagation medium and rooted under controlled temperature, light, and humidity conditions.

For the first three weeks, the light, warmth, and humidity ‘wake up’ the cuttings so that they start to grow callus tissue at the cambium layer of the cut stem. After about 6 weeks, roots start growing from this callus.  Then leaves develop, creating a whole new plant.

Due to a variety of factors, approximately 50% of the cuttings don’t “take”.  Our group is

relatively new at this, so we’re experimenting to see if we can increase our success rate; but even professional propagators don’t achieve 100% success.

From the cuttings that survive, the tiny plants are grown on and repotted as they get bigger, to be sold to the public or given away in raffle draws at our meetings.

Here’s a video from April 2020 of our latest crop of cuttings (struck November 2019, see article below), which are currently being cared for by staff from the Vancouver Island University since we don’t have access to the greenhouse during the COVID-19 situation.
(Click on the image to go to the video, then click the Play button to view)

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Propagation process:

  • Cuttings are trimmed back to a few inches long with a clean diagonal cut.
  • All but the top three or four leaves are removed.
  • The side of the stem is wounded with a shallow cut.
  • For varieties with larger leaves, the leaves of the cuttings are trimmed back to half their size to control moisture loss.
  • The raw parts of the stem are dipped in rooting hormone, then stuck into the moist propagation medium, which is a sterile mix of 1:1 peat moss and perlite.
  • Ideal rooting conditions are cool and humid with bottom heat.

Propagation tips:

  • Smaller-leaved rhodos as well as augustinii and williamsianum hybrids are easier to root than some others.
  • Cuttings should be as fresh as possible when stuck, but can be taken a few days earlier if kept cool and moist in a plastic bag.
  • Stems that are smaller than a pencil work best.
  • Stems with a leaf bud are usually easier to root than those with a fat flower bud.
  • When cutting the stem off the plant, the cut is made where it is green, just inside last year’s brown stem.

Some easier-rooting varieties:

R. augustinii R. williamsianum
‘Blaney’s Blue’ ‘April Glow’
‘Blue Tit’ ‘Bow Bells’.
‘Blue Diamond’ ‘Brickdust’
‘Blue Peter’ ‘Clayoquot Warrior’
‘Blue Bird’ ‘Cowslip’
‘Eleanor’ ‘Dormouse’
‘Hobbie’ ‘Gartendirektor Glocker’
‘Ilam Violet’ ‘Gartendirektor Reiger’
‘Susan’ ‘Hummingbird’
‘Ivory Bells’
‘Nancy Evans’
‘Royal Pink’


Propagation Group News

November 2019: MARS Propagation Team Strikes 594 Cuttings
May 2020: MARS Rhodo Babies Come Home

MARS Propagation Team Strikes 594 Cuttings
November 2019
Story: Katherine Wasiak
Photos: Ron Sutton and Linda Derkach

MARS members striking and recording the cuttings

With sharp tools, numerous tiny pots, and piles of fresh rhododendron cuttings, 13 MARS members spent the morning of November 18, 2019 at VIU’s G.R. Paine Horticultural Training Centre greenhouses, preparing and striking almost 600 cuttings.

Although old hat for some, this was a fascinating learning experience for others. We discovered (the hard way) that it is smart to pour water into the perlite bag before scooping it out to dampen down the unhealthy dust. We learned the recipe for a good propagating medium – 5 parts perlite (large and small) to 2.5 parts fine coconut coir. We saw that the best cuttings are taken from semi-ripe and not woody stems, and we were shown the correct way to trim cuttings (don’t squish stems and wound on one side of stem by cutting into the

MARS members planting cuttings

outer layer, not the deeper cambium layer, which carries nutrients).

With assembly-line precision, cuttings were taken, wounded, moistened and dipped in rooting hormone before being carefully placed in pots. We also realized the importance of keeping careful records, labelling cuttings and creating a master list of plant numbers and varieties.

MARSians came together after a good morning’s work striking over 600 cuttings! What fun it was working together, laughing, sharing information, learning new skills and accomplishing a lot in a short period of time. Now the hard part – waiting patiently to see results of our efforts. Fingers crossed!

Some of the MARS Propagation Group

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MARS Rhodo Babies Come Home
May 2020
Story and photo: Sherry Thompson

Marilyn loading the babies into the van

Marilyn, Glen, Guy, and I went down to the VIU Greenhouses on May 22 and brought home all the rhodo babies.  Sending a big ‘thank you’ to:

  • Christine Quist of VIU for taking such good care of the babies through the Covid 19 lock-down, and for her help throughout this project; and
  • Don Noakes of NRS who watered our rhodo babies on Fridays from Christmas through to the lock-down; and
  • All our other dedicated waterers, and cutting takers, and cutting planters; and
  • To everyone for all the donated pots!

Now to the Results:

We have been quite surprisingly successful on our first solo propagation mission – although, as you can see many people helped make this a success.  We have an 83% survival ratio for 45 varieties of Rhodos, and for the vaccinium ovatum (Huckleberries), we had 100% survival of the cuttings!

We have 496 named rhodo babies, 16 vaccinium ovatum, 5 unknown rhodo babies and a couple trays more of rhodo babies for which Glen is sorting out names.  We now have new rhodo babies of 74 varieties, not counting our survivors from previous years!

Now, to be fair to our brave members who are growing the rhodo babies on from here (Marilyn, Glen, Guy, and myself), we counted them as survivors if they had at least 1 green leaf.  Many have lots of new leaves, but those with just one leaf, or a few soft leaves are not likely to survive the next round, so please do not count on having all of these to raffle or sell next year.

We will keep data on how well they survive from here, and this will help us plan for the future.

Again, thanks everyone, and we should pat ourselves on the back for a successful project so far!

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