Camellia Propagation: Secrets of Rooting Cuttings

by Ray Bond, TX -

At Bond Nursery Corp., we have spent a lot of time and money on research and development, particularly in the area of camellia propagation, i.e., rooting cuttings. We have had outstanding success and our average loss rate is now less than 30%. Many have asked what our “secrets” are and we have been hesitant to divulge information until we have had time to test and check sufficiently to give us the confidence in our process.

Cutting Preparation

Late July, through September, when new growth is 80% or more hardened off, is probably the best time to start rooting cuttings. The “sticking” process should be completed by mid October. After that, climate, local conditions and plant pathology begins to rapidly decelerate the rooting process. We are located in East Texas, so our rooting season may be longer than those at higher latitudes.

The ideal cutting has two or three leaves and as many growth buds. Tip cuttings do very well. “Water shoots” are preferred. What length? Three or four inches long is sufficient, shorter or longer, if that is what you need to get roots. Slice the butt end of the cutting on an angle and/or scratch a line through the bark and cambium to the white pulp along one side of the cutting, beginning about an inch above the lower end, to the cut. Treat the cutting in fungicide. We use a mix of two pounds Cleary 3336/captan 50%, each per 100 gallons of water, or Heritage™ per directions. This translates to two tablespoons each per gallon of water.

Rooting Medium

We use 80% crushed, aged (2 to 3 years, ¾” mesh) pine bark mulch and 20% clean, sharp, coarse sand as a soil medium. To this we add perlite in quantity to add 25% to 40% more volume. This mixture is doped with dolomitic limestone to a pH of 6. Put this soil medium in a well-drained tray or small container (rose liners are very good) to prevent root tangling between plants. We root in 10X20, 36 cell trays for camellias with small leaves (such as C. sasanquas) and 24 cell trays for camellias with larger leaves.

Rooting Stimulant and Medium

We mix our own root stimulating solution. We use a solution approximating .5% IBA mixed with .25% NAA in de-ionized water. We buy the IBA and NAA in powder form from Research Organics Corp. in Cleveland, OH. Next, we add Celluwet, a water-thickening additive. Celluwet is a product of Griffin Laboratories, Valdosta, GA. We use it to thicken the IBA-NAA solution so that it will adhere to the stem of the cutting and not be dissipated after the cutting is placed in the rooting medium. We mix to a viscosity approximating that of 5W to 10W motor oil.

Sticking and Environment

Next, we dip the butt end of the cutting in rooting solution and stick it in the moist medium to a depth of about one-inch. This medium is in the trays mentioned above. After placing cuttings in this medium, we place the trays in a mist bed, applying 5 to 10 seconds of mist every 8 to 10 minutes. If you cannot do that, put the cuttings in a very high humidity environment. Keep the rooting bed in a shaded, wind protected area with high light intensity. In winter, try to keep the root area warm. Preferred rooting temperature is 65F to 75F. Whatever technique you use, do not let the cuttings become dry, nor let them puddle. Keep the cuttings and the medium moist.

Rooting

Under optimum conditions, rooting should begin in 1½ to 2 months for most cultivars. Cuttings should be ready for planting in six to eight months. If it takes a long time for rooting to occur it could be due to one of several things:

  1.  Too much water or too little water. Water should be monitored to prevent dry spots and on the other hand, make sure the cuttings are not (water-saturated) wet. Damp may be better for some cultivars. Good drainage is a necessity.
  2. The cutting has formed a large callus (“popcorn”) which may delay rooting. Leave the cuttings in the bed; they will root. Some cultivars must go through this process before they will root.
  3. Some camellia varieties root more readily than others do. The slower ones can take a long time.
  4. Temperature. Above or below the optimum temperature, 70F, the roots take a proportionately longer time to form.

“Bumping Up” Rooted Cuttings

When a cutting exhibits a strong and healthy root system, bump it into a larger container to grow more before planting it in the ground. If you use our suggested pine bark mulch/sand/perlite soil mix, you can probably bump them directly into 3-gallon containers. For space considerations, we prefer full gallon containers. At this time, we insert one “bean” of Jack’s Secret plant horticultural supplement per one-gallon container. (Superthrive, Bio-Plus, and other liquid root stimulants do well, but they are not as easy to handle and dosage is sometimes hard to determine. They also quickly leach out. Bio-Plus has solid fertilizer products, as well as liquid root stimulant products. Prices are competitive.) This hastens the addition of root mass, promotes increased top growth and strengthens the plant for the growing season.

A rooted cutting should produce blooms in one to two years, dependent upon its growth rate, the particular cultivar and how “happy” it is. Don’t get your camellias too happy or they may not set buds. Plants are like people. Give them too much and they won’t work.

Conclusion

Brand and trade names and treatment portions are given for information and reference only. Consult your State Agricultural and Pesticide agencies for recommended chemicals registered by the State. Always follow instructions on the label.

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