How to Make Dormant Bud Cuttings

by Jim Hawes
Oakland, Maryland

Propagation by taking bud cuttings is a technique developed by Alex Summers in the late 1960’s.  He has been using it ever since to propagate hostas (often rare hostas) in the fall.  I stumbled upon the technique by accident in the early 1990’s and didn’t know that Alex was 30 years ahead of me.   Alex takes bud cuttings in early October in Delaware. In the mountains of Maryland where fall temperature changes are three weeks earlier; I begin in late September.  The Theory and technique are as follows.

In the late fall and sometimes earlier, at the base of each leaf on a hosta there is an axillary bud.  This bud arose from tissue in the meristematic dome (the growing point). Cells in the epidermal layer (L1) and sub-epidermal layer (L2) of the meristem divided and differentiated to form a primordial leaf and a primordial apical bud in the axil of the leaf. Since both the leaf and the bud arose from the same cell (or cells) in the meristem, they are histologically identical. [Editors note: perhaps “histogenetically” is a more precise term.] Therefore, if you select a desirable leaf form on a division, you can replicate this leaf form by tracing downward to the bud at the base of the leaf and propagating it  (the bud) as a cutting. To do this, you excise this bud along with a portion of the crown, which has a root or several roots attached, and plant it.  Roots will become established; the plantlet will go dormant and will then emerge as a single division in the spring.  Of course, there are various techniques that can be used.

The technique I use is as follows:

  • In the last week of September in Maryland, dig a plant to the propagated by bud cuttings.
  • Wash roots carefully without breaking them.
  • Carefully strip down all leaves on the plant, observing the swelled axillary buds on the inside of the petiole.
  • Continue stripping down leaves until exposed buds appear to be very small.
  • If the size of the crown is about the size of your thumb and you have removed 8 or 10 leaves exposing 8 or 10 buds.
  • Cut down completely through the edges of the crown creating pie shaped pieces of crown with a bud attached to each piece.
  • Avoid cutting off roots.
  • The number of pieces of crown with a bud and roots will depend upon the size of the crown, the number of buds present and the amount of root tissue that is available to be still attached to the pieces of the crown.
  • You may end up with a central portion of the division with 3 to 5 leaves still attached. Plant this piece of the mother division.
  • Treat the bud cuttings with a fungicide dust for protection.
  • Plant bud cuttings about 2 inches deep in a row and label them. Cover with good soil, tamp in to firm the soil and keep watered as necessary.

Cover with mulch in wintertime to protect plantlets from freezing and heaving. There are many variations of these techniques that can be used with great success. This is a wonderful and rapid method of propagating hostas. Try it next fall from The Hosta Journal  vol. 32-1 p.18  2001

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