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It’s quite tricky to take magnolia cuttings and grow them well. Here are the basic steps to follow for a successful process. I have had the most success taking semi-ripe cuttings in late summer to early autumn when the bottom of the cutting is hard and the top soft, I also remove a strip of bark from the bottom of the cuttings on one side known as wounding which seems to help. Growing them with bottom heat also helps them root faster but this is not essential.
Getting ready to take magnolia cuttings
Make sure all your tools are sharp. Sanitise them so you’re not taking any disease spores around with you and contaminating otherwise healthy plant material. Do this by soaking the tools in diluted bleach or household disinfectant and wiping them dry. Or wipe down the tools with rubbing alcohol.
if you are reusing pots, sanitise the pots into which you intend to put the cuttings. Wash each pot in hot soapy water, rinse them and then dry them.
Make sure that the pots have ample drainage holes in the bottom. It’s an easy tasks to make more holes in the bottom of plastic pots.
Use a fast-draining mixture of an equal amount of sand/horticulual grit and seed compost to fill the pots. Or go the easier route and use a good multi-purpose compost but still mix in some grit.
Taking the magnolia cuttings
Go out in the early morning when the stems of the magnolia tree are still full and hydrated. Cut a healthy stem off the tree that is about 10-15cm (4-6in) long just under a lead node, then remove the big leaves from the lower part of the cutting just leaving the top pair. If the leaves are large, I also like to cut the top leaves in half to lower moisture loss.
Expose the inner green bark of the base of the stem on once side by scraping away the outer harder bark with a knife, this is called wounding and helps magnolias root better. You need to see about 2cm of green inner bark. Cover this green section with rooting power or gel. I usually do half my cuttings using the wounded method and half without. Take more cuttings that you need.
I recommend planting cutting straight away but if you can’t, put them in a clear bag with some water and leave them in the fridge for up to 12 hours.
Planting the magnolia cuttings
Giving each cutting its own pot, place the hormone-treated end (with the inner green bark) into the compost until the cutting is half-buried. Firmly pat the remaining soil in place until the cutting stands up on its own.
Placing the magnolia cutting outdoors in a greenhouse
The magnolia cutting needs to be outdoors now. Place the pots in an area that’s protected from the wind and the rain. The magnolia cuttings also need to be in direct sunlight (with a little shade). A cold frame or a greenhouse is an ideal place to put the cuttings. Alternatively, if you don’t have a greenhouse, cover the pots with a plastic bag and put them in a warm, light position, out of direct sunlight.
I have found that if I take cuttings in mid autumn I have had better success providing bottom heat.
Looking after your magnolia cuttings
Monitor your magnolia pots to ensure that the compost neither dries out nor becomes too waterlogged. If you use the plastic bag method, make sure you remove it from time to time to let the cuttings air. They should remain just moist to avoid creating fungal infections which affect their chances of propagating.
Then be patient for four to eight weeks while the cuttings start rooting. Warmer temperatures may speed up this process. As the cuttings grow larger and larger, you have to transplant them into a bigger pot – probably a 1L pot with regular potting soil. Put this new pot back in the old pot’s location as the transplant likes and is used to being there.
The last time you transplant your magnolia cutting should be in early autumn, once it has established a good root system. Choose a sheltered spot in your garden with enough sunlight for it to grow happily. See my article How to grow a magnolia tree? for details on looking after your settled magnolia tree. If you want to grow them in pots, check out my guide on how to grow magnolias in containers. Also, be on the lookout for pests which I talk about here
You can also learn when they are likely to start blooming here.