A SOFTWOOD cutting is the soft new growth of herbaceous perennials (those that die down and reappear the following season after a long winter dormancy) or that same soft new growth shrubs and trees many will produce a little later, writes TOM ATTWOOD. Essentially it is the same material to handle, the advantages of using softwood is that is fresh, full of actively dividing cells and disease free. The downside is that they won’t tolerate being without enough water for long and you must move quickly once you’ve removed them from the mother plant. Softwood cuttings are the growing tip of the plant and the size of cutting you take will vary and this is when you need to make a judgement call. Too large and they will collapse not being able to draw up enough water; too small they risk withering away. For many plants a five to six cm length of wood with one to three leaves on the shoot is normally sufficient. If the leaves are large and out of proportion with the stem of your cutting reduce them by cutting them across the leaf with a sharp pair of scissors to cut down the surface area and reduce water loss but also the weight of the leaves etc. Try to take your cutting material at the start or end of the day when temperatures are coolest. Place them in a clear plastic back to maintain humidity and process them straight away. For most of the cuttings we make on the nursery they are inserted half to two thirds down into plastic pots filled with horticultural grit sand (the nine cm square pots are ideal for this). These are then labelled, watered from below by sitting the pots in a tray of water and placed somewhere cool but light. Our shade-net tunnel is ideal for this, but you could use somewhere off the ground out of direct sunlight. Keep the sand moist and in weeks they will have rooted without the need for rooting hormone. Once roots have appeared pot the cuttings into compost with feed and they’ll romp away.

Next week: reflections on this year's Chelsea Flower Show