Therapeutic Gardening with Sophie Lacey - Good Thymes Gardening

black lace

This month Sophie gives us hints and tips on getting plants for free by taking cuttings.

Did someone say ‘free plants’? I think those are my two favourite words, closely followed by ‘plant sale’. Plants aren’t cheap and with the rising interest in gardening this year, plant nurseries and retailers have been overwhelmed with orders and are out of stock of many varieties. I do try to sow what I can from seed each year, stealthily taking over every surface I can squeeze a module tray onto. The idea that every seed is full of possibility brings me great joy, however it can be a nail-biting few weeks to follow…watching and waiting, hoping for your little plant babies to pop their heads above the soil.

I have dabbled in cuttings over the years, gifting plants I grew from pieces of my own garden to friends, but have been more recently inspired by a few of my clients to experiment more freely. For those unfamiliar with the idea of ‘cuttings’, it is taking a piece of a stem or root from a plant and putting it in growing medium (maybe some compost or potting mix of your own, or even a cup of water) to stimulate them to produce roots. Sounds easy? That’s because it is. Think of it as a fun and cheap science experiment you can do at home. And get free plants.

When you’ve chosen the plant to take a cutting from, you can check on the RHS website to see what kind of stem is best to cut off. Whether it’s fresh, young, soft growth in the summer or hardened older growth over winter, give it a go! Experiment! Be curious! As much as there are recommended times of the year to take cuttings for certain plants, there is no harm in giving it a go. This is something I am enjoying more and more. It is freeing, snipping a cutting, shoving it in the ground and seeing what happens. No pressure. No cost. Take my favourite shrub my ‘Black Lace’ elderflower for instance, they root much better from soft, young stem cuttings. I’ve only ever tried propagating them from old woody hard cuttings but have not had a failed cutting yet. What’s the secret? There is none. I quite literally snip a bit of stem, shove it in a pot of general-purpose compost and leave it outside over winter. It slowly forms roots over this time which I don’t check because I usually completely forget about them, but get a wonderful surprise come spring when it starts budding. Ta-da a new tree is born.

Water propagation is by far my favourite method. Of course you can plant cuttings directly in soil and more recently I’ve been a bit more methodical using my own potting mixes, rooting gels and powders to stimulate growth, but I still find myself creeping back to propagating in good old jars of water. Honestly, I think it is because I can check on them every day to see if I can spot any roots forming. Garden magic at its best!

Be patient. Some won’t form roots and will die but that’s okay, it was minimal commitment and cost you absolutely nothing! You could always try taking multiple cuttings to factor in the risk of it not working for all of them, if you’re keen and the plant is mature enough to survive a bit of a haircut.

Top Tips:

  • Use clean, sharp bypass secateurs to take nice healthy-looking stems, no pests or diseases from what you can see.
  • Cut at 45 degree angles so there are a number of buds towards the base of stem that will be under the potting mix or in the water, this is where roots will form.
  • Remove any lower leaves on the stem that will be in the soil/water.
  • You can try dipping the cutting in rooting hormone or gels that you can pick up from a garden centre, but between you and me, I’ve had more success this year without the faffing.
  • Water propagation is a lot of fun, particularly with children. When you’re ready to move the cuttings onto a larger pot and finally put in soil, be gentle with the roots as they have formed in water, they can be very fragile.
  • Place in a warm spot in the house, not too much direct light and keep the soil moist. Some will take a couple of months to root, particularly woodier stems.
  • One final note, garden centres won’t appreciate you sneaking your secateurs in – only take cuttings legally!


Tomatoes germinate well from seeds but are also very easy to root from cuttings.

SOW/SNIP: Sow between January – March indoors. If taking a cutting, take a side-shoot from a tomato plant up to around 15-20cm long and pop in jar of water. It shouldn’t take long to start forming roots so watch closely over the next couple of weeks.

HARVEST: When ripe in July onwards. A cutting will take a bit longer as it will want to root first before focusing on producing flowers and fruit.

TIP: If you’re getting lots of flowers and no fruit to follow, try feeding with special tomato feed or pretend to be a bee. No seriously, be the bee and give the plant a hand pollinating. You can tap the stems once flowers have opened to encourage pollen to drop or you can take a little brush and brush from flower to flower. Be the bee!

COOK: MR GTGs RATATOUILLE SPAGHETTI with basil infused olive oil

  • 4-5 large tomatoes
  • 2 small brown onions
  • 2 small courgettes
  • 2 small aubergines
  • 600 ml passata
  • 30g basil (and 30ml olive oil)
  • 250g dried spaghetti
  • Small ball of mozzarella
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Handful of breadcrumbs (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 200c. Pour the passata into an ovenproof dish so that it is half-filled. Roughly chop up half the basil and stir into the passata, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Slice the courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes and onions into thin discs (it’s up to you how thin) and stack them in 2 or 3 columns of veg down the length of the baking tray (like rows of Pringles). Sprinkle some breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese on top with a few glugs of olive oil and then place in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables start to crisp.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to the boil and add a large pinch of salt. Place the remaining basil into the pot for 1 minute and then immediately rinse under cold water in a colander. Place the drained basil, the olive oil and a pinch of salt in a blender and process until smooth. Pass the mixture through a muslin cloth to extract the infused oil.

Boil the spaghetti according to packet instructions so that it’s ready when the ratatouille has finished in the oven. To plate up, use some tongs to place a big spiral of spaghetti into a pasta bowl, and scoop a portion of ratatouille on top, along with some of the sauce which will be rich and tangy. Tear mozzarella over the top and liberally drizzle the basil oil all over.


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