Mid- to late June is one of the best times to root softwood cuttings of azaleas, roses, forsythia privet, pyracantha, viburnum,, abelia, buddleia (butterfly bush) and English ivy. Very little equipment is needed and very little expense is involved.

A softwood cutting is one taken of new growth. It roots quicker than one of older wood, usually in six to eight weeks. The older the wood, the longer it takes for it to root.

If the softwood cutting is too soft it probably will die before roots can develop. If it snaps like a fresh string bean when you bend it, it is okay. If it is soft, rubbery and doesn't snap, it isn't suitable.

Cuttings about six inches long should be taken. Put them immediately between moist newspaper to keep them from wilting. Remove the lower leaves, leaving four or five. Make a slanting, smooth cut across the base end. Then put the cutting into the rooting medium so that the leaves are near the soil.

When the air around the cutting is moist (high humidity), the leaves give off much less moisture and the chances of wilting are reduced. To maintain a high relative humidity and to make frequent watering unnecessary, use polyethylene plastic film. Plant the cuttings in pots and completely enclose the pots with plastic. No further watering of the cuttings should be necessary for several weeks.

Since the plastic is permeable to air, carbon dioxie and oxygen can flow in and out. The water vapor in the air inside the plastic is retained because the plastic is impermeable to the vapor.

For small lots of cuttings, use clean clay pots about six inches in diameter, which should hold about six cuttings. Put some pieces of broken pot over the drainage holes to keep them from becoming stopped up.

A good mixture for rooting the cuttings is one part peatmoss to one part horticultural vermiculite. Clean washed sand can be substituted for vermiculite.

Moisten the mixture thoroughly and then let it drain to the point that only a drop or two of water comes from a handful when squeezed tightly.

Early morning is the best time to take the cuttings. The end of the stem is used. Use a sharp knife to cut cleanly instead of crushing. Cut the stem at a 45-degree angle. Make the cut about an inch below a node (the junction of leaf and stem).

Cuttings should be planted immediately but can be stored for a few days in a slightly moist plastic bag in the refrigerator or in a cool place. Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A Q: Many home-owners top their trees. I am horrified to see how butchered some of them look. Is it considered a good practice ? A: If a tree has a poor root system that can supply only a limited amount of moisture and nutrients, topping and thinning out may help it survive. Many cities have some of their trees topped for this reason. Because of their location, the roots cannot grow as they should. Some home-owners have their trees topped because they think it reduces danger of damage by limbs falling during heavy storms. It's generally believed much of the topping is unnecessary and harmful. Q: Four or five years ago you wrote a column about a pink climbing rose that was very fragrant. Can you give me its name? A: America, 1976 All America Rose Selection, provides many delightfully fragrant, salmon-pink flowers; Blossomtime blooms all summer long, cameo-pink flowers with good fragrance; Climbing Charlotte Armstrong is a heavy bloomer, large, deep pink flowers with good fragrance; climbing First Prize, deep pink moderately fragrant flowers, blooms freely in the spring; and Dr. J. H. Nicolas, rose-pink flowers with good fragrance, blooms all season long. q: Galls have formed on one of my dogwoods. What causes them and how can I get rid of them ? A: They are caused by the clubgall midge, an insect. These flies lay their eggs on new growth in early spring, and the tiny maggots cause the galls to form. The best control is to prune out the galls and destroy them during the summer. Q: My azaleas are definitely sick, can you tell me what is wrong with them ? A: The specimen leaves you sent show serious injury from lace bugs. They are tiny insects with light filmy wings, which such juice from the underside of the leaves. Usually they attack only plants growing in full sun. uSpraying with malathion should provide control. Directions on the label for mix and application should be followed closely.