Propagating by Cuttings Is Easy
Garden plants can be propagated (reproduced) in many ways, but one of the easiest ways is by taking stem cuttings, placing them in water or growing medium until they develop roots, then planting the rooted cuttings into pots or into the garden. Unlike propagating by seeds collected from the mother plant, propagating by cuttings ensures that the new plants will be genetically identical to the parent plants in every way. (With hybrid garden plants, seeds collected and planted may not "come true" and may be different in appearance.)
Cuttings can be done with both herbaceous plants with fleshy stems, as well as woody-stemmed plants such as roses and shrubs, but the technique is easier, with fewer failures, when you use fleshy-stemmed plants. Both outdoor garden plants and indoor houseplants can be propagated in this way, but some species are easier than others to reproduce via cuttings. Some failures are common, so don't let this discourage you.
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When to Take Cuttings
Stem cuttings can be taken from a parent plant and rooted at almost any time during its active growth period. It is a good way to add additional plants, and in cold climates, it can also be used to keep prized tender plants alive through the winter for replanting in the spring. For example, you can take cuttings of unique coleus plants in the fall before frost arrives, root them indoors, then transfer them to pots. By springtime, you will have vigorous potted plants that can go back into the garden.
Soft, new growth provides the best material for cuttings that will easily root. Avoid woody, old growth, as this will not root as easily.
- Working Time: 10 minutes or less to prepare plant cutting
- Total Time: 2 to 4 weeks until roots develop
- Material Cost: $5 for a small bag of potting soil; $5 for a container of rooting hormone
What You'll Need
- Razorblade or scissors
- Plastic bag
- An existing plant (mother plant)
- Soilless potting mix
- Rooting hormone
- Containers or pots for planting
- Pencil or stick
Choose a Plant for Cuttings
Select a healthy house or garden plant—a mother plant—from which to take cuttings. Avoid plants with diseases or that look unhealthy. The best specimens for cuttings will have plenty of new growth. The presence of a lot of flower buds or blooms is not important; too many flowers can actually hinder the ability of cutting to root itself. The mother plant should be large and vigorous enough that taking a few cuttings will not harm it.
Prepare the Containers
Fill a clean plant pot or container with the soilless potting mix to hold the stem cuttings for rooting. A soilless mix drains better than garden soil and provides moist, but not wet, conditions. Don't use ordinary garden soil, as this may contain spores and other pathogens that can kill the cutting before it ever takes root.
You don't need a large container or a lot of potting mix. Once the cuttings take root, you are going to re-pot them anyway. A 4- to 6-inch-deep pot or tray is usually sufficient.
Select Stems for Cuttings
Choose green, non-woody stems for taking tip cuttings. Newer growth is easier to root than woody stems or older stems. Look for a stem with a node on it—a bump along the stem where a leaf or flower bud was (or is, or will be) attached. The nodes may be simple bumps or raised areas along the stem, often looking like a joint. This point is where new roots will emerge.
Take the Plant Cuttings
Use a scissor or razor blade that has been sterilized in alcohol to make a clean cut, just below a node. The cutting doesn’t need to be long, but it should contain at least two leaves and at least one node. A cutting that is 4 to 6 inches long is usually sufficient; longer cuttings sometimes dry out when placed in growing medium.
Prepare the Cuttings
Place the cutting on a flat, hard surface and make a clean slice through the middle of the node with a sterilized razor blade. This scarifying of the node will increase the chances of roots emerging from this spot.
Remove all but 1 or 2 leaves from the stem. The cutting needs some leaf growth to continue photosynthesis since it can’t take in any food from roots it doesn’t yet have. But too many leaves will sap energy from the stem's efforts to create new roots. If the leaves are very large in proportion to the stem, cut off the top halves of the leaves.
Apply Root Hormone (Optional)
Some plants root so easily that it's not necessary, but applying a rooting hormone can help others by stimulating the cutting into sending out new roots from stem node. (Many cuttings will root even in plain water, but transferring a water-rooted seedling to the soil is not always successful.)
Fill a cup or container with water and place some rooting hormone into another container. Dip the node end of the cutting into the water and then into the rooting hormone. Tap off any excess hormone; too much actually hinders its success. Discard the excess hormone, because once it comes in contact with the cutting, it has been activated.
Bore Planting Holes
Use a pencil or similar pointed object, poke holes into the soilless potting mix. Making the holes slightly larger than the stem diameter will prevent the rooting hormone from being wiped away when you embed the stem in the pot.
Plant the Cuttings
Carefully place the cuttings into the holes you made in the potting mix and gently firm the soil around them. You can fit several cuttings into one container, but space them so that the leaves do not touch one another.
Cover the Pot With Plastic
Place the container of cuttings into a plastic bag. The bag will keep the humidity high and hold in heat. But don’t seal the bag completely, because some airflow is necessary to prevent fungal rot.
Place the bag and container in a warm spot in the house, ideally in an area that experiences filtered light. Don’t put the cuttings into full sunlight until new leaves begin appearing along the stem.
Until roots form, keep the soil slightly moist but not so wet that condensation forms on the inside of the plastic. (If this happens, the potting mix is probably too wet. Allow the potting mix to dry out a bit and recover the pot.) Check the cuttings regularly for signs of rot, and remove any suspect cuttings as soon as you spot trouble.
After 2 or 3 weeks, begin checking for roots by tugging gently on the cuttings. When you begin to feel resistance, it means that roots have developed.
At this point, the cuttings are ready to be removed from the bag and transplanted into their own pots or into the garden.