Garden plants can be propagated in many ways, but one of the easiest methods is taking stem cuttings. How to grow plants from cuttings is simple: Trim off a healthy portion of stem, place it in water or a growing medium until it develops roots, and then plant it in a pot or the ground.
Growing plants from cuttings is a common way to create new houseplants, but it can also work for many garden plants. In cold-weather zones, some gardeners take clippings of tender annuals and root them indoors to prepare a supply of new plants for garden planting in the spring.
Here's what to know about how you grow a plant from a stem cutting.
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When to Take Stem Cuttings
Stem cuttings can be taken and rooted at almost any time during the parent plant's active growth period. You also can take cuttings from many woody plants (plants with hard stems) during their dormancy. In cold climates, you can take cuttings in the fall before frost arrives, root them indoors, and then transfer them to pots. By springtime, you will have vigorous potted plants that can go back into the garden.
Types of Plants to Grow From Cuttings
Soft-stemmed herbaceous plants are the easiest to grow from cuttings, but many woody plants can also be propagated with this method. The following list includes examples of plants that grow from cuttings.
- Semi-hardwood cuttings are woody around their base but have softer stems up top. Examples of plants that can be propagated via semi-hardwood cuttings include holly, hydrangeas, and azaleas.
- Hardwood cuttings have woody stems throughout. Examples of plants that can be propagated via hardwood cuttings include crepe myrtle, forsythia, and rose species.
- Softwood cuttings have flexible soft stems. Examples of plants that can be propagated via softwood cuttings include clematis, asters, and chrysanthemums.
- Greenwood cuttings are very similar to softwood cuttings, except that their base is slightly harder and they take a bit longer to grow. Examples of plants that can be propagated via greenwood cuttings include boxwoods, dahlias, and gardenias.
Before You Begin
The key to successful rooting of stem clippings is to find the moisture and temperature level appropriate for each type of plant. Do some research on the species you are trying to propagate to learn the conditions it likes best. You can make your plant cuttings grow faster not only by providing the conditions they like but also by applying rooting hormone to the cut end, which helps to encourage root production. It's also best to take several clippings to maximize your chances of success.
How long plant cuttings take to root varies widely depending on the type of plant. Many herbaceous annuals will quickly grow to maturity. But cuttings from perennials and woody plants, such as shrubs, can be harder to root and take longer to reach maturity.
Equipment / Tools
- Razor blade or scissors
- Small container for rooting hormone (optional)
- Pencil or stick
- 6-inch containers for planting
- Soilless potting mix
- Existing plant (parent plant)
- Rooting hormone (optional)
- Plastic bag
How to Grow Plants From Cuttings
Prepare a Container
Fill a clean 6-inch-deep container with soilless potting mix to hold cuttings for rooting. A soilless mix drains well and provides suitably moist conditions that encourage the cutting to root. Don't use ordinary garden soil, as it might contain pathogens that can kill the cutting before it ever takes root.
Choose a Parent Plant
Select a healthy parent plant from which to take cuttings. Avoid plants with diseases or lots of drooping or dying foliage. The best specimens for cuttings will have plenty of new growth and be large enough that taking cuttings will not harm them.
Find the Best Stems for Cutting
Choose green, soft (non-woody) stems for cuttings. Newer growth is easier to root than woody, older stems. Look for a stem with a node—a bump along the stem where a leaf or flower bud attaches. This point is where new roots will emerge.
Take the Plant Cutting
Use a pair of scissors or a 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 one node. A cutting that is 4 to 6 inches long is usually sufficient. Longer cuttings sometimes dry out when placed in their growing medium.
Prepare the Cutting
Place the cutting on a flat, hard surface, and make a clean, partial slice through the middle of the node with a sterilized razor blade. Scarring the node will increase the chances of roots emerging from this spot.
Then, remove all but one or two leaves on the cutting. The cutting needs some leaf growth to continue photosynthesis, but too many leaves will consume energy that would otherwise go to root creation. If the leaves are very large in proportion to the stem, cut off the top halves of the leaves.
Apply Rooting Hormone (Optional)
Wet the node end of the cutting, and then dip it in a small container of rooting hormone. Tap off any excess hormone; too much actually hinders chances for success. This step is optional. Some plants root easily on their own, but rooting hormone can help others by stimulating the cutting into sending out new roots.
Bore a Planting Hole
Use a pencil or similar pointed object to poke a planting hole into the potting mix, rather than planting the cutting straight into the soil. Make the hole slightly larger than the stem diameter. Doing so will prevent rooting hormone from being wiped away when you embed the stem in the pot, and it's also gentler on the stem.
Plant the Cutting in the Soil
Carefully plant the cutting in the hole you made in the potting mix, and gently tamp the soil around it. You can fit several cuttings into one container, but space them so the leaves do not touch one another.
Cover the Pot With Plastic
Place the container with the cutting 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.
Keep the container in a warm spot in the house, ideally in an area that has indirect bright light. Don’t put the cutting in full sunlight until new leaves begin appearing along the stem.
Monitor the Cutting
Until roots form, keep the soil slightly moist but not so wet that condensation forms on the inside of the plastic bag. Check regularly for signs of rot, and remove any suspect cuttings as soon as you spot trouble.
After two to three weeks, begin checking for roots by tugging gently on the cutting. When you begin to feel resistance, it means roots have developed. At this point, you can transplant the cutting into its own pot or the ground.