How to Propagate Plants by Rooting Stem Cuttings

taking cuttings from plants

The Spruce / Loren Probish

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 wks
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10

Garden plants can be propagated in many ways. But one of the easiest methods is taking stem cuttings, placing them in water or a growing medium until they develop roots, and then planting the rooted cuttings into pots or the ground. Unlike propagating by seeds collected from the parent plant, propagating by cuttings ensures that the new plants are genetically identical to the parent plant. (With hybrid plants, propagating from collected seeds may result in plants that are different in appearance.) 

Propagating by rooting stem cuttings is a very common way to create new houseplants, but it can also work for many garden plants. In cold-weather zones, many gardeners take clippings of tender annuals and root them indoors in order to have a supply of new plants for garden planting in the spring.

Propagating by rooting stem cuttings is most successful with soft-stemmed herbaceous plants, but many woody plants are also amenable to this method.

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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. 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 tropical coleus plants 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.

Before Getting Started

All gardeners experience some failures when attempting to propagate by rooting stem cuttings, and some plants are more suitable to this method than others. Many herbaceous annuals and indoor houseplants tend to work well, and they will quickly grow to maturity. Cuttings from perennials and woody plants such as shrubs are often harder to root, and they may take longer to reach maturity.

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. It's best to take several clippings to maximize your chances for success.

Tip

Many plants can be propagated by rooting their cuttings in a container of plain water. However, transferring a water-rooted seedling to soil is not always successful, so it's generally better to place the cutting in a potting mix to root. It's critical to keep the potting mix moist, but not soggy, during the rooting period.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Razor blade or scissors
  • Pencil or stick

Materials

  • Existing plant (parent plant)
  • Plastic bag
  • Soilless potting mix
  • Rooting hormone
  • Containers for planting
  • Alcohol

Instructions

materials for growing plants from cuttings

The Spruce / Loren Probish

  1. Choose a Plant for Cuttings

    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. Good green growth is much more important than plentiful flower buds when it comes to selecting a good plant from which to take clippings. In fact, too many flowers can actually hinder the ability of a cutting to root itself. Finally, the parent plant should be large enough that taking cuttings will not harm it.

    choosing a plant for cuttings

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  2. Prepare the Container

    Fill a clean pot or container with soilless potting mix to hold the stem cutting 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.

    You don't need a large container. A 4- to 6-inch deep pot is usually sufficient since you will likely be repotting the cutting anyway once it takes root.

    Tip

    Any standard commercial potting mix makes a suitable rooting medium for many plants, but species with a fondness for dry, arid conditions may prefer a more porous cactus potting mix for rooting their cuttings. Read up on propagation techniques for each species before beginning.

    preparing a pot

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  3. Find the Best Stems for Cuttings

    Choose green, non-woody stems for cuttings. Newer growth is easier to root than woody or 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. 

    deciding where to take the plant cutting

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  4. 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 growing medium.

    taking the plant cutting

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  5. Prepare the Cutting

    Place the cutting on a flat, hard surface, and make a clean, parital 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.

    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.

    preparing the cutting

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  6. Apply a Rooting Hormone (Optional)

    Some plants root easily, but a rooting hormone can help others by stimulating the cutting into sending out new roots. Fill a 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 chances for success.

    dipping the cutting in rooting hormone

    The Spruce / Candace Madonna

  7. Bore a Planting Hole

    Use a pencil or similar pointed object to poke a planting hole into the soilless potting mix. Making the hole slightly larger than the stem diameter will prevent the rooting hormone from being wiped away when you embed the stem in the pot.

    boring a planting hole

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  8. Plant the Cutting

    Carefully place the cutting into 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.

    planting the cutting in the hole

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  9. 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 experiences filtered light. Don’t put the cutting in full sunlight until new leaves begin appearing along the stem.

    preparing to cover the pot with plastic

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

  10. 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.

    monitoring the cutting

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Plant Propagation. University of Maine Extension