One of the great joys of gardening is propagating new plants by taking stem cuttings and rooting them in potting medium. It's economical because you increase your plant collection for little to no cost (just the soil and pots). And it's satisfying to watch the new plants grow. The technique is commonly used to propagate houseplants, but it also works for many outdoor garden plants. In cold climates, cuttings from tender garden plants can be rooted indoors, planted in pots, and grown into mature specimens that can be transferred outdoors the following spring. And though it's a bit more difficult, many woody plants, such as roses, can also be by taking stem cuttings.
When to Take Root Stem Cuttings
Stem cuttings can be taken and rooted at almost any time, but the technique is more successful when the plant is not in full bloom. When your goal is to propagate outdoor garden plants over winter, take your cuttings after the plant's bloom period is over, or trim off any flowers or flower buds. A stem cutting that contains flowers or flower buds is putting too much energy into flower production rather than root development.
For shrubs and other woody plants, rooting via stem cuttings is most likely to succeed if you take cuttings from new growth that has not yet become woody. April through June is usually the best time to take cuttings from woody plants. Moreover, using a rooting hormone is essential when attempting to root cuttings from woody plants.
Equipment / Tools
- Sharp knife, scissors, or pruners
- Small trowel and pencil
- Soilless potting mix
- Planting tray or small pots
- Rooting hormone
Take Cuttings From a Healthy Parent Plant
Cut a 3- to 6-inch long piece from a healthy portion of the stem, using a sharp knife or pruners to sever the stem at a 45-degree angle. This angled cut will maximize the area available for roots to develop. If possible, take cuttings from newer growth.
Each cutting should have at least two or three sets of leaves along its length. Make sure the cutting includes at least one growth node (a bump on the stem from which leaves or flowers sprout) that can be buried in the growing medium. Roots will sprout from this node, as well as from the cut end of the stem.
Trim the Leaves and Apply Rooting Hormone (Optional)
Remove the leaves from the bottom node on the cutting. Usually you can simply snap off the leaves.
As an optional step, apply a powdered or gel rooting hormone to the trimmed end of the cutting and to the area where the leaves were removed. With powdered hormone, it helps to moisten the stem before rolling it in the powder. If you are using gel hormone, simply dip the end of the cutting into the hormone.
Plant the Cuttings
Prepare a planting tray or small pots with soilless potting medium, such as a seed-starter mix or vermiculite. Poke a hole in the medium with a pencil. Then, insert the end of each cutting into the medium. Lightly tamp the mix around the stem of the cutting to hold it upright.
Tend the Cuttings
Do not place the cuttings in full sun. Instead, place the container in a location where it will receive a 50/50 ratio of shade to dappled sunlight. Cuttings thrive on warmth and humidity, and the growing medium should be kept evenly moist but not drenched while roots develop.
Inspect the cuttings every two weeks, looking for new leaf growth and root development. If flower buds or blooms develop, pinch them off. New leaves will assist with root growth, but flowers divert energy away from the roots.
Transfer the Cuttings
When you see new leaf growth developing along the stem of the cutting and healthy roots are established, transfer the cutting to a new pot with fresh potting soil. Once you feel resistance when slightly tugging on the cutting, that means the roots are sufficiently developed. A small trowel or large kitchen spoon is a good tool for scooping out the rooted cutting and transferring it to its new pot.
Remove leaves that turn brown or black as the stems are rooting. Discard any cuttings that turn soft or show other signs of rot or fungal disease.
Keeping the Cuttings Alive
You can root many leafy plants from cuttings. But if you find you're having a hard time with any particular plant, make sure you're not overwatering, that the cuttings have active growth nodes, and that you're not exposing them to direct sun or cold drafts. For particularly difficult plants, try a heated plant mat under the pot to encourage new root growth.
When rooted cuttings that were started indoors during winter are moved outdoors, it is important to gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions by starting slowly and gradually increasing their exposure outdoors. Once nighttime temperatures are reliably at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, your specimens can be safely planted in the garden.