How to Propagate Plants by Rooting Stem Cuttings

rooting plant cuttings

The Spruce/Claire Cohen

Overview
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10

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 little harder, many woody plants, such as roses, can also be reproduced by taking stem cuttings.

Tip

There are two ways to root stem cuttings: in water and in a growing medium. Many plants, such as spider plants and pothos vines, readily root in water. But water also can cause fragile roots to develop, and some plants might resist rooting in water altogether.

rooting plants from cuttings
The Spruce

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Knife or scissors
  • Trowel

Materials

  • Soilless potting mix
  • Planting tray or small pots
  • Rooting hormone

Steps to Make It

  1. 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.

    taking plant cuttings
  2. 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. And with gel hormone, simply dip the end of the cutting into the hormone.

    using rooting hormone
  3. 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.

    preparing a planting tray
  4. Tend the Cuttings

    Most cuttings prefer to avoid full sun while they root. 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.

    cuttings in pots
  5. 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.

    cuttings in pots

When to 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.

When moving rooted cuttings started indoors during the winter back outside, it is important to gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions with increasingly long daily visits on a deck or patio. Once nighttime temperatures are reliably at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, your specimens can be safely planted in the garden.

spider and pothos rooting in water

Tips for Rooting Stem Cuttings

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.

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.

Finally, 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.