Plant Propagation: The Basics of Cuttings

One of the most interesting and rewarding parts of gardening is making new plants. Whether from seed, cuttings, or division it is exciting to watch new plants grow into your landscape. For me I really enjoy taking cuttings. If you have never done a cutting before you should try it. It's not difficult if you accept ahead of time that you will have some failures, but you will also have some successes. It all depends on the type of plant from which the cutting was taken. Plants that sucker naturally tend to be easier to reproduce through cuttings than others.

Here are some advantages to taking cuttings:

1. They become established easier and faster than plants from seed.
2. You are assured of getting the same plant each time. When you plant from seed you may or may not get the same plant from seed. It depends on what plant cross-pollinated with the plant the seeds were taken from.
3. You can make more plants from cuttings than you can from division. A single branch of a shrub could become 4 or more plants. With divisions you may get several good plants with one operation but then you need to wait until they grow back to make more. Of course some plants take to division better than cuttings.

Basic Procedures for Taking Cuttings

1. Have your rooting medium ready. Sand, vermiculite, and peat work well in various mixtures. I mostly use sand but mixing it into a 50/50 mix of sand and peat works too. I will be moving away from peat and moving to coconut fiber in the future for environmental reasons. Some plants will root fine if just stuck into soil (i.e. forsythia, willow) but plants that may be sensitive to disease or tricky to root should be rooted in a sterile rooting mix.

2. Have clean and sharp pruners ready for the cuts. Clean pruners are very important since you can transport diseases to your new cuttings from other plants. You want your cuttings to began life with every possible advantage so clean your tools with a diluted bleach solution.

3. Take the cuttings. As a general guideline cut with at least three nodes on the stem. This can vary but the nodes are where growth hormones reside and having several nodes may work better for some plants than just one. Depending on the time of year you will probably want to do a different cut. Greenwood cuttings work well in the spring and early summer, semi-ripe cuttings in the mid-to-late summer, and hardwood cuttings in the fall or winter. Those are very general guidelines. If you can bring your cuttings indoors almost any of these will work. You will need to protect your cuttings from the elements until they are hardy enough to withstand life in the great outdoors. Some plants will do well with internodal cuttings, which are the cuts you make between the nodes and others will only sprout roots from the node itself. Leave some small leaves on the end if there are any to help the plant to continue to make food for itself. If the leaves are large cut them in half or more to reduce moisture loss.

4. Apply rooting hormone to the cutting. Dip the cutting in a fungicidal solution and sprinkle a little rooting hormone over the base of the cutting. Knock off any extra hormone. Make sure that the cutting has a little hormone all the way up to the nodes.

5. Stick the cuttings. Place the cutting in your moist rooting medium. Make sure you place the container in a sheltered location with a little indirect light. Keep the cuttings moist but not soggy. The use of a dibber or pencil to make a hole will prevent the rooting hormone from being knocked off the cutting.

6. Wait. It takes time. Some plants will take as little as a few days or weeks to root while other may take months. Monitor your cuttings as the try to root. As long as it isn't rotting there is hope. Toss out any rotting or molding cuttings before they contaminate the others then apply a fungicide to help those that remain. When the plants begin to sprout new foliar growth they have probably already rooted. Check the roots and pot them up into a pot with a soilless potting mix and let them grow until they are large enough to be planted in your landscape.

These are just general guidelines that I have followed while learning how to propagate plants. I've had pretty good success doing things this way but it it may not work for every plant. My advice is to try it and see if it works. You learn something new even in failure! If you have a question about propagating a plant and want to ask me about it drop me an email at I can't guarantee I know the answer but I may be able to point you in the right direction!

If you want and excellent source on propagating plants get the book from the American Horticultural Society called Plant Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual of Practical Techniques by Alan Toogood. For me it is the Bible of Propagating plants! It's very easy to understand and shows specific methods for each plant.

And for a list of 10 easy to propagate plants check out this post!

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