Taking plant cuttings is a basic technique in getting more plants from old ones.
It really doesn’t matter whether they are your old plants or the neighbor’s (ask before taking cuttings – it’s proper “plant-iquette”).
Taking Plant Cuttings
Take plant cuttings when they are tender and green with some flexibility to the stem.
For most plants this rule of thumb will work well.
The plant cuttings should be 2-3 inches long and the bottom leaves can be removed so they will not rot when inserted into the damp soil. You can take shorter cuttings and you can take longer cuttings.
Simply be aware that longer cuttings will tend to have woody parts at the bottom and these typically do not root up as easily as the more tender, actively growing green parts.
Many experts suggest you sterilize your tools before propagating plants. This is an excellent idea. If you leave a bit of dirt (with “bad” bacteria or fungus) on a tool and it is transferred to the cutting (and then to the rooting media) you’re reducing your chances of success.
Geranium cuttings – you can see the heat mat (with green writing) under the pack and the power cord running up to the right
Reducing Moisture Loss
Once the cutting has been taken, the primary objective is to stop the cutting from losing moisture. Cuttings that do lose water will wilt and not develop roots.
So we can spray with an anti-desiccant. This is a wax product that stops a leaf from losing moisture. Spray the top and bottom of the leaf. You can often find this product as Christmas tree preservative if you can’t find it on the garden shelves.
Or, you can make a mini-greenhouse by covering an old aquarium with a clear kitchen wrap or cutting off the bottom of a 2-liter soda pop bottle to make a mini-greenhouse. These two systems work well as well but not as effectively as the spray.
Heating the Cutting
If the cutting gets cold, it will die. This is pretty much a rule of thumb that is universal across the plant propagation world. Keep it warm or watch it die.
I use a heat mat that is specially designed for this purpose. It keeps the plant soil roots at 70F and this is an ideal temperature. You can purchase these at most garden shops or you can construct your own from heating cable and thermostats (cheaper to purchase).
Inside a mini greenhouse, the sun will warm up the cuttings nicely in the day but the cooling off during the night can lead to rot.
You really want an even temperature.
My thinking is that the money I save by doing my own geranium cuttings more than pays for the cost of the mat and electricity.
All my other shrub and perennial cuttings are simply bonuses.
Watering the Cutting
You do have to keep the soil medium damp. Not swampy. Not dry. But damp. Use your finger to check for dampness (If it comes away damp –it’s OK. If it comes away dry – water).
Always use warm water. Never use cold tap water to water cuttings.
If you are covering the cuttings with some form of clear plastic (or glass) so they don’t lose moisture, then sometimes you’ll see condensation form on this covering.
This is your clue to remove the covering for an hour or two to allow the excess moisture to evaporate.
Too much humidity in the air can lead to fungal problems. (stem rots and leaf rots)
If you see rotting, remove the diseased cuttings right away and sterilize the remaining soil and cuttings with a fungicide. (Several cloves of garlic, crushed, and simmered for 15 minutes in an inch of water in a pan makes an excellent soil drench. Allow the water to cool to luke warm before watering)
It is a balancing act and the trick is to get as much air into the cuttings to reduce fungal problems while not allowing too much air circulation so the plants dry out and wilt. (this balancing act is so much easier when you spray with the anti-desiccant)
When are the cuttings rooted?
It depends on the plant, the conditions you create (warmer is faster – cooler is slower), the state of the plant when the cutting was taken etc etc.
In general, annuals root up within a few weeks under ideal conditions.
Perennials can take a few weeks if tender but a few months if the cutting material was a little harder.
Shrubs can take several months.
How Do I Know When It’s Rooted?
With annuals, they’ll start growing again. With all others, there’s a trick.
The trick to deciding is to *gently* tug on the cutting. If it starts to come up easily and quickly – there’s no rooting going on. If it resists *at all*, then some rooting may have started. Be gentle!! Do not continue pulling as you’ll rip all the tender roots and have to start again or watch the cutting die.
Once you’re sure the cutting has rooted (it starts producing new leaves is a good sign) then pot it into its own pot and grow it in a sunny place with plant food (half strength for the first month or so) until the roots are well established in the pot. You can tip the well-rooted plant out of the pot and see developing roots.
Grow in a pot for a month or two and then acclimatize to outdoors and then plant in the garden or nursery bed.
Yes, you can root many easy-to-root cuttings in a glass of water if you change the water regularly so it doesn’t go skudzy. No, not all cuttings will root that way.
Yes, roses will root from cuttings if the growth is soft and pliable.
No, woody plants such as trees will rarely root from plant cuttings although there are exceptions such as willow.
Yes, shrubs will mostly easily root from cuttings
Yes, many evergreen shrubs root from cuttings but the success is variable and trickier than perennials. Evergreen trees are difficult to root. Don’t waste your time if you’re trying to root them in a glass of water.
Yes, most vines root well if tip plant cuttings are taken.
Shopping Resources for This Page
A Wide Variety of Perennial Plants Can Be Found Here
Perennial seeds can be found here from a wide variety of sources and companies
Plant Tags and Labels
Heat Mats to Maintain Soil Temperature – this is critical for success with many plant cuttings
Mini Greenhouse Kits for seed germination
Grow Light kits to keep seedlings short and bushy