Here are some of the things you need to know before you start
- The first thing is to make sure you’re using the sharpest tool you can find. Clean cuts are easier on the gardener’s hands and easier on the plant.
- Most plant cuttings are taken when the shoots are tender and pliable, i.e. new soft growth. If you can easily bend the last two to three inches of the shoot, your chances for success are good. I take mine with my Felco pruning shears – I use the #2 and have the same set for my entire nursery career.
- The best cuttings are two to three inches long although shorter cuttings will root.
- Any part of the stem that will be inserted into soil has its leaves removed. Above soil leaves are left on the plant.
- I stick the cutting about one third to one half of its length into the soil.
- The cutting wants to be kept warm. A soil heating mat with a built-in thermostat will keep the soil at 72F and the cutting is happy. There’s also my covered aquarium system that works for me.
How To Stop The Cutting From Wilting
- I don’t want the cutting to wilt. To accomplish this, I spray the plant with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf or a Christmas tree preservative before I take the cutting. This waxy protective coating prevents the leaves from losing moisture and I get excellent results.
- Using a knife to remove the bottom off large pop or water bottles makes a mini-greenhouse for individual pots.
Or Create A Mini-Greenhouse
- Or you can create a mini-greenhouse by bending wire over a plant flat. Cover the plants with white poly to help keep moisture around the leaves so they do not wilt. My choice however is an old aquarium and I cover it with kitchen wrap. (smaller units are more prone to heaing up if in the sunshine and that’s why I’m suggesting a white plastic (old bags) on the smaller units but yes, you could do the same with the larger ones.
- Be careful with making these mini-greenhouses as controlling humidity can be difficult. If you see moisture condensing on the surface of the covering, lift it to allow the moisture to escape.
- If you open the top regularly, check soil moisture (always water with warm water) to ensure it doesn’t dry out.
What Rooting Soil Do You Use?
- The soil I use is a regular soilless mix although I have had excellent results with florist foam.
- I never use garden soil as it compacts too quickly for good rooting.
- I also do not use potting soil; again, it compacts.
What A Cutting Really Needs Or Not
Light is not critical to rooting so normal room lighting is adequate. Do not put covered cuttings into the full sunlight or you’ll bake them.
Kept warm, cuttings will root at various speeds. Early rooters such as geraniums will produce roots in a week or two while the tougher plants, (shrubs) will take upwards of several months.
How Do I Know My Cutting Is Still Alive and Might Root?
As long as the leave are still on the plant, there is hope. If all the leaves fall off, remove the cutting as it’s toast.
Can I Plant A Cutting Directly Into The Garden?
Yes, if you give them enough water and care. But it’s better to grow them in the pot until they fill the pot with roots.
I like to grow my cuttings in a pot for a month or so before planting in the garden. It gives them that many more roots and a chance to develop before going out into the jungle of my garden.
Yes, you can root many easy-to-root cuttings in a glass of water if you regularly change the water so it doesn’t go skudzy. Or add a small length of willow or English ivy to the water (the rooting hormones from these plants aid rooting)
No, woody plants such as trees will rarely root from cuttings although there are exceptions such as willow.
Yes, most shrubs will root from cuttings. Some like a tender tip cutting while others prefer a slightly more mature cutting. This is an “experience” thing and you’ll have to figure out at which stage your plant and your individual technique work together.
Start taking very tender, pliable tip cuttings of shrubs and continue taking cuttings as the new growth matures
Take shrub cuttings from the back of the shrub so it doesn’t look funny at the front.
Yes, many evergreens root from cuttings but the success is variable and trickier than perennials and woody shrubs. This is not for beginners unfortunately but can be done if you get the cutting at the right time, use rooting hormone (critical) and provide the right temperature and humidity.
And have patience!
Yes, most vines root well if tip cuttings are taken.
More Detailed Thoughts
Taking the Cuttings
Take plant cuttings when they are tender and green with some flexibility to the stem.
Take them in the morning when water stress is almost non-existent. Do not take them during the heat of the day when the plants are losing moisture. Do not take them in the evening when they are at their lowest moisture levels.
For most plants this rule of thumb will work well. The cutting 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.
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 although I confess I never do this and unless you’re working with diseased plants, it’s not critical.
I do ensure my tools are dirt free however. If you leave a bit of dirt (with bad bacteria or fungus) on a tool and it is transferred to the cutting (and next to the rooting media) you’re reducing your chances of success.
Watering the Cutting
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, sometimes you’ll see condensation form on this covering.
This is your clue to remove the covering for 10 minutes 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 lukewarm before watering. Do not strain, simply pour the warmish mix onto the soil.
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 while cooler is slower), the state of the plant when the cutting was taken etc.
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 from a few weeks to several months.
How Do I Know They’re Rooted?
The cutting starts putting out new leaves and grows.
You can do this next thing but understand it’s a good way to ruin your cutting as well. 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*, 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) 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. Then acclimatize to outdoors and plant in the garden or nursery bed.
You can read other plant propagation articles here.