Propagating Plants from Stem Cuttings
When we first become gardeners we rush out in spring to buy annuals in six packs and start a few seeds in the ground. As we become more knowledgeable, we venture out and start planting perennials, shrubs and vines. Our pocketbooks become lean from the expense of buying plants from the nurseries so we start to wonder how we can save money and still have a beautiful garden. One inexpensive way to obtain new plants is by taking cuttings. Many of us have successfully started new plants by rooting houseplant stems in water on our kitchen windowsill. I am going to take this a step further and explain how to get good results from propagating stem cuttings using a rooting medium.
It is important to use a good sterile rooting media to get your plants off to a healthy start. Soil or compost are not good choices to use since they may harbor diseases. You can purchase ready to use seed starting mixes from your local nursery if you are doing small amounts of cuttings. If you wind up doing large amounts of cuttings you can make your own, using any of following combinations.
- ½ sand* and ½ peat moss
- ½ perlite and ½ peat moss
- Equal parts sand, perlite, and peat moss. *Sharp clean river sand.
You'll also need sharp scissors or pruners, labels, pots and clear plastic bags. The plastic bag is used to cover the cuttings to keep humidity up around the plants while they are forming roots since they will have no way to replace water lost through transpiration. You can also purchase trays with clear plastic domes if your pots and cuttings are not too tall. You can use plastic pots or flats, or build wooden flats like those used for seed starting or root cuttings. All items should be clean and sterile, so if you use your old pots be sure to clean them thoroughly. I prefer plastic pots since they are easy to clean. Some people soak them in dilute bleach water, although I run mine through the dishwasher and haven't had any problems.
For beginners, softwood cuttings are good to start with since they are the easiest. Cut new growth from the plant in late spring or early summer. Many shrubs and trees root well using this method. Since plants are making most of their growth at this time of year it also follows that they will also make good root growth.
I like to take cuttings in the morning and place the stem in water for about an hour while I prepare the pots to house them. If you plan on taking cuttings in another location, bring a plastic bag so you can keep the cuttings sealed in the bag until you get it home. Cut the stems at an angle to give the cuttings more cut surface to form their roots. Most cuttings root best if the cut is made ½ inch below the leaf node. Strip the leaves off the lower parts of the stems leaving only the top leaves. If the leaves are large on top cut them leaving only half a leaf.
With a spoon handle or pencil make a depression in the soil for the stem to fit into. If you use a rooting hormone first dip the stem in the powder then slip the stem into the hole you made in the soil.
After placing the cuttings in the soil, firm the soil around the roots. You can place several cuttings in the same pot.
After you plant the cuttings place the pot in a tray of water. Let it soak up the water until the top of the soil is visibly moistened. Remove the pot from the water and let it drain, then place in a plastic bag and seal it shut. Set it in a bright window without direct sun. I place them in my greenhouse on a heat mat, but either way gives good results. Open the bag up for about ten minutes each day to let fresh air circulate.
Cuttings can vary in how long they take to grow their own roots. Some plants can set roots almost immediately, while others can take weeks before roots will form. After about a week start checking if the roots are growing by gently tugging the stem. If you meet resistance the roots are forming. At this point take them out of the bag and give them a weak solution of fertilizer. I keep the cuttings in the pot for up to two weeks and then repot them into their pots using a soil based potting medium. Most of the cuttings are placed in the ground by fall, excepting fuchsias and other fast growing plants.
Although I don't consider myself an expert in propagating plants by cuttings, I do quite a few every year from a variety of plants. I have good results most of the time and sometimes dismal failures. I take three or four times more cuttings than I need since not all cuttings from the same plant will take root. I try to achieve about an 80% success rate; many times I get less, and every so often I will get 100%. If I have a high success rate with my cuttings, than I pot them all up and donate the extras to plant sales or give them to gardening friends. My small investment of time and money pays off with many more plants for my garden. So try increasing your plants by taking cuttings! It's fun and sometimes challenging, and you will be rewarded with a garden full of plants you propagated yourself.