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How to Take Plant Cuttings for Propagation

Updated on October 3, 2015
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Lady Rain works as a daytime stock trader and writes about crafts and hobbies. She likes travelling and making papercraft models.

One common way of propagating plants is from cuttings. These are normally pieces of the stem, although some plants can be propagated from pieces of leaf or root. Plants produced in this way have identical characteristics to the parent plant, and you can use cuttings to propagate many named varieties and hybrids that do not come true from seed.

The aim with any type of cutting is to induce it to produce new roots as quickly as possible. If you choose the material carefully and provide the right conditions, rooting powders, which are designed to aid rooting, should not be necessary. They contain synthesized plant hormones and fungicides, not acceptable to organic gardeners.

Stem cuttings

Softwood cuttings are taken from new soft shoots of herbaceous plants that will not turn woody; from spring growth of some shrubs; and from ornamental greenhouse plants such as fuchsias, geraniums, and chrysanthemums.

Semi-ripe cuttings are taken later in the season, from shoots that have started to harden and turn woody and brown at the base.

Hardwood cuttings are from wood that has become fully mature at the end of the season. The most successful method depends upon the particular plant.

The shoots that you use for cuttings should be :

  • From healthy plants – diseases, including viruses, will almost certainly be transmitted to new plants.
  • From young vigorous plants, or from vigorous growth on old plants. This often occurs where they have been pruned recently.
  • Non-flowering where possible, otherwise cut off any flowers or flower buds.
  • Stocky, not drawn and spindly, and there should be only short lengths of stalk between the leaves or leaf buds.

Types of cuts

Basal cutting

Cut with a sharp knife through the swelling at the base of the shoot where it joins the main stem.

basal cutting
basal cutting | Source

Nodal cutting

Cut just below a leaf joint.

Nodal cutting
Nodal cutting | Source

Heel cutting

Pull off the shoot with a tail of old wood attached.

Heel cutting
Heel cutting | Source

Compost for cuttings

The compost mixture used to root cuttings needs few nutrients. It must be well drained so as not to encourage fungal diseases.

Preparing and rooting cuttings

Remove leaves from the lower third to half of each cutting. The number of cuttings that you need will depend upon how easily they root; normally six cuttings will give you at least two plants, but take more of those that are hard to root.

Insert cuttings into holes in the compost made with a dibber. Space them out so that they do not touch – overcrowding increases the risk of fungal disease.

Softwood, semi-ripe, and evergreen hardwood cuttings are best if covered. If you do not have a propagator, then cover each with a polythene bag supported on wire hoops, or with a large plastic bottle that has had the bottom cut off.

Make your own propagator with a plastic bottle
Make your own propagator with a plastic bottle | Source

Check the cuttings regularly, and remove yellowing or fallen leaves. You will know that the cuttings have rooted when the tips start to grow rapidly, or when you see white roots at the bottom of the pot. Take off the plastic cover, and a few days later, pot them up into a multi-purpose compost.

Creating A Bottle Terrarium
Creating A Bottle Terrarium | Source

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