Tools and Cleanliness
Many species of plant can be propagated from
pieces cut from the stem of the plant with a sharp knife. Knives
and other cutting tools used for propagation should always be sterilized
by dipping in methylated spirit or a diluted bleach and water solution.
The best place to cut is just
below a stem joint, or where a leaf or bud joins the stem, taking care to
remove cuttings so as to not spoil the plant's shape. It is usually
best to try to arrange for the cutting to have at least one more stem
joint higher up. Most cuttings work well if taken as pieces with two
to three pairs of leaves. Any leaves should be removed from the
bottom stem joint, but it is counter-productive to rub off any buds in
leaf nodes. Ensure you leave at least 2 pairs of leaves! The
cutting should be potted up in a heat-sterilized gritty potting medium,
pure sharp sand, fine grit or vermiculite. In some cases, cuttings
can be potted up immediately after cutting, but for succulents, allow the
cut end to dry for a day or two to let the damaged tissues seal, reducing
the chance of fungal attack. It helps to dip the cut end in some
hormone rooting powder or liquid, particularly if the mixture also
contains a fungicide.
Take wood from vigorous,
healthy branches, preferably from the upper part of the plant. Avoid
weak, spindly growth. Make the cuttings four to six inches
long. Make a slanting smooth cut with a sharp knife. Cut
directly below a node to help callus the cut surface and reduce the
entrance of disease organisms. Remove the leaves from the lower half
to one-third of the cutting. Insert the cuttings one to two inches
deep into the rooting medium. For cuttings with long internodes, be
sure to insert one or two nodes into the rooting medium.
Cuttings will root faster and form a better
root system when treated with a commercial rooting hormone. Dust the base
of the cutting with the rooting compound before it is inserted into the
medium. Rooting compounds are available in powder or liquid form in small,
inexpensive packages from most garden supply stores.
What to Cut
Cuttings are best taken at the
beginning of the growing season, usually in the Spring except for those
plants that grow during the Autumn or Winter. The cuttings should be
kept in a well ventilated bright place at about 20oC/65-70F,
but not exposed to direct sunlight which places the cuttings under too
much stress. Remember it is important to retain humidity while your
cuttings are rooting.
There are many types of stem
cuttings. One shoot can be cut into a number of sections for
Softwood cuttings are
taken during the summer months when plants are still growing. They
are called softwood because new growth is still flexible and
non-woody. Take softwood cuttings from the new growth.
Cuttings become more difficult to root as the wood becomes older.
However, very tender growth is not sufficiently hardened to withstand
removal from the mother plant. Cuttings are sufficiently mature on
many shrubs when the stem snaps easily instead of bending under pressure.
The best months to take
softwood cuttings are June, July, August and September. It is not
advisable to take softwood cuttings in the spring when the new growth is
tender and succulent. New flushes of growth must mature beyond this
succulent stage. Most narrow leaf evergreens, such as the junipers,
root best when cuttings are taken after the first frost of fall.
Tip or shoot cuttings
are similar to soft wood cuttings taken from herbaceous plants such as
tropical or house plants. These plants do not usually develop woody
Green wood cuttings
are from the soft tip or stem after the spring growth has slowed
down. The stem is somewhat harder and woody than the soft wood
cutting, but not yet brown and woody-looking.
are taken during the late summer after the annual growth has slowed
down. The stem is harder than soft wood or green wood cuttings -
it's starting to look woody.
Hardwood cuttings are
taken during the fall or winter. These are dormant woody sections of young
stems. (See Scions below.) These are very hard and look like
wood - often with an outer bark.
The rooting medium must
support and hold the cutting in place. The medium must provide
aeration and high humidity at the base of the cutting. A sterile
medium helps the cutting avoid disease infections. A good
all-purpose rooting medium is a mixture of perlite and peat moss.
Perlite is a sterile artificial ingredient that provides good aeration and
peat moss is a natural organic component. Course fibrous peat moss
is the most desirable. Peat moss and perlite are available at garden
Ground pinebark is
occasionally used as a propagation medium. Pinebark milled with 20
percent fines (particles less than 1/40-inch in diameter) is most
effective. Pine bark can be combined with sand, perlite or peat
moss. Vermiculite is a popular propagating medium. It is a
light-weight expanded mica product that absorbs several times its weight
in water. The coarse particle size ensures good aeration if it is
not packed firmly. Many plants root easily and very profusely in
Fill beds, flats or individual
pots with the prepared rooting medium. Beds and flats hold the
greatest number of cuttings in the least amount of space when working with
outdoor plants. However, the rooted cuttings must be uprooted and
Cuttings in individual pots
require more space but can be moved or transplanted without disturbing the
root system, and are required for houseplants.
Do not use soil as a
propagating medium, because it usually contains a variety of disease
organisms. Soil drains poorly when used in pots and may be infected
with nematodes. Use all materials only once to reduce the
possibility of disease infection.
Plants in Water:
Some plants root so readily
from stem or tip cuttings they can be started in plain tap water. The
water must be kept clean and well aerated for best results. A bright
location out of direct sunlight is best. After roots are formed
plants should be transferred to individual pots, or grouped together in a
Place the cutting one to two
inches deep in the medium, with one to three nodes below the medium
surface. Firm the medium around the base of the cuttings to hold the
cuttings firm and eliminate any air pockets. Then water thoroughly
to further settle the medium. Do not compress vermiculite particles.
Plant Cuttings While Rooting
Temperature influences the
speed at which cuttings root. Higher soil temperature produces
faster effect. If possible keep the soil and air temperature between
65-70F. Temperatures above 70F accelerate fungus and bacterial
growth above. High temperature of the ambient air stimulates the
growth of shoots at the expense of roots. Keep the air temperature
lower than or equal to the soil temperature. You can raise the soil
temperature by putting the cuttings on a gently heated surface. The
top of the refrigerator is a famous spot, and also placing on top of a
fluorescent light fixture or over heating coils specially made for
After planting in media the
cuttings need light and water. For cuttings with leaves light is
required for photo-synthesis to develop natural foods in the form of
carbohydrates. Provide shade on bright, hot days to avoid scalding
the cuttings if you are rooting outdoors. Indoors, keep the under
fluorescent lights that are on for 16 hours a day. Cuttings without
leaves do not require light for rooting; they depend upon stored
prevent the cuttings from dehydrating through the leaves and stems the
cuttings are often propagated under mist systems in controlled greenhouses
or tunnels, in cutting trays covered with plastic.
You can achieve the same
effect by covering individual cuttings, pot and all, with plastic
supported with bent coat-hanger wire or chopsticks, or by topping the
potted cutting with a plastic pop bottle with the top cut off.
Even clear plastic cake covers or an old aquarium will work. All
you need is something that will let light through, and hold the humidity
After roots form, harden off
slowly by reducing the temperature and humidity. If using plastic
coverings, gradually raise the edges over a period of a week or so.
Frequently observe the growing environment and take action to deal with
any fungus or insect infestations. You will need to mist the newly rooted
cuttings if you are keeping them in a winter heated house. Before
planting outside, harden off in the usual way by taking the plants out
during the warm days and bringing the in or covering them on cool nights
for about two weeks before planting them in their permanent growing
Uneven moisture distribution
during rooting is the most common cause of cutting death. Never
allow the propagating medium to dry out, but do not over-water, keeping it
"water-logged." Good aeration is needed. Remember,
high humidity around the leaves is necessary to prevent them from drying
out and dying.
If you use the miniature
greenhouse propagating structure described under "Constructing a
Miniature Greenhouse" below, you need to water the cuttings only
about once a week. Open structures require more frequent
attention. Do not add any fertilizer to the medium until the
cuttings have rooted.
After the cuttings have
produced a root system one to three inches long, transplant them from the
bed or flat into a potting mixture. The time required to form an
adequate root system depends upon the kind of plant and type of
cutting. Most shrubs will root within three to six weeks.
Leaving young plants in the rooting medium after rooting with little
additional care will stunt them. If rooted plants cannot be stepped
up (potted or moved to a new bed) soon after rooting, apply a water
soluble fertilizer at half the recommended rate. Water with this
fertilizer solution every other week.
For your outdoor plants, you
should not transplant recently rooted cuttings to a permanent location in
the landscape. Instead, transplant to individual pots or in a
bed. Grow these transplants to a larger size to improve their
chances of survival in the landscape. Give special care to the young
plants for one or two growing seasons. Carefully prepare soil beds
with the addition of organic amendments and nutrients. Water and
fertilize the plants carefully the first year to increase the top and root
Container potting mixes are
available from many commercial sources. Commercial greenhouse and
nursery mixes provide excellent drainage and aeration and are usually pest
free. Commercial mixes are recommended rather than mixes using
native soils. Native soil mixes are formulated by mixing one part
peat moss or pine bark, one part sand, and one part topsoil. For
sandy soils, one part peat moss and two parts sandy soil is a good
Nursery bed preparations
consist of thoroughly pulverizing the soil and working in three to four
inches of ground pine bark or leaf compost. Plant cuttings 12 to 18
inches apart and only as deep as they were in the propagating bed.
Water thoroughly, then apply a mulch such as pine straw or
pine-bark. This mulch helps the soil retain moisture. Water when the
soil surface begins to dry.
Rooted cuttings are very
susceptible to cold injury. Therefore, grow them in a cold frame for
the first season. Cuttings rooted in the early summer are
transplanted to an open cold-frame. In the fall, cover this cold
frame with sash or plastic sheeting. Cuttings rooted in late summer
or fall can be transplanted immediately from the propagating medium to a
closed cold frame. Propagation flats can be placed directly inside
the cold frame. Cuttings in flats are then transplanted in the
spring. The cold frame need not be elaborate. The sides can be
constructed of cement blocks or scrap lumber. The cover can be
polyethylene plastic over a wooden frame.
Shade the nursery bed during
the first season (including winter), particularly if the bed is in full
sun. Shade can be provided with snow fencing, lath, reed matting, or
burlap attached to a wooden frame. For houseplants, even sun-loving
ones should not be put in direct sun immediately, but should be gradually
moved closer to the sunny window over a period of 2-3 weeks.
Most gardeners over-fertilize
young plants, injuring the root systems. Apply two cups of a
balanced fertilizer, such as a 6-12-12, per 100 square feet (10 feet x 10
feet) in March and May and again in July. Water the fertilizer in
after each application. Do not allow beds to become dry after
For houseplants, water with a
fertilizer solution at 1/2 the recommended strength.
Special Word about Rooting Roses
varieties of roses can be started from cuttings, but some root more
readily than others. Strong-growing pillar, climber, polyantha and
hybrid perpetuals are often increased by cuttings. The resulting
plants are usually satisfactory. Hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora
and similar classes of ever-blooming roses can be started from
cuttings. However, they develop more slowly from cuttings than when
propagated by budding onto more robust root stock. Stalwart
"The Fairy" rose shown, is a real trooper that is very easy to
root from cuttings.
For successful propagation,
take cuttings from the new growth in late spring or summer after the
flowers have shed. Cut this new growth into 6 to 8 inch segments
with several cuttings from each stem. Remove all leaves from the
lower third of each cutting. Follow the procedure outlined for
general shrubs for placing cuttings in the miniature greenhouse structure.
Another way to propagate roses
is to use hardwood cuttings. Take hardwood cuttings in autumn,
remove all leaves, and cut into 8 to 10 inch lengths. Plant the
cuttings in a well-protected, sunny place with only the top bud above
ground. When freezing weather approaches, mulch the cuttings with
several inches of pine straw to keep them from freezing. Rooted
cuttings should begin growth the following spring.
a Miniature Greenhouse
Success in rooting cuttings
depends on (1) uniform moisture in the rooting medium; (2) high humidity
in the air surrounding the cuttings, and (3) maintenance of a warm
temperature around the base of the cuttings. One of the simplest
ways to provide the proper conditions for rooting cuttings is to construct
a "miniature greenhouse." The structure provides high
humidity in the air around the cuttings, and eliminates the constant
otherwise necessary to provide proper moisture in the medium.
The Propagation Box
holds the medium, cuttings and cover. The box should be small enough
to be moved when filled with media. A box 16 inches by 21 inches is
suggested. A sawed-off apple crate can be used, with several cross
supports nailed onto the bottom for extra support. Allow ample
drainage from the bottom regardless of the kind of propagating box used.
A box 16 inches by 21 inches
will need four or five wire supports, each about 40 inches long. The
wire should be about coat-hanger size. Small stapling nails are
ideal for fastening the wire to the sides of the box. Use two nails
to firmly fasten each end of the wire to the box.
Use a Plastic Cover made
of a sheet of poly-ethylene plastic 39 inches by 51 inches. Attach
the plastic to one side of the box, then pull the plastic down snugly over
the wires and attach it at the four corners with clothespins. After
the cuttings have rooted, open the plastic at both ends for one or two
weeks to reduce the humidity and harden off the young plants.
Use a Rooting Medium to
fill the box and firm it to within one-half inch of the top. Equal
amounts of peat moss and perlite make a dependable medium.
The Best Location for a
miniature greenhouse is in the shade, because high temperatures will
injure the cuttings. A desirable location is under a shade tree that
allows very little direct sunlight penetration or in a spot that gets
direct sunlight only in the early morning or late afternoon.
Watering is necessary
to keep the medium moist and to provide high humidity. Much less
irrigation is required for cuttings rooted under the plastic cover than
for cuttings rooted in the open. However, if the medium under the
plastic cover dries out, the cuttings will die just as if they were
outside. The plastic enclosure helps to recycle moisture evaporating
from the medium.
The Propagating Structure
Can Be Used All Year. Most cuttings of ornamental plants will
root easiest if they are taken in June, July and August. However,
cuttings of many kinds of plants, including camellias, can be placed in
the structure in the fall and a good root system will be produced by the
Good results can be obtained
by rooting softwood rose cuttings in the miniature greenhouse beginning in
May and continuing through summer.
to Propagate for a lists and descriptions for the best propagation
methods for popular plants.
[ Plant Cuttings ] [ Care of Cuttings ] [ Plant Division and Layering ] [ Grafting and Budding ] [ Plants to Propagate ]