Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Making New Plants From Cuttings
One of my favorite aspects of gardening is plant propagation. Whether it is from seed or a cutting, I love seeing a new plant emerge and grow.
Early fall is the time to take some cuttings of plants you want to keep over the winter. Tender container plants are at their peak right now but when the weather turns colder they will be lost unless you bring them inside.
Even with a greenhouse, we don’t have enough room for everything we want to save and it is even more difficult if you are trying to fit them all on a sunny windowsill. Instead of lugging in large containers and digging up entire plants you can easily take cuttings of your favorites and start some new plants.
Supplies for Cutting
Before you start cutting, take time to gather all the materials you’ll need. If you are organized, you’ll be able to prepare a lot of cuttings in a short time. You’ll need:
- clean plastic pots or boxes
- a bag of sterile potting soil and perlite or vermiculite
- powdered rooting hormone
- a sharp knife, clippers, or razor blade
- alcohol to sterilize your cutting tool.
For a rooting medium you can use a mix of potting soil (soilless mixes are best) and perlite or vermiculite to make it drain faster. I have had success using straight vermiculite.
Instructions to Take Cuttings
Cuttings can be taken as long as the parent plant is still healthy and growing. This method works best on any plant with a soft stem, not a hard woody stem. (More on best plants for cuttings below.)
- Fill your containers with your potting mix and water well.
- Look for new vigorous side shoots or tip growth and slice off a 3 to 4 inch long piece.
- Remove the lower leaves and any flowers or buds, moisten the stem in water and dip it into a little pile of rooting hormone (not directly into the jar because you could contaminate the whole container.)
- Make a hole in the soil with a pencil, stick in your cutting, firm the soil around it, and gently water it.
- Take more cuttings. Twelve plants fit nicely in a rectangular box. Always take more cuttings than you need because some are likely to fail.
- Be sure to include a tag with any pertinent info on it.
Creating a Mini-Greenhouse
Many people use a sunny windowsill, but if you wish to create lots of pots with cuttings, here’s any easy way to create a mini-greenhouse …
- Place the box or pot of cuttings in a large plastic bag, blow in it to inflate it, and seal the end. Big zip-lock bags work great.
- Place this in a warm spot out of direct sun: 65 to 75°F is optimum. Bottom heat helps cuttings root faster but is not necessary.
- Open the bag every few days to check for mold or wilted cuttings and to add fresh air. This helps to prevent mildew from forming in this humid atmosphere.
- After a week or two, if the plants look lively you can peel back the bag and move them into indirect light. Check for rooting by giving them a gentle tug. If they resist being pulled out, roots have begun to form.
- Soon you’ll be able to move your new plants into their own pots filled with fresh potting soil. After a few weeks you can fertilize them and move them to their new indoor locations.
Easy Plants to Propagate by Cuttings
Good candidates for propagation from stem cuttings include: begonias, fuchsia, pineapple sage, rosemary, hibiscus, hydrangea, and geraniums.
Many plants root so easily, they will even root willingly in a glass of water, including coleus, African violet, some ivies, iresine, mints, and impatiens don’t need any kind of pampering and will even root willingly in a glass of water! (If you try this, keep the water clean and put the glass out of direct sunlight. Once roots form, transfer to a pot.)
Image: Coleus are easy to propagate.
One word of caution, just make sure that the plants you are propagating from are not patent protected.
Even if you don’t plan to sell the new plants it is still illegal to propagate them without permission from the patent holder. Many perennials and shrubs—and even some annuals—are patented so check first. We don’t want the Plant Police knocking on your door!
Just so there is no doubt here is the warning in 3 languages!
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.