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Propagation by Cuttings: Step-by-Step

Not all plants can be grown from seed. In fact, many perennial plants are best propagated by taking cuttings from mature plants, and encouraging those cuttings to make their own roots. This process has an additional benefit over seeds in that the daughter plants will be genetic clones of the parent plant, and therefore will maintain the same flower color and other qualities that might have been lost if grown from seed. Some plants, such as gardenia and elder, can be propagated by taking cuttings at any time of year. Most plants, however, have best success when cuttings are taken at certain growth stages.

Different Types of Cuttings and Timing for Making Them

Herbaceous Cuttings

  • Are from non-woody plants
  • Cut a 3-5" piece of stem
  • Remove the lower 1/3 to 1/2 leaves from the stem
  • High percentage of cuttings root

Softwood Cuttings

  • Are made from young green plants, are the fastest to cuttings to form roots.
  • They are usually made in the spring or early summer.
  • Though this is the easiest stage to root, they are also most susceptible to other problems such as withering, so keep the humidity high.

Greenwood Cuttings

  • Are made from stems which are still soft and tender, but not quite so young and sappy as softwood cuttings.
  • These also root easily but are somewhat hardier.
  • Softwood and greenwood cuttings are handled the same way and often the two terms are used interchangeably.
Plants that grow well from softwood or greenwood cuttings include:
  • most perennial herbs
  • begonia
  • birch
  • cotoneaster
  • dogwood
  • elm
  • fuchsia
  • ginkgo
  • hydrangea
  • lilac
  • maple
  • redbud
  • verbena

Semi-ripe Cuttings

Semi-ripe cuttings are made when the stems start to firm up and their major growth period has ended, but before they become woody. These are usually made in the summer or early autumn. These can be trickier to root than softwood or greenwood, but successful rootings are sturdy and not as likely to wither. They often require wounding or heel cutting to stimulate root formation. Semi-ripe cuttings can be made for:
  • broadleaf evergreen trees such as magnolia
  • boxwood
  • cedar
  • citrus
  • clematis
  • dianthus
  • holly
  • honeysuckle
  • hyssop
  • lavender
  • oak
  • penstemon
  • rosemary
  • wallflower

Hardwood Cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are made from dormant plants in the late autumn after the leaves have fallen or in the spring before bud break. These are slowest to root, but have an excellent survival rate. They also often require wounding or heeling to stimulate root formation. Deciduous plants that can be propagated by hardwood cuttings include:
  • dogwood
  • fig
  • fir
  • forsythia
  • jasmine
  • kiwi
  • locust
  • pomegranate
  • poplar
  • sycamore
  • willow

Tips to Successful Propagation from Cuttings

  • Do not take cuttings that have flowers or flower buds. You want the plant’s energy to go into root formation and not flower development.
  • Take your cuttings in the early morning. The plant is usually fully hydrated in the morning.
  • After cutting, keep them cool and moist place until planted.
  • Use clean cutting tools.
  • Use a rooting medium that is low in fertility, well-drained and provide good aeration. Mixture of one part peat (or coco coir) to one part perlite works well.
  • Use a rooting hormone to promote improved root development. When using do dip cuttings into bottle, rather pour out some in another container and discard after use. Do not pour back into the main bottle.
  • After dipping in rooting hormone, place in medium about 1/3 to 1/2 the length into the medium (tips pointed up).
  • Water cuttings after placing into the medium.
  • Place cuttings out of full sun, dappled or indirect light is good.
  • Keep the humidity high so the cuttings don’t dry out. This can be done using a dome or a clear plastic bag over the pot with the cuttings. If doing a large amount of cuttings, you can set up misters to automatically mist the cuttings.

Resources

Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings

1 comment

  • This was a wonderful bit of information. I have a nice looking small branch from a newly cut Sycamore and thought I would give it a try. I’ve nothing to lose as it was already going to be dead.
    Looking at all the options of a Google search, yours had exactly the kind of information I was looking for. Straight and to the point, just how I like it. I am bookmarking this site and plan to be back often.
    THANK YOU!

    Tracy D Cummins

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