If you’re like most gardeners, you enjoy adding new plants to your garden. Of course, continually adding new plants can get expensive pretty quickly — but propagating plants from cuttings can help you save money. Plus, there’s a better chance that these plants will do well in your garden, as their mother plant is already a thriving part of it.
What to Cut
Most plants can be propagated from cuttings, but some do better than others. Plants like butterfly bush are propagated best from softwood cuttings — i.e. the new growth that appears in the spring. Plants like gardenias, on the other hand, grow best from greenwood cuttings, which are taken from first-year new growth but aren't necessarily softwood.
Camellia does best when its cuttings are taken from semi-ripe growth, which usually appears in the fall. Finally, many shrubs grow best from dormant hardwood cuttings.
What You’ll Need
If you want to take cuttings, gather your materials beforehand. You’ll need sharp, sterile pruning scissors, shears, or a knife. If you plan to plant your cuttings right away, have containers filled with potting mix, vermiculite, or perlite on-hand. You may also be able to place the cuttings in water until they form roots. If that’s the case, fill up a Mason jar or vase with room-temperature water. Although it’s not required, a rooting hormone may help your cuttings establish themselves faster.
How to Propagate Cuttings
Always take cuttings from plants that are healthy (i.e. free of disease and without pest problems). You’ll want your cuttings to measure at least six inches long. To take one, make a clean cut just below the bud of the plant at a 45-degree angle. Sharp cutting tools are a must for this. Dull blades will only force you to crush and butcher the stems, making it harder for the plants to develop roots later on. Try to cut early in the morning, when the plant has the most moisture, and remember to take several cuttings. Some may root, and others may not. If you had plans to propagate six rosemary plants, taking eight or nine cuttings can help you achieve the desired number of plants.
Next, pull the lower leaves off of the cutting so you have about two or three inches of bare stem. You’ll also want to remove any flowers you find on it, but leave the top few leaves attached. The flowers may prevent the cutting from rooting, as the plant will waste energy developing seeds instead of roots.
Dip the bare part in a rooting hormone, if you wish. If you do use rooting hormone, avoid dipping your cuttings directly into the primary container. Instead, pour out a small amount in a separate cup and dip the cutting in that, submerging the bottom inch of the stem or so.
Now you’re ready to place the cuttings in a container. Use a pencil to make holes in the soil for all of your them. This will prevent any of the rooting hormones from coming off. Depending on the size of the pot you use, you may be able to root several cuttings in yours at once. Press the soil around them and then water them. Cover each one with a cloche to help it root.
Alternatively, place the entire pot in a clear plastic bag and close the top (just make sure it has enough air). This acts like a mini-greenhouse by keeping moisture and humidity in. Place the pot in a warm, sunny spot that’s out of direct sunlight.
If you keep your cuttings in a Mason jar of water, consider moving them to a spot that gets indirect sun and changing their water regularly. The benefit of placing them in water before you place them in a container with soil is that it allows you to ensure that your cuttings have grown roots before you plant them. Nonetheless, you should keep in mind that not all plants will do well being placed in water first.
Replant Cuttings Once Roots Have Developed
When the cuttings have developed roots, you’ll want to replant them in a new container with moist potting soil. If you placed them in water originally, it’ll be easy to see when they;ve developed roots. If you placed them in soil first, just give them a tug to see if their roots have formed. Cuttings that are ready to replant will give you some resistance. Those that slide right out should be left alone for a few more weeks.
Since it takes time for cuttings to form roots, it's important be patient. Even after you’ve replanted them i,n bigger containers, keep an eye on them until they’re fully established. Look for dropped leaves, pest infestations or signs of disease. If they appear healthy after a few months, harden them off to plant them outside in the garden.