For the avid gardener, perhaps more precisely, the plant addict, getting back to our roots is common sense. How was it that our ancestors had such lovely gardens when there were no horticulture groups, garden clubs or ornamental plant shops nearby?

Long ago, the most important plant to grow was one that produced food for the family. Ornamental plants were for the wealthy city dwellers. This did not prevent early settlers from creating beauty in their new surroundings. Whether it was on the dusty plains or a high rocky mountain top, green foliage and colorful blooms were meant to be enjoyed and shared with others.

Before there were plant nurseries and greenhouses in every town, plants were shared with family and neighbors. Gardeners collected seeds, divided roots, dug and separated bulbs and took cuttings from the plants growing in their yard. These were then shared with other gardeners who did the same thing a few years later.

Most gardeners probably did not know the terms we now have for the different types of cuttings. If they had been coined already, I doubt that many would have heard them anyway. It is helpful to know which parts of the plant you need to cut in order to root a new one. For the plants listed here, we will use these cuttings listed below.


Herbaceous or Softwood

These types of cuttings are just like they sound, soft wood.
Your cutting will be green or newer growth.



This type of cutting will be from more mature, woody stems.

A few tips for ensuring success:

Prepare pots in advance

For rooting cuttings, pots do not need to be very large. I typically use one gallon pots. Sterilize pots by dipping them in a solution of bleach water. One part bleach to nine parts water. Allow to air dry before filling with soil. When pots are dry, fill within two inches of top with your choice soil mixture. Water soil. It should be damp but not soggy.

Use a stick, pencil or any similar size object to poke holes into the soil for the cuttings. Simply jab straight down. Three cuttings of most plants will fit nicely in a one gallon pot. Remember, they are not going to live here; they are only beginning their life in this little pot.

Soil Mixture

I would recommend a soil mixture of one part sand to one part peat or good quality potting soil. Perlite can be added if using a peat/sand mix.

Cut and prepare stem pieces

Cuttings should be approximately eight inches long. A little more or less will not matter, so there is no need to get out the tape measure. Cut several from each plant in case some do not root. This way, you have a better chance of having rooted plants. The exception to this is Brugmansia cuttings, these should be at least twelve inches long.

Remove leaves from bottom of the stem. Allow the top four, or so, leaves to remain attached to stem. Slice the end at an angle. This is especially true for the woody cuttings. You may also want to lightly scrape the sides of the cutting near the bottom. Have a glass of water nearby, drop the cuttings into it until you are ready to put them in your soil mixture.

Dip the cuttings into a good quality rooting hormone. These are available at nurseries, greenhouses and can also be found in most large home-store garden centers.

Stick the cuttings into the holes you poked in the soil, using hands, firm soil around cuttings. Now, finish off by giving them a light misting of water.

Keep cuttings evenly moist while they are rooting. When the cutting begins to put on new leaf buds, you will know that it has begun to root. The time line varies depending on type of plant you are rooting. This is not the time to snatch it out of its little pot! Leave it until several mature leaves have developed. Once this occurs, you can be certain you have good root growth happening. I leave mine in these pots for a full season. This allows them to grow a very healthy root system for planting out in the garden.

Rather than taking them from their one gallon pot directly into the garden, you can transplant them singly into larger pots and let them grow for a full year or more. Doing this will give the new plants time to grow a large root ball before you set them out in the garden. Whether you decide to set them out after three months or wait a full year, you have succeeded in growing a new plant from the mother plant. What a great feeling that is.

Stem cuttings with slant cut at end
Stem cuttings with ends cut on an angle.

Cuttings placed in glass of water.

My top twelve picks to root from cuttings are:

Type of Plant Type of Cutting
Althea (Hibiscus syriacus) semi-hardwood
Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) semi-hardwood
Blackcurrant Sage (Salvia microphylla) herbaceous
Bolivian Fuchsia (Fuchsia boliviana) semi-hardwood
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) semi-hardwood
Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) semi-hardwood

Early Forsythia (Forsythia ovata)

Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) semi-hardwood
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) semi-hardwood
Mophead Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) semi-hardwood

Viburnum (Viburnum obovatum)

Weigela (Weigela coraeensis) semi-hardwood
Rooted Gardenia Here is a gardenia that was rooted in soil. See the root system and all the new leaves? It is only about 3 months old.
Gardenia A healthy example of gardenia which was rooted from a small cutting approximately four years ago.

We have only scratched the surface of ways to propagate plants from your garden. Following are some other examples.

Hardwood cuttings
Leaf cuttings
Root division
Simple layering
Tip layering
Air layering

All are good ways to increase your plant population. It pays to experiment with different methods to see what works best in your garden. Some plants simply will not root by cuttings. The good thing is, you can always try something else and sooner or later, you will have new plant babies. There will be failures along the way but each time we fail, a lesson is learned. The next cutting we try is sure to be the one that ‘takes'.


Here is a well rooted Brugmansia cutting.


A close up of rooting mixture for the Brugmansia

All plants listed are ones I have personally rooted from cuttings and information on the process is from my own experience with these cuttings.

Happy Gardening

All Photographs in this article belong to the author.

Brugmansia cuttings depicted in this article were rooted by Dave's Garden member, Ginger_H. Thank you, Ginger.

For more information on garden terms, check out Gardenology.