Cuttings and propagation, guiding principles

Cuttings

Preparing cuttings is a simple plant propagation technique that works for many plants. Its main advantage is that it allows you to reproduce the same exact plant as the one you love! Now for the technical side of preparing cuttings. Here are the tips on how to correctly prepare cuttings.

Dedicated pages for cuttings of favorite plants:

Cutting preparation techniques

For each plant, it helps to know which technique works best.

  • First, it’s important to know which part of the plant to use for cuttings: stem, leaf, root…
  • Second, where you “plant” your cutting matters: it can be in soil, but sometimes just plain water is perfect.
  • Third and last, sometimes the season when you “take” and prepare the cutting is important: summer, fall… or on new growth versus old growth.

Cuttings in soil mix

Starting cuttings in soil mix is what works for most plants.

  • Choose a healthy plant, lush, free from any insects and diseases, and (ideally) not yet flowering.
  • Cut a 4 to 6 inch (10 to 15 cm) stem with clean, disinfected pruning shears.
  • Remove leaves and lateral shoots from the portion that will go in the soil.
  • If you have some, you may dip the base of the cutting in rooting agents (or hormones, as they’re called sometimes).
  • Plant the cutting upright in special cutting soil mix, or a mix of peat and sand.
  • Depth should be at least half the stem, at least 3 inches (6-7cm) or more. It’s alright to have more in the ground than out of it.
  • Water abundantly.
  • Keep a high moisture level until it is settled in.

To ensure constant moisture, place a clear plastic bag atop the pot and fasten it with a rubber band. Another good option is to use a garden cloche or to increase air humidity nearby.

Water cuttings

Many plants are able to sprout roots even if all they have is water. It’s possible to use stems and tips of branches. Sometimes even a single leaf is enough.

  • From a healthy plant, select a stem that is 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long.
  • Remove all leaves except for the topmost one or two pairs.
  • If leaves are large, cut them shorter by half, too.
  • Put water in a tall glass or thin-necked vase. Slide the cuttings inside with the leaves sticking out. You can also bundle a dozen cuttings with a rubber band together for quicker handling.
  • Change the water every 2-3 days to prevent algae.
  • Ideally, collect rainwater instead of using tap water.
  • Roots will sprout. When roots are at least an inch (3cm) long, transfer to a pot with potting soil.
  • Best transfer to a pot before the root ball gets too large.

For both soil and water cuttings, the length of 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) is perfect. Indeed, several new cuttings can be made from a single, longer branch.

  • Note: It’s important for all your cuttings to be placed “right side up”. Upside-down cuttings will not grow.

There are exceptions and some cuttings can sprout when upside-down, slanted, or lain flat. Plumeria and willow are examples. Also, many grasses with nodes will sprout from nodes even if upside down in the right conditions. For example, willow or papyrus sedge are capable of sprouting whatever direction they’re planted.

Micro-propagation

Although it sounds technical, micropropagation is simply making cuttings, pushed to the extreme. In this technique, a tiny clump of cells is collected from the host plant. The cells are set to grow in a special growing medium. It involves pipettes and micro-dosing of nutrients.

Micro-propagation makes it possible to grow thousands of identical clones from a single plant. Most forestry trees are grown this way.

When to prepare cuttings?

Mid to Late spring – May-June – Green cuttings

Summer – July-August – Softwood cuttings

  • Stems have taken the color of wood and are more brittle.
  • The base is hard but the tip is still flexible.
  • Typical plants: geranium, Fuchsia, evergreen shrubs.

Fall – October-November – Hardwood cuttings

  • Branches are dormant. Sap circulation has stopped.
  • Buds are present but not yet fully formed.
  • Typical plants: deciduous trees and shrubs.

What plant parts are used for cuttings?

For most plants, woody stems are used. However, many plants can sprout a new plant from leaves, stalks, roots and even fruits.

Stem cuttings

A stem is taken from the plant. It can be cut into several portions, as long as at least a few nodes and leaves are present on each portion.

  • A node or bud is where leaves sprout from.

The stem or branch then becomes the “trunk” of the new plant. Roots sprout from the bottom and new leaves and branches appear at the top.

Leaf cuttings

A single leaf is plucked from the plant. The portion that was attached to the plant is wedged into clean soil mix. A new plant emerges from the underground part of the leaf. The leaf itself shares its nutrients to the new plant, and then it withers away.

Several species such as begonia, African violet and other indoor plants like the Zamioculcas are compatible with this particular technique.

Root cuttings

Many plants with thick roots or tubers can be propagated simply by snipping a piece of root from a larger plant.

The small piece of root is then buried directly where the new plant is to grow. An intermediate step where it is planted in a pot is also possible.

Placing the root only in water (water cuttings, as described above) won’t work. Indeed, since it’s fully formed, the root needs to breathe air, too.

A flower that is often propagated through root cuttings is the Iris flower. Some shrubs also easily propagate through root cuttings, such as common snowberry.

Fruit cuttings

Some fruits have evolved to multiply after being eaten. Of course, seeds that are sown will often do the trick, but some seedless fruits still succeed to propagate!

A great example of this is Ananas comosus, the common pineapple. When ripe, animals wrestle the fruit from the plant and bite it off. The green-leaved tip then sprouts roots and turns into a new plant!

Plants that can be propagated through cuttings

Species that are most often propagated through cuttings, all techniques combined, are listed here:

Camellia, rhododendron, buddleia, Maule’s quince, forsythia, tree mallow, fuchsia plants, honeysuckle, lilac, soap bush, meadowsweet, weigela, hibiscus, aster, dahlia, lantana, nasturtium, clematis, wisteria, wild privet, cypress, oleander, etc.

The following Orchard plants are among the easiest to successfully propagate through cuttings: olive tree, pear tree, apple tree, fig tree, coffee tree and also grape vine.

Read also on the topic of propagation:


Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Simple cuttings by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work