propagation - pruning shears

There are many ways to reproduce plants.  The one most people think of is from seeds, but that can present problems, especially with hybrids.  There is one way to reproduce plants, true to type, even if they are on grafted stock or are hybrid varieties.  Taking cuttings and rooting through propagation techniques almost guarantees plants that will be true to type with the parent plant.

What plants will propagate?

Almost any herb, perennial, vegetables, or woody plant can be propagated by taking cuttings at the appropriate time, in the appropriate manner, and with the appropriate techniques.  Each type of plant has different requirements in these three areas to make the propagation have a better chance of taking and setting roots.

I have a friend who is an addicted propagator.  Her garden, landscape, and greenhouse burst with plants she from cuttings she collects on the fly.  A plant will catch her attention while she is out and about, and with a few snips of her ever-ready garden shears, she has cuttings to take back to her greenhouse.  Her passion has filled her life with a wide variety of colorful and unusual plants, many of which came from chance encounters.

The Best Methods

propagation - pruning sheers types

There are a few things you need to keep handy if you are going to become a successful propagator.  A pair of good quality sharp pruning shears are a must.  I suggest that you don’t use this pair of shears for anything but taking cuttings that you plan to propagate.  Keep them sharp for the sake of the plant from which you are taking cuttings and for the cutting itself.  If you are harvesting cuttings from plants other than your own, you certainly don’t want to damage them or transfer a disease or pest to them.  Keep this set of shears clean and sanitary. 

Have your propagating media and other materials ready.  Most cuttings do better if they are put in media as soon as possible after removal from the plant.  If you, like my friend, find that you develop a habit of taking cuttings while away from home, prepare a bit of propagation rooting material and put it in a small plastic bag and carry it with your shears. 

Speaking of media, we like to use a mixture of granite sand, coconut fiber (coir), and sifted compost.  You can substitute other materials for some of these.  Volcanic rock powder or Texas greensand will substitute for the granite sand as do peat moss or vermiculite for coconut fiber.  Remember that peat moss acts as an anti-microbial agent and can inhibit the growth of bacteria in your soil media.  Whatever your choice of media, keep some mixed and handy.

Taking the Cutting

hands with seedlng

Different types of plants need different approaches to taking cuttings.  There are a few things to remember.  When you are putting your cutting into the rooting media, make a hole for the cutting first.  Use a pencil, dowel, or another blunt object to make a hole.  Simple jamming the end of your cutting into the media may damage the cut end and cause the cutting to fail. 

Rooting hormones can be used but are not necessary.  A simple rooting hormone mix can be made quickly at home using apple cider vinegar in water or willow water.  Either is easy to make and more information is available on our website. 

Softwood plants

propagation = illustrations

Take Cuttings from softwood plants when the plants are vigorously growing and healthy.  Late spring and early summer are the best times.  The plants are in a stage of rapid growth, which is the best time for root growth and establishment. 

Make your cuttings at an angle across the plant rather than at a 90-degree angle on the plant’s stem. Cutting should be six to ten inches long.  Larger branches have more stored energy, which leads to quicker root establishment.  Don’t let the cuttings dry out.  Get them into the rooting media as quickly as possible and keep them damp but not sopping wet.

Herbaceous plants

Plants such as geraniums and many other perennials propagate well. Cuttings taken in the spring and summer are best. Chose a healthy plant and take cuttings 2 – 4” long.  Cut diagonally just below a node and put the cutting into the grow media as soon as possible.  Tenting your new cutting with a plastic bag or larger glass jar for a few days will help conserve moisture and protect the plant.  Just don’t put the tented cutting in direct sun.

Leaf Cuttings

Many common house plants will propagate from leaf cuttings.  African violets, sedums, hens and chickens and many others will root from a single leaf with the stem attached.  Bury the leaf stem in the rooting media and keep damp.

Hardwood Plants

propagation - cuttings illustrations

Deciduous hardwood plants are the hardest to propagate.  Cuttings from hardwood plants should be taken when the plant is dormant.  Make your cuttings at an angle take a cutting of six to ten inches long and slightly above a bud.

This group of plants includes deciduous trees, grapes, willows, hydrangeas, honeysuckles, and most vines.  There is some evidence that taking cuttings on hardwood plants in early spring just before the buds break is the best time.  Treat the cutting as you would any other cutting and be patient.

A few more hints

Plants with heavy stick sap may do better if they are allowed to dry for a few hours before planting.  Succulents are some of the plants that do better when allowed a few hours to dry out before being planted.  Layout your cuttings on dry newspaper for a few hours before planting.

Cuttings require a lot of light but not necessarily direct sunlight through a window.  Bright indirect sunlight seems to be the best.  Cutting should be kept damp but not be resting in standing water. (The exception to this is if you are rotting in water.)

Humidity is essential.  If your environment has very low humidity, tenting your cuttings with a light plastic bag such as a dry cleaner bag will help keep the humidity level up around the cutting.

propagation - tented cuttings

Rootings should stay in the media for 6 to 8 weeks after which you may begin to move them into bigger pots.  If your cuttings have been indoors or in a greenhouse, introduce them to the outdoors slowly to allow them time to acclimate to the different conditions before transplanting them into your landscape.

One last note and a word of caution.  Be careful about taking cuttings in public spaces like arboretums or on private property.  Err on the side of caution and ask permission first.

More Information

For more information, visit our website West Texas Organic Gardening

We recommend two books if you are serious about propagating plants.

Plant Propagation Made Easy by Alan Toogood
The New Seed Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel