Propagating Plants from Cuttings


One thing a gardener and a garden always needs is plants. To purchase enough plants to fill a regular backyard garden can be expensive.  It does not have to be that way though.  Nature has provided us way to propagate plants freely and abundantly.  You will always get the plants that you want from each cutting, not a surprise.

Plants naturally reproduce themselves.  They do not need any help to achieve this.  As a gardener, we can take advantage of some the mechanisms that plant us to reproduce themselves to produce an abundance of garden plants.
Photo Credit: Kung Pao Cowboy

Herbaceous plants (plants that do not have a persistent woody stem) and even some woody stemmed plants can be reproduced by a cutting.  A cutting is a short length of the stem or a branch that put into moist ground in a partly shady cool spot.  With time these cutting will sprout roots and become a new plant that is an exact genetic clone of the parent plant.

This method of reproduction is called asexual reproduction since the genes for the new plant will come from only one parent.  With sexual reproduction you get a seed that has genetic characteristics from two different plants.  The fruits and vegetables plants from the seeds may not produce like a single parent plant that you have seen.

Plants do this, mixing of genetic material to constantly change to adapt to different conditions and enhance their chance of survival and reproduction.  It should be clean why all commercial fruit tree varieties are grafted.  The root will vary slightly but the top parts that are grafted to the root stock will produce the genetically identical fruit as the parent plant.
Photo Credit: Heather Phillips

Another great thing about cutting is that they are at the same maturity stage as the parent plant.  If a plant takes three years to mature from seed to fruit then when taking a cutting from a mature plant the new plant will produce fruit the first year.  This can save a lot of time waiting.

Now that we have covered the basic theory, let us start a practical example of how to propagate plants from cuttings:

Procedures for Propagating Plants

Step 1– Select suitable cutting

Most herbaceous stem cuttings are best taken during the growing season of a plant, from Spring to Summer, and the best time is early morning, when the plant tissues contain the most water.

  • It is important to keep the cuttings cool and moist until they are placed into the propagating medium. When working with cuttings, don’t lay them out exposed to full sunlight, work in a shady spot!
  • If they need to be transported, wrap them in a moist paper towel in a plastic bag. If there is a significant delay potting up the cuttings, they can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Cuttings are usually about 10-15cm (4-6”) long, from current or past season’s growth. Cut below a leaf joint. If possible, choose strong, healthy, disease-free shoot for a cutting, preferably from the upper part of the plant.

  • Avoid taking cuttings from plants that show symptoms of mineral deficiencies.
  • Avoid taking cuttings from plants that have been heavily fertilized, especially with nitrogen, as they may not root well.
  • Avoid taking cuttings from plants that show moisture stress.

Step 2 – Strip off lower leaves

Remove the leaves from the lower one-third to one-half
(1/3 – 1/2) of the cutting to leave a bare stem.

This allows the lower portion of cutting to be inserted into the propagating medium, and also reduces the amount of leaves from which moisture can be lost. If too much moisture is lost, the cutting will dry out. Remember, the cutting doesn’t have any roots yet to pull up more water to replace any it loses!

  • On some plants you can strip off the leaves easily by holding the top of the cutting firmly with one hand, then using the other hand to pinch the lower part of the cutting and pulling gently downwards. If this doesn’t work, trim the leaves away with scissors or secateurs.
  • On large leafed plants, cut all the leaves in half by trimming the ends off to reduce water loss. This also reduces the size of the cuttings so they take up less space. The added advantage is that you can tell when new growth emerges because you’ll see uncut leaves, which is an indicator that the cutting has rooted and is growing!
  • Remove any flowers and flower buds when preparing cuttings so the cutting’s energy can be used in producing new roots rather than flowers.
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Step 3 – Cut stem below a leaf mode

Cut the stem about 6mm (1/4”) below the lowest  leaf node on the cutting.

To identify the leaf nodes, look for the areas where the leaves grow out from, so this will be an area where you removed the leaved from earlier. If the area has no leaves, it may have buds where new leaves will grow.

  • The reason why we cut near the leaf nodes is because these areas contain a large area of meristem tissue. Meristem cells are undifferentiated calls, similar to human stem cells, that can grow and divide to form various kinds of cells for plant growth, including roots.
  • The cells in the meristem divide quickly and form callus to seal the end of the cutting, and then under the influence of the plant’s own hormones, auxin and cytokinin, these callus cells differentiate and become root cells

    Check out page 2 for more steps and tips!

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