How to Root Cuttings
One of the fastest and frankly, easiest ways to expand your garden is to start plants from cuttings.
Most of us are familiar with starting plants from seeds as well as dividing plants. Plants such as swiss chard and sunflowers grow easily and quickly from seed, while plants such as irises and daylilies can be divided in the fall and spring to create new divisions of plants.
But there are some plants, such as mint or oregano or ivy that don’t really grow from seed and can’t really be divided into new plants. How exactly can you propagate them?
The answer is with rooting cuttings from your plants.
Not all plants root easily from cuttings, but there are a few common plants that are incredibly easy to root, including:
For the purposes of making it easier on you, I’m encouraging you to root stems from plants right now in the fall. Your stems are most likely what we call semi-hardwood- they’re not the fresh and flimsy and tender new growth that first comes in spring (known as softwood) and they’re not the hard, woody, tough stems that form in winter (known as hardwood).
A semi-hardwood stem is going to be a stem that has a little bit of “give” or flexibility when you press on it (compared to a very firm hardwood stem) but also isn’t so tender that it snaps in half with just a bit of finger pressure (compared to a softwood stem).
I’ll be using as an example this large catmint (Nepeta faasenii ‘Walker’s Low’) one of the easiest perennials to propagate from cuttings (you can find out more varieties of easy to propagate perennials here)
Once you’ve located your stem, you’re going to want to cut off 6” of the stem from the tip or top of the stem. It’s important that you get as many nodes as possible on the stem - where flowers, leaves, and new stems come out - because those are the areas that roots are going to form from.
Once you have your cutting, you’re actually going to remove most of the leaves and flowers from base of the stem, leaving only the first two sets on top. It’s important to remove the leaves, because due to transpiration (the plant’s natural “breathing”) the more leaves it has, the quicker it will get wilty.
And you don’t want wilty cuttings - they’ll just shrivel up and die instead of rooting, which is not what you want.
So by removing those leaves, you’ll be able to help the plant survive until it starts getting some roots - after which, it will put out more leaves an grow into a plant!
I always dip my cuttings (cut end down) into rooting hormone. I prefer the powder since it keeps better than the gel or liquid cuttings, but you can do whichever you prefer. This rooting hormone will help the cutting send out roots much more quickly than without.
IMPORTANT: Make sure that you don’t breathe in or get in contact with the rooting hormone, since it’s a known carcinogen.
After you’ve coated the end of the cutting, it needs to go into a rooting medium. I personally have become a big fan of vermiculite - it’s light, holds water well, but yet provides enough aeration and oxygen to keep cuttings from rotting - but you can also use perlite, Promix and other potting mixes. The most important thing is to ensure that it drains well - overly moist mediums will cause your cuttings to rot.
It’s important as well to keep things as clean as possible. Dirty trays and cell inserts will harbor bacteria and mold that will cause your cuttings to rot, so make sure they are cleaned with bleach and good mechanical scrubbing action before placing your cuttings into them.
If you have your cuttings in a very dry or very warm environment, it’s important to keep them well misted and hydrated. Humidity domes help with this, or you can also have a misting system too. Our indoor house seems to keep most cuttings at a very nice temperature and humidity level, so we generally keep ours uncovered in front of a east-facing windowsill.
Light is important for rooting cuttings - bright indirect light in particular. If you don’t keep them in light, they’ll just end up getting yellow and dying. On our east-facing windowsill, the cuttings don’t get a lot of direct sunlight, but plenty of bright indirect sunlight - which is important for the cuttings to keep growing and produce roots.
If you’re placing them in a tunnel or greenhouse, just make sure you keep them moist and happy. Don’t keep them too warm - you can fry your cuttings just like you can with seedlings - but reasonably moist and warm is important.
Many cuttings also like bottom heat as well. We have some heating mats that we occasionally place underneath cuttings to encourage them to root, although we find that they do just fine without them and usually only gain a few days in rooting time.
To check and see if your cuttings have rooted, give the stem a gentle tug. You may find that the stem still hasn’t rooted - and it will lift out of the medium easily. On the other hand, if you find some resistance, the stem may have put out roots already. I like to let cuttings wait until they are so well-rooted that it is very difficult to remove them from the medium - that’s the point where I know they’re ready to be potted up.
Sometimes you’ll have cuttings that don’t root for whatever reason. That’s okay - not every cutting is going to root, but you’ll inevitably get some that will root, and as you get a better feel for the plants you’ll have more rooting than not.
If you find any of your cuttings rotting, make sure to remove them so they don’t infect other plants. Chances are that if your cuttings are rotting, your rooting medium and general environment is too humid.
If you find your cuttings wilting or going crispy, your environment is too dry. Add a humidity dome on top of them, mist them more often, or try removing even more leaves from the stem to help them adapt to the environment better.
I hope this little guide to rooting cuttings was helpful! It’s very easy and fun to root your own cuttings, and is a great way to really multiply your plants for your garden or flower farm very easily.
If you have any questions about rooting, let me know below!