Growing new plants using cuttings from other plants is a low-cost alternative to buying from a nursery. Here’s what you need to know to begin stocking your garden or pots with plants grown from cuttings.
How new plants grow from cuttings
Many plants will grow new roots from a properly cut section of an older plant. A small section of stem and leaves is removed from what’s known as a mother plant, then planted in a growth medium and allowed to sprout roots. The new seedling is then planted in its permanent location as you would a plant from a nursery.
Choosing the mother stem
The mother plant must be the appropriate age in order to start new plants from cuttings. It must be mature enough that taking a cutting will not harm the mother, yet young enough that the cut portion is still capable of generating roots on its own. The appropriate time to take a cutting depends on the plant.
- Softwood cuttings are the most tender, taken from new growth plants early in the growing season when the stems are supple and have active cells for producing roots. Cuttings of hydrangeas, salvias, and chrysanthemums, for example, should be taken at this early stage.
- Greenwood cuttings are taken when stems are more mature but not yet woody. Gardenias are an example of a plant to grow from greenwood cuttings.
- Semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings, such as those used to grow azaleas, are taken later in the season or from woody plants such as trees.
Making the cut
To make a cutting, find a healthy mother plant that’s been well hydrated. Select a stem three to six inches long to cut from the mother plant. Locate a node on the stem you’ve chosen and, using sharp shears you’ve cleaned well and dipped in alcohol, cut just beneath the node. Lay the cutting on a hard, flat surface and with a sterilized razor blade slice the node in half. This cut increases the likelihood that roots will grow from the cutting. Leave a few leaves attached so the cutting can conduct photosynthesis, but remove leaves from the part of the stem that will be inserted in the growing medium.
Planting in growth medium
Plant the cutting in a pot filled with a soilless potting mix such as peat moss, perlite or vermiculite. To prepare the medium, moisten it with water and create a planting hole with a pencil. If you’re using a rooting hormone, available at your local nursery, now is the time to apply it to the cut end of the stem. Insert the freshly cut stem into the hole, then form the medium around it.
Water the cutting enough to remoisten the medium without soaking, then loosely cover the pot and plant with plastic, leaving a small opening so that air can get to the plant. Place the pot in a warm spot with filtered light. Periodically water the cutting just enough to dampen, not soak. You’ve watered too much if you see condensation on the plastic bag.
After two to three weeks, gently check for the presence of roots. After a few more weeks, once the roots are well developed, transplant the cutting to a permanent new home.
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