Plant Propagation

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

Do you have a favorite plant that you would like more of? Plant propagation, or making more plants from one plant, is easy even for the beginning gardener. The recipe for success includes a little time, some attention, and a lot of patience. But wouldn’t it be great if you could get plants for free!

WARNING: There are laws that prevent propagation of certain plants. When a plant is patented, just like any invention, the plant cannot be copied, or propagated, by others until the patent runs up. So be wary of newly named cultivars, they are probably protected; however, many of our old standards can be propagated.

One of the best ways to propagate our favorite shrubs and trees is by taking stem cuttings. A cutting is just a piece of the plant stem, which will be used to generate a new plant. Some plants are easy to propagate, while others are more difficult and may require precise environmental conditions.

The timing and the species of plant will help determine what type of growth to use. In July, herbaceous, softwood, and semi-hardwood cuttings can be taken. An herbaceous cutting is made from nonwoody herbaceous plants like coleus or mum.  A softwood cutting is made from the soft, succulent growth of woody plants. If the new growth snaps when bent and the new leaves are still small in comparison to older leaves, softwood cuttings can be taken. Softwood cuttings can be made from most plants between May and July. Although they may dry out quickly, these cutting root rapidly. Semi-hardwood cuttings are made from partially mature wood of this year’s growth. These cuttings are taken from mid-July through early fall.

The last type of cutting is a hardwood cutting – it is taken from dormant, mature stems. Many deciduous trees can be propagated with hardwood cuttings, as well as vinifera grapes.

When selecting material for making cuttings, use healthy-looking current season growth that is not flowering. Take cuttings in the early morning, when the plant is full of water and keep cuttings cool and moist until planted (or “stuck”). Growing tips are best, but a long shoot can be divided into several cuttings. Cuttings should be 4-6 inches long. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to take cuttings.

Before sticking the cuttings in a sterile soil media, remove leaves from the lower 1/3 to ½ of the cutting. Larger leaves may need to be cut in half to reduce water loss.

Root-promoting compounds can help stimulate rooting in species that can be difficult to root. Place a small amount in a separate container to prevent contamination of the entire supply. Tap cuttings before sticking to remove excess compound if using a powder formulation.

Stick the cutting 1/3 to ½ the length into moist growing media. Be sure to orient the cutting vertically (buds will be pointing up). Water thoroughly after planting and then place the container in a plastic bag to provide humidity. Remember, your tiny plant has no roots, so it is getting water predominately through the leaves.

The time it takes for cuttings to root will vary with species. You can check for root growth by gently tugging on the cutting. If you meet resistance, roots have probably developed. Transplant rooted cuttings into larger pots. Then allow them to attain a larger size before planting in your landscape.

Although it sounds complicated, propagation can be easy. For more information about what types of cuttings to take for certain species of plants, refer to HIL 872: Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings: Instructions for the Home Gardener or call our Center at 919-775-5624.

Written By

Photo of Susan CondlinSusan CondlinCounty Extension Director (919) 775-5624 susan_condlin@ncsu.eduLee County, North Carolina
Posted on Aug 6, 2015
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