How to Propagate Plants From Cuttings & Get Free Plants!
I learned how to propagate plants from my mom. She used to propagate all of her favorite herbs and plants in order to save money, and so I watched and learned to do the same. What I’m sharing with you here, is all from watching her and my own trial and error—my mom never had access to things like YouTube, Blogs, or Online Tutorials so she just tried it, which is honestly the best way!
Pictured above is a fig that I propagated from a cutting. Figs are very easy to propagate although they typically need a larger and deeper container than a 4″ pot. Also, I’ve never used rooting hormone for fig cuttings. They do just fine!
What is plant propagation?
Propagation is simply creating new plants. For this article, I’m only going to talk about propagating plants in soil. This is the method I have had the most success with and truly the one I use almost exclusively.
What are some advantages to propagating plants from cuttings?
♦You can create a plant that is identical to the parent plant—essentially a copy. This isn’t always possible with seeds because of things like cross-pollination and hybrids.
♦In some cases, it is easier and faster. Have you read my article: 5 Herbs to NOT Start From Seed? Many of those plants are much better when propagated from cuttings because the seeds are very difficult to germinate.
♦If sharing plants with fellow gardeners, sometimes sharing cuttings can avoid transmitting soil diseases from garden to garden.
Rooting & Propagating Plant Cuttings in Water
The second most common method of propagating plant cuttings is in water. This entails placing your cutting in a jar/vase of water and watching for roots to grow. Once the roots grow, you can transfer those cuttings into soil. I will not be talking about this method here because a) it’s not as applicable to a wide variety of plants b) it requires more maintenance as the water sometimes needs to be changed, and eventually you’ll have to pot up the cuttings anyway.
Herbs like basil and rosemary do root well in water for me. I also root my sweet potato slips in water (pictured below) because it allows me to do it in large numbers without needing to use many pots and soil. PS: read about my Experience Growing Sweet Potatoes if you have the time! I will say that many gardeners have success propagating in water, and I highly suspect my fail rate is due to water quality and lack of appropriate lighting indoors for propagating.
What kinds of plants can you propagate?
The honest answer is almost any plant! The more complicated and practical answer is that different plants might prefer different types of propagation techniques. What works for one type of plant, might not work for another. Since I can’t possibly try every single plant out there, I can give you a general idea of what kinds of plants might propagate successfully using this method, but you’ll have to venture out into the world and give it a try! 😉
Below I’ve listed some plants that I have rooted succesfully in soil over the years and I now have a Propagating Passionfruit Vine Tutorial. In general, the plants I have rooted most successfully are from “softwood” cuttings. This means that they aren’t woody, but they also aren’t brand new, tender growth! The majority of softwood cuttings come from perennials because that is their growth habit/nature. Brand new growth tips will simply wilt and die before being able to grow new roots. I discuss how to select cuttings for propagation further in the sections below.
Here are some plants I have successfully propagated in soil:
Passionfruit Vine *I know have a full tutorial on how to propagate passionvine specifically
lavender *pictured above!
mint *never needed rooting hormone
figs *never needed rooting hormone
California native sages & plants
*Special note: these instructions work for my Southern California, zone 10b climate. I don’t use any greenhouse, nor do I cover my propagated cuttings in plastic like some others might. If you live in a colder climate where your cuttings might experience frost, hail, snow, etc. you probably can’t leave your cuttings outdoors to propagate like I do.
What tools or supplies will I need to propagate plants?
♦The most important thing is a soil medium. Now, my mom just used her garden soil. No joke. She’s honestly never used anything like “seed starting mix” or anything special. I have used both garden soil and seed starting mix, and I have to say I feel more confident when I use seed starting mix. It could be in my head, but I just feel like the roots are able to develop more strongly in a light and fluffy soil mix. You can view options in my DIY Seed Starting Mix article.
♦Containers. Propagation relies on keeping the soil moist, so containers that are too large or too small can be more difficult to maintain. My preference of container are 4″ pots. The size of your cuttings will also influence your container choice. Large plants with really thick stems, like figs, would benefit from larger or deeper containers.
♦Rooting hormone. Optional! My mom never used it, but I occasionally do. If you would rather use a homemade rooting hormone or DIY solution, there are lots of resources online to check out. Personally, I either use this product or no rooting hormone at all.
♦Plant Cuttings. How to select and cut your plant cuttings is discussed below in the next section. ↓
Let’s Get Started! Organize Your Workspace
This is actually really important. Trust me, I’m usually the one who doesn’t bother to organize anything before starting! Since we are working with delicate, perishable plants, it’s best to have your workspace ready to propagate! Here’s what to do:
Moisten your soil medium.
Fill your pots/containers with the pre-moistened soil mix.
If you are using rooting hormone, sprinkle a small amount on a sheet of paper or a tray. You do not want to contaminate your jar of hormone, by dipping wet plant stems directly in it, so we instead take out the amount that we need.
You are now ready to get your cuttings and start propagating!
How to Select, Choose, and Cut Stem Cuttings for Soil Propagation
Assemble your cuttings! Here are some general guidelines for how to select cuttings for plant propagation:
♦You want firm stems with multiple leaf nodes (see diagram below). If your stems are too woody, they won’t be able to produce roots. If your stems are too young and tender, they also won’t be able to grow roots before rotting. It’s a balance!
♦Try and get cuttings that are at least 6-12 inches long to give you ample room to prep them. It’s actually more about the leaf node count rather than how long the cutting is. Also, if you have a very long cutting, you might be able to divide it into multiple pieces for propagation!
♦It’s best to harvest your cuttings during the cooler part of the day. By avoiding the hottest temperatures, you are giving your cuttings the best chances of surviving the period between having no roots and developing roots.
Prep your cuttings for rooting
Inspect your cuttings. If any of them have flowers at the end, snip off the flowers. By doing this, you are allowing the cuttings to focus all energy on root development.
Clip off all the bottom leaves, except for the tip and one leaf node. You’ll be burying the rest of the leaf nodes under the soil in hopes that they will grow roots from the node area!
Count how many leaf nodes are on the bottom of your cutting. You don’t want your cuttings to be too long for your pot or in general. I like to bury maybe 2 leaf nodes under the soil and have a nice sprig of leaves sticking out the top. If you’ve got more than a couple nodes, cut from the bottom of your cutting until you only have two leaf nodes. *you can also leave one leaf node for burying—it’s worked for me before!
Remember, you can also divide very long cuttings into multiple pieces for propagating. Just make sure they meet the criteria above, and leave some green leaves on the top node.
Getting Your Cuttings to Root
Taking one cutting at a time, dip the bottom leaf nodes in your rooting hormone (optional) and tap off excess.
Make a hole in your soil medium (using your finger, a dibble or makeshift dibble) and place your cutting in the hole.
Gently fill the soil around the cutting and tamp firmly. Pushing the soil firmly around the cutting will increase soil contact and hopefully encourage rooting.
Since they are in a shady place, your cuttings probably won’t need to be watered very often. It is important to keep your soil medium moist but not soggy!
Wait at least 3-4 weeks before checking on your cuttings. Honestly, I completely forget about them until one day I look over and notice they aren’t dead. After almost a month, the top leaves might have wilted (or maybe not!) but what’s important to look for is signs of life. Are there little leaves coming out of a leaf node? Are the top leaves alive (a good sign roots are establishing)? Does the stem look healthy in color? Or does it look rotted/brown?
At the end of the day, the only fool-proof way to know if your cutting has rooted is to pop the soil block out of the pot and see if there are roots growing.
♥PS: I always recommend rooting more cuttings than you need. The fail rate can be very high, and if you have extras later, you can always share with a friend!
Original article- 5/11/2020
Updated on 8/27/2021