Propagating plants sounds more complicated than it is. On the one hand, propagation from seed is possible, which requires a little patience and intuition. On the other hand, we can propagate our plants by vegetative means – that is, by newly rooted plant parts – which is much faster. There are various methods for this, and cutting is by far the simplest variant. Therefore, in this article we will focus only on this for now.
The reasons for cutting cuttings can be quite different: Most often we want to propagate the plant and thus gain another specimen. Some plants are very difficult or impossible to propagate by sowing, also in such a case cuttings propagation can be a great solution. But it can also happen that a plant has become so old that it no longer grows properly. Because plants, just like all other living things, have a limited lifespan. In such a case, a cutting could be cut from the upper part of the plant, for example, so that new roots are formed and an identical, younger plant is created. In the end, pot up the new plant and discard the excessively old remnant.
Refrain from cutting cuttings from diseased plants. While it may be tempting to attempt a rescue, it is not recommended. The disease germs have often already spread throughout the plant.
Good to know
Cutting propagation is a form of so-called “vegetative propagation” and the opposite of generative propagation by seeds. As already written above, in this process existing plant parts are separated from the mother plant, re-rooted and in the end replanted in substrate; if done correctly, a new, independently viable plant is thus created. Strictly speaking, this is a clone of the mother plant, as their DNA is a 100 percent match. This also means that the new plant will have exactly the same characteristics as the mother plant.
Cutting cuttings: This is how it’s done
Once you understand the principle, you can apply it to pretty much any plant that’s a candidate for cuttings propagation.
Go for the blade
Cuttings can be cut from different parts of the plant. So-called “head cuttings” are taken from the top part of the plant, the shoot tip; partial cuttings from the middle parts of the plant below; and basal cuttings from the lower branches at the base of the plant. For some plants, for example the pretty money tree, propagation can also be done by leaf cuttings – here you just separate a leaf, which is put into the ground and ideally forms roots and sprouts new.
What you need
Sharp knife or scissors
Container for the cuttings (e.g. a large glass or vase)
If rooting in substrate: growing soil/substrate and pot
Optional a transparent cover (large canning jar, bag, PET bottle, …)
Rooting in water
This is by far the simplest option and is suitable for most plants. However, cacti and succulents are better rooted in substrate, because the fleshy, soft tissue quickly begins to rot. The pruning procedure remains the same for all approaches. Go ahead:
1.Grab a sharp knife or sharp kitchen or garden shears. So that nothing starts to mold and no pathogens can spread, everything must be completely clean and disinfected before starting work.
If you cut a cutting from a shoot tip, it should have at least 1 to 3 leaf nodes (“eyes”) or buds, so that a strong plant develops afterwards. The new roots will grow out of these places later. In addition, there should be at least 2, and even better 3 or 4 leaves on the intended part, so that the plant can perform sufficient photosynthesis. As a rule, a length of about 10 to 15 cm is ideal.
For partial cuttings, you can follow the same principle. Especially with long and climbing plants, such as ivy, you can cut several cuttings from a single branch. Important: If you want to cut head cuttings to save a plant, you must only cut at the non-woody parts – otherwise the root formation would not work anymore.
Place the knife or scissors directly under the intended leaf node and cut through the plant with a clean, straight cut. Remove the lowest leaves. If the plant has a lot of spreading foliage, you can carefully thin it out a little at the top to make it easier to handle.
- do not put the plant parts into water immediately, but let the cut dry for 1-2 hours. This will minimize the risk of the cuttings starting to rot later in the water. To do this, place them on a clean kitchen paper, newspaper or towel.
Once everything has dried, the plant parts can now be placed in the container provided. Pour in enough water to cover the bottom 1-2 leaf nodes with water. The leaves should not stand in the water, because otherwise they will rot. It may happen that the plants initially droop their leaves and look wilted, but this is not a big deal – as soon as they start absorbing water, these “symptoms” disappear again. Place the cuttings in a bright and evenly warm place at about 20 degrees.
Now, depending on the plant, it takes a few days or weeks until the first root tips appear around the leaf node. Leave them until the roots have become nice and strong and only then plant them. Done!
Rooting in substrate
While you can’t observe root growth as nicely with this method as you can with rooting in water, you do save the step of planting later. Plants that have rather thick and fleshy branches and stems (e.g. cacti, aloe vera) as well as single leaves should always be rooted this way.
- to 4. Proceed in the same way as described in the last section. Especially with succulent plants, it is important that the cuttings can dry out well. Leaf cuttings are cut off at the leaf base and treated in the same way. 5.
Now put the plant parts into the substrate provided. Water it well once and keep it slightly moist, but never wet. A spray bottle works wonderfully for this and even better than a watering can.
The cuttings again need temperatures around 20 degrees and a fairly high humidity. You can simulate a greenhouse by placing a transparent plastic bag, foil or a cut open PET bottle over the cuttings. With a nail or a cordless screwdriver you can drill small ventilation holes or alternatively ventilate regularly. A seed tray with a cover is also suitable for small cuttings.
Even now, in most cases it takes several weeks until you can see growth with the eye. If new shoots are visible, you can gradually remove the cover, because then the propagation of cuttings was successful.
Good things come to those who wait: A final word
These instructions are a rough introduction to vegetative propagation. Not only houseplants, but in warmer temperatures, some of your garden plants can also be propagated this way (e.g., herbs and perennials). Once you get the hang of it, it’s huge fun to try your hand and watch the new plants grow. Patience is especially important, because some varieties like to take a long time to form their new roots. For example, if you propagate the decorative and easy-to-care-for bow hemp, it often only shows signs of life after 3 or 4 months, and in the case of leaf cuttings from money trees, experience has shown that it can take even longer. All the greater is the joy when, after an eternal wait, a new leaf finally appears!
I have 30 years of experience and i started this website to see if i could try and share my knowledge to help you.
With a degree a Horticulture BSc (Hons)
I have worked as a horticulture specialist lead gardener, garden landscaper, and of course i am a hobby gardener at home in my own garden.
Please if you have any questions leave them on the article and i will get back to you personally.