One of the easiest ways to propagate plants is from cuttings. Most plants purchased at nursery or garden centers are grown from cuttings, except for flowering annuals and vegetables. There are multiple ways to propagate a stem cutting, but softwood cuttings are the easiest method for new gardeners to master.
What are Stem Cuttings?
Stem cuttings are a common method of plant propagation, where a portion of a stem is removed from a parent plant and placed in a suitable medium to develop roots, resulting in genetically identical new plants. Hardwood, semi-hardwood, and softwood are the three primary categories of stem cuttings. Cuttings can be rooted at every stage of active plant growth, but tip cuttings typically root faster.
What is a Softwood Cutting?
Softwoods are the young, pliable growth of plants. Softwood cuttings are the preferred method used in plant nurseries and home gardens to propagate various perennials, deciduous shrubs, and some trees, utilizing their flexible young shoot tips for easy rooting.
- Plant to obtain cuttings (not pictured)
- Rubbing alcohol
- Snips, pruners or sharp knife
- *Rooting medium
- Small pot at least 4 inches deep
- Rooting hormone
- Small bowl
- Clear plastic bag
*Rooting medium is a soilless substance or material used to support and nourish plant cuttings during rooting. Common examples of rooting mediums include peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, or a combination of these materials. The choice of rooting medium depends on the specific needs of the plant species being propagated and factors such as water retention, aeration, and drainage.
1. Premoisten rooting medium. Place the desired amount of rooting medium in a large container or bucket. Gradually add water while stirring the mixture until it reaches a moist, but not soggy, consistency.
Note: Premoistening rooting medium ensures proper moisture distribution in the soil, ensuring all parts of the plant’s root system receive sufficient hydration.
2. Fill the pot with rooting medium. Pack the pot with the premoistened rooting medium.
3. Clean the cutting tool. Wipe the blades of your snips, pruners or sharp knife with rubbing alcohol to sanitize the blades.
Note: Sanitizing tools prevent the spread of potential pathogens or disease-causing organisms to the new cutting.
2. Select a growing tip. The tip cutting includes the bud with two or three nodes (where the leaves, branches, or flowers emerge), around three inches long.
Note: If the plant has significant spacing between nodes, the cutting should still include three nodes but can be longer than three inches.
3. Cut below a node. While cutting, take care not to squeeze or crush the stems.
4. Remove extra leaves. Leave only one to two pairs of leaves at the top. The cutting should be leaf-free in any area that will be buried beneath the rooting medium.
Note: Trim large leaves back, if needed, to about half size to help reduce water loss in the cutting.
5. Make a hole in the potting mix. Create a larger hole in the potting mix with a pencil to prevent the rooting powder from being rubbed off when the cutting is placed in the rooting medium.
6. Dip in rooting hormone (optional). Using rooting hormone is optional, but it does help increase the success rate of propagation.
- Pour a small amount of rooting hormone into a bowl.
- Dip the stem cutting into the hormone, covering the bottom 1–1 ½ inches.
- Tap the cutting to remove excess.
Note: If little hormone powder sticks to the stem, dip it in water first, then dip it into the rooting hormone. Discard any unused rooting hormone.
6. Insert the cutting. Place the cutting in the potting medium, being careful not to rub off the rooting hormone powder.
7. Firm the potting medium around the cuttings. For optimal cutting-to-rooting medium contact, gently press the medium around the cuttings.
8. Cover with a plastic bag. Label the plastic bag with the date and plant name, then cover or place the pot (if it will fit) inside the bag. The entire pot should be placed inside a plastic bag to preserve moisture and humidity.
9. Fill the bag with air and seal it. Inflate the bag as much as possible to keep the sides away from the cuttings.
Note: Mold is more likely to grow between leaves in contact with the bag.
10. Place the pot in a warm, bright spot without direct sunlight. Check the rooting mix daily to ensure it is damp and water as needed. Remove any water that has accumulated at the bottom of the bag.
How long does it take softwood cuttings to root?
Generally, it takes about 4 to 8 weeks for softwood cuttings to develop roots. However, the exact duration can be influenced by factors such as the specific plant species, environmental conditions, and the techniques used for propagation.
What are the best plants to use for softwood cuttings?
Most houseplants, hardy and tender perennials, deciduous shrubs and climbers, and some trees are all suitable for softwood cuttings.
Bryant, G. (1995). Propagation Handbook: Basic Techniques for Gardeners. United States: Stackpole Books. (page 70-71)
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