Growing Plants from Cuttings

growing plants from cuttings

Spurred on by your success with growing plants from seeds, you might try your hand at growing plants from cuttings next.

The easiest of all are those where you just thrust a twig or sprig into a jar of water and wait for roots to develop. Put a piece of thick paper or thin card over the glass and make a hole for the stem to go through. Remove all leaves from the bottom half of the stem and push it through the card which will support the sprig. The bottom half of the stem should be well down into the water, which you will have to top up from time to time. Place the glass on a light window-sill and, in time, small white roots, like linen thread, will sprout from the bottom of the twig and fill up the whole glass if you leave it there long enough.

Then the rooted twig can be potted up and allowed to grow on. This is always the tricky part. You will need a light, open compost with lots of peat and sand or perlite. I would pop a plastic bag over the potted-up plant, blowing into it to inflate it, and then seal the top with a tie or rubber band. A few small sticks or wire hoops placed over the plant before you put it in the bag will help to keep it clear of the plastic. A week or two in this should give the plant a good start, and then you can cut a corner of the bag away to let in a little air, before removing the bag and allowing the plant to make it unaided. Ivies, skimmias, hebes and privet are among the plants that root easily in water. As it is such a simple method, you can try a sprig of anything you fancy and see what happens.

Soft or Half-Ripe Cuttings

The plastic-bag-inflated-over-a-pot of compost can be used just as well to propagate soft or half-ripe cuttings, while the latter can also be placed in a sheltered cutting bed. For this, make a simple timber frame or knock the bottom out of a wooden box or crate. Place this directly onto the ground, out of direct sunlight. Half fill this box with a commercial cutting compost or make your own from equal quantities of peat and sand. Make little planting holes in the compost with a pencil or similar tool. Prepare your cuttings, which you have taken with a sharp knife, by removing the bottom leaves and keeping only about two pairs of leaves at the top. Dip the bottom of the stem in water and then into hormone rooting powder, shaking off any surplus. Place the cuttings into the planting holes and firm them in gently. Water them and cover with glass or plastic. It is a good precaution to add some fungicide to the can when watering, and keep this up in future waterings, if and when these become necessary. Not all your cuttings will take, but you should get enough to encourage you to carry on.

Hardwood Cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are even simpler. You can take them at leaf fall, about 15-25cm (6″-10″) long. Most of the cutting should be buried in the open ground, but leave about three buds above the surface. The top of the stem is also cut off. If you like, you can use a little hormone rooting powder for the more difficult subjects, but many will be only too eager to survive without any such cosseting You should dig over the soil where you plan to put the cutting and, again, this should be out of direct sunlight. If the ground it heavy, add a little sand and peat to the trench. Firm the cuttings into the soil and remember to check them after any frosts. )(oil n may have to firm them again if they have been lifted.


Some plants can be increased by layering, that is by pinning one or two of their runners or branches into the soil and weighting them down with a stone, or fixing them into position with wire pegs – hairpins for the smaller plants and coat-hangers for the toughies. Prepare the soil by adding some peat and sand. You can fill a pot with this mixture and sink it up to its rim in the soil, layering into this, so that when roots have formed and the plant can be severed from its parent, it can be moved without disturbance. The layering is usually taken near the tip of the branch which is nicked on the underside, and if necessary, dipped into rooting powder. Bend the branch sharply upwards and bury the joint about 10 – 15cm (4-6″) in the soil. Pin or weight it in to position and keep the soil watered when necessary. When the plant puts out new leaves in the following year you will know it has; rooted. Wait until autumn before severing the new plant but leave it in place for a few weeks. Then cut off the tip to encourage it to branch out a bit before potting up or planting out. This whole process can take up to two years with some subjects.

Special Cases

Finally, have a go at increasing your stock of lilies by growing on the offsets which form either just above or just below some lily bulbs, and also the bulbils that develop in the leaf axils of others. Collect these when they are mature and plant them, in pots or seed trays in a John Innes No.1 compost, covering them with grit. Top them with glass or put them in a cold frame for about 12 months before potting up or planting out.

Flowering bulbs can also be increased from scales, if they have them. Remove a few of the outer scales and place them in a bag containing some fungicidal powder, shaking the bag, until the scales are coated thoroughly. Mix up equal amounts of moist peat and grit, add the scales and put the lot into a polythene bag which you then inflate by blowing into it and tying it firmly at the neck. Label the bag and place it in an airing cupboard or similar snug. After about six weeks or so, small bulblets should appear at the base of the scales. When this happens, bury each scale, complete with its bulblets, into a pot containing potting compost so that just the tip of the scale is visible, cover with grit and water gently. Keep in a warm, light place until the bulbs produce their spring leaves. Harden the plants off and, when the leaves die down that autumn, lift and plant each new bulb into a pot. Whichever way you use to grow new Lilies, they will need protection from slugs.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for more. These are just the merest basics of propagation. It is a complicated and fascinating, not to say rewarding past-time.

I would just remind you that you should use all the walls of your house to add extra space for growing plants. Many rather tender species will only survive if given the warmth of a wall to succour them. There are suitable plants to grow on walls of any aspect and it will be a very remarkable house indeed that is not improved by some well-chosen ones clambering about its person. Another thing … in this country fig trees will be particularly grateful for a south-facing wall behind them. They like their roots confined; I have heard it suggested that they should be planted in the belly of a dead pig or, failing that, a Gladstone bag, but I think a large pot, sunk to its rim, would do nicely, or you could build them something comforting below ground from bricks or slabs … I just threw that in to make things more interesting …

One final bit of advice: plant a few giants that will give an awful  lot of wow factor to your garden. They will fill up yards of space quickly, which can only be an economy, and they will rescue you from boring neatness and timidity. Try the larger Artemisias, Lavatera, Crambe cordifolia, Gunneras or  Rheums, etc.

07. October 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Plants & Trees, Propagating | Tags: | Comments Off on Growing Plants from Cuttings


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