How to Take Cuttings

Taking cuttings

how to take cuttings Another common way of propagating plants is from cuttings. These are normally pieces of the stem, although some plants can be propagated from pieces of leaf or root. Plants produced in this way have identical characteristics to the parent plant, and you can use cuttings to propagate many named varieties and hybrids that do not come true from seed. A greenhouse is a great advantage for rooting most cuttings.

The aim with any type of cutting is to induce it to produce new roots as quickly as possible. If you choose the material carefully and provide the right conditions, rooting powders, which are designed to aid rooting, should not be necessary. They contain synthesized plant hormones and fungicides, not acceptable to organic gardeners.

Stem cuttings

Softwood cuttings are taken from new soft shoots of herbaceous plants that will not turn woody; from spring growth of some shrubs; and from ornamental greenhouse plants such as fuchsias, geraniums, and chrysanthemums.

Semi-ripe cuttings are taken later in the season, from shoots that have started to harden and turn woody and brown at the base.

Hardwood cuttings are from wood that has become fully mature at the end of the season. The most successful method depends upon the particular plant.

Materials for cuttings

The shoots that you use for cuttings should be:

  • From healthy plants — diseases, including viruses, will almost certainly be transmitted to new plants.
  • From young vigorous plants, or from vigorous growth on old plants (often this occurs where they have been pruned recently).
  • Stocky, not drawn and spindly, and there should be only short lengths of stalk between the leaves or leaf buds.
  • Non-flowering where possible, otherwise cut off any flowers or flower buds.

Compost for cuttings

The compost mixture used to root cuttings needs few nutrients; in fact, rooting can sometimes be inhibited by too high a nutrient level. However, it must be well drained so as not to encourage fungal diseases.

Proprietary seed composts are often suitable for cuttings. If you are making your own, then try a mixture of equal parts of leaf mould and grit or one of the homemade sowing composts with an equal amount of grit. For hardwood cuttings, you could fork leaf mould and grit into a small patch in the greenhouse border, but remember that the cuttings may have to stay there for six months or more.

Conditions for rooting

Warmth at the base of the stem and humidity are the essential conditions for rooting, particularly for softwood cuttings, which are delicate and lose water very quickly. A propagator with soil-warming cables is ideal for these. However, temperatures that are too high, or too much moisture, can inhibit rooting and encourage rotting. (See chart below for further details)


Temperature of compost




Ideally around 18°C

Very humid. Keep compost moist. Use a fine hand sprayer to increase humidity between waterings if necessary. Cover pots on an open bench with a cut-off plastic bottle or polythene bag.

Shade the pots or propagator until the cuttings have rooted.


The ideal temperature is 15-18°C. Many will root without artificial heat in summer. A propagator will often speed up rooting and improve the success rate. Make sure conditions are not too warm in summer.

Fairly humid. A covered propagator is ideal. Cover cuttings on an open bench as for softwood cuttings.

Less delicate than softwood cuttings but still need some shade, especially those taken in mid-summer.


Most root without artificial heat, but using a propagator or even just bringing them into the greenhouse will make them root more easily.

Less humidity needed, but evergreens may be better if covered.

Shading not usually necessary, as cuttings are taken in autumn and winter when light levels are low.

Preparing and rooting cuttings

Remove leaves from the lower third to half of each cutting. The number of cuttings that you need will depend upon how easily they root; normally six cuttings will give you at least two plants, but take more of those that are hard to root.

Insert cuttings into holes in the compost made with a dibber or pencil. Space them out so that they do not touch — overcrowding increases the risk of fungal disease. A 15cm pot should hold about six cuttings.

Softwood, semi-ripe, and evergreen hardwood cuttings are best if covered. If you do not have a propagator, then cover each with a polythene bag supported on wire hoops, or with a large plastic bottle that has had the bottom cut off.

Check the cuttings regularly, and remove yellowing or fallen leaves. You will know that the cuttings have rooted when the tips start to grow rapidly, or when you can see white roots at the bottom of the pot. Take off the plastic cover, and a few days later, when they have had a chance to acclimatize, pot them up into a multi-purpose compost.

Hardening off

Before plants raised from seed or cuttings are planted in the garden, you must get them used to the harsher conditions outside. First, put them out during the day in fine weather, giving them some shade and shelter if necessary. Unless you have purpose-built cold frames you will need to bring them back in at night for a few days. Gradually reduce the amount of protection you give them over a period of about a week until they are fully acclimatized.

Leaf cuttings

Whole leaves with short stalks are inserted into moist compost so that the base of the leaf just touches the soil. Some succulents, eg. Echeveria, and houseplants such as African violets (Saintpaulia), gloxinias (Sinningia speciosa), and Rex and rhizomatous begonias may be increased in this way. Scored or cut leaves with the stalks removed can be used to increase plants such as Begonia rex and Cape primrose (Streptocarpus). The leaf veins are scored, or the leaf cut into small sections, and the cut veins kept in contact with moist compost. The containers of cuttings can be covered with clear, inflated plastic bags, or the cut-off bases from plastic drinks bottles, until plantlets are produced.

29. November 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Greenhouse Gardening, Plants & Trees, Propagating | Tags: | Comments Off on How to Take Cuttings


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