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How to Take Cuttings

Prepare containers or fill a plastic bag with a sterile medium such as vermiculite. Water until it is wet but not soggy and pack down.

Take a piece of a stem. Stick it into water or a sterile medium, and it will form new roots and a new plant. Taking such cuttings is both very handy and very amazing. The first time I learned to do it, it seemed like magic. Thousands of cuttings later, it still does.

Here are some of the advantages of taking cuttings.

  • You can get a start of a plant without doing any harm to the parent plant if it is strong, healthy, and has enough stems that a few cuttings won't be missed. In fact, taking cuttings, especially where a plant is overgrowing, often improves the shape and encourages more compact growth. Whenever you can, take the cutting from where you would prune the plant.

    Not all plants can be rooted from cuttings. Ferns, many gingers, and plants whose stems come from the ground such as bird of Paradise cannot be propagated from stem cuttings. Coleus and pentas root very easily. Eucalyptus is almost impossible.

    It is best to take cuttings from stems without blooms if you have a choice.

  • Cuttings usually make larger plants more quickly than seeds. Also, cuttings will have the same characteristics as the parent--same color flowers, fragrance, flavor of fruit, etc-- while seeds, which have two parents, can vary greatly from the parent that yields them.

Many gardeners are very experienced in taking and rooting stem or softwood cuttings. But many otherwise very experienced gardeners are not. So here is how to do it.

  1. Use clean pots or flats with drainage holes. I put holes in old dishpans or styrofoam coolers. Fill these with sterile medium. I like vermiculite, but perlite, a mixture of perlite and peat moss, sterile sand or potting soil will work. You want a medium that will hold water and air, stay wet for a long time and yet not get soggy. Dampen it well and pack it down with your hands.

    If you don't have containers, you can fill a plastic bag such as those that wrap our newspapers with medium, wet it well, close the bag, and cut x shaped holed in which to stick the cuttings. When these cuttings are rooted, you can plant bag and all if you wish.

  2. The best time to take cuttings is early in the day when the plants are full of moisture. With a sharp knife or scissors, snip a 5- to 6-inch-long piece from the parent, choosing a vigorous young tip or side shoot. Green stems root much more quickly than woody ones.

    Cut just above a node so you won't leave a stub on the parent. Then remove and discard any flowers, buds, or small lateral shoots. Make a slanting cut just below the lowest node and discard that lower piece of stem because new roots will form at the node on most cuttings. (Tomatoes will root all along the stem.) Remove leaves from the lower 2 inches of the cutting.

    If a plant has very large leaves, use a scissors to cut away most of the large leaves, leaving only a small area of leaf. Leave the small new leaves at the tip.

  3. You can dip the stem ends in liquid or powdered rooting hormone such as Rootone. Shake off the excess. I don't do this unless I've had trouble rooting that plant before. Stick the stem ends into the rooting medium about 2 inches deep and 2 inches apart. Firm the medium around the stem, water with a fine spray, and label. Keep the cuttings in shade, the medium wet but not soggy, and mist often to keep humidity high. You can also put a plastic bag or bottle over the top to keep in humidity, but that is not usually necessary in Florida. Also, remove any dead leaves from the surface to prevent disease or rot. Cuttings may wilt a bit at first. Misting once a day or so with a spray bottle will help.
  4. After 1 to 5 weeks you can gently pull a cutting. If it resists, there are roots. Use a trowel or large spoon to lift roots intact and pot up or plant the cutting in the ground. Shield it from sudden sun for a few days until it becomes acclimated. If the cutting comes up, just put it back, firm the medium around it, and wait longer.


If you come to my garden this Saturday from 10 am until 1 pm, you can take cuttings from any plant marked with lime green tape. Please don't take them from other plants without asking me. Sometimes those plants will not root and sometimes there is something coming up you will tread on if you get close.

Cut just above a node when you remove the cutting from the parent plant so you won't leave stubs that could cause disease.

Then make a slanting cut just below the lowest node and discard that bottom piece of stem. Remove flowers, buds, and the leaves on the lower two inches. If the leaves are very large, cut away all but a small area.

Mist will help maintain humidity. Remove any leaves that drop or blow in to keep the area clean and prevent disease.

The magic has happened. This is a cutting with a good root system ready to be put in a pot or in the ground.