Plants & Growing

How To Take Plant Cuttings

propagation using cuttings
Written by Chris Lee

Cuttings are a simple way to get new plants without seeds. It’s hard not to be impressed by the natural elegance of the cutting process: just snip off part of your plant, take proper care of it, and soon you’ll have an entirely new one.

This new plant is effectively a clone of its mother plant, which is truly remarkable.

We’ve written this guide to equip you with the knowledge you need to successfully take and grow cuttings.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What cuttings are.
  • What cuttings are used for.
  • Which plants cuttings can be taken from.
  • When cuttings should be taken.
  • How to take a healthy cutting.
  • How to grow a plant from a cutting.
  • How long the process will take.

Now, let’s get onto the good stuff.

What are plant cuttings?

A cutting is a section of a plant deliberately removed for the purpose of propagation. Done right, you can grow a whole new plant without a seed.

The word “cutting” refers to the removed section of the plant, as well as the act of removing it.

A plant cutting that has taken root
A plant cutting that has taken root

When taking a cutting, there are a few things to bear in mind to make sure it will grow. But before we get into that, a bit about why people take cuttings.

What are plant cuttings for?

You can use cuttings to get more plants, either from one you own, from somebody else’s plant, or from something growing in the wild.

Taking a cutting from your own plants is useful if you’re moving house and can’t take your garden with you, or if you just want to have more.

Taking cuttings from someone else’s plant is a great way to share and enhance each other’s collection.

Taking a cutting from the wild allows you to bring nature into your home without uprooting or harming any plants. 

The beauty of cuttings is being able to borrow plants from nature, friend’s houses, and even plant nurseries (with permission), all without damaging the mother plant.

Which plants can you take cuttings from?

Plants that are showing new growth will be best for cuttings, as they’ll have the highest concentration of growth stimulating hormones. If you have an old plant, you can prune it back to stimulate new growth, then take a cutting from this section.

Healthy plants should be chosen for cuttings, ones showing good growth and no pests. Shoots that aren’t flowering will take root more easily.

Herbs are very easy to grow from cuttings. This is a great place to start if you’re a beginner trying to get a feel for the process.

Taking a cutting from rosemary with scissors
Taking a cutting from rosemary

Mint, coriander, rosemary, sage, and all sorts of other herbs can be grown without any soil at all. Just place a cutting in a jar of water so that the leaves are a couple of inches above the surface, place in a well lit area, and watch the roots begin to appear.

Top up the water when it begins to get low, and you’re good to go.

Here are some other plants that lend themselves well to cutting:

  • Softwood cuttings, from perennials like petunia, pelargonium, biden, and more.
  • Deciduous shrubs like hydrangeas, buddleja, and fuchsia.
  • Succulents, although expect these to take a bit longer to go to root.
  • Berry bushes: these are greenwood cuttings rather than softwood.

When should you take cuttings?

It’s best to take a cutting in the morning, as this is when the plant material will be full of water.

The best time of year to take a softwood cutting is in spring or early summer, as this is when plants are in the most suitable stage of their growth cycle. Greenwood cuttings are taken from late spring to mid-summer.

How do you take cuttings?

You’ll want to cut the plant just below the node: the part where the leaf joins the stem.

Plant node for taking cuttings
This is what the node looks like

Cut just under the node, very close to the stem, so that the node remains on the cutting. The node contains the highest concentration of nutrients that will give the cutting the best chance of taking root.

For softwood, aim to take a cutting of about ten centimetres: enough that you can plant it in the soil with the leaves still a good distance above. Greenwood cuttings should be a bit longer: around 12.5cm.

To maximise the chances of rooting, remove all leaves except for the top couple of pairs. You want some leaves so that the plant can photosynthesise, but not too many that this process competes with the plant’s resources to make new roots.

How to grow a plant from a cutting

If you’re not planting straight away, transport your cutting in a plastic bag with a couple of drops of water. This will keep the moisture in and prevent the cutting from drying out. 

Put a label on the bag so you know what you’ve got, as identifying plants just from the leaves can be difficult.

When it comes to potting, planting compost is the best option for cuttings as it has the best consistency and nutrient balance to encourage new root growth. 

Traditionally potting composts were peat-based, but recent environmental pressures have led to reductions in its use. Low-peat or peat-free potting composts will contain some mix of wood, coconut fibre, and green compost instead.

Choosing one of these can reduce the damage being done to peat bogs: one of the UK’s important but dwindling habitats.

Cuttings should be planted into moist soil so they have water available straight away. Once planted, be vigilant and ensure the soil stays moist. The growth process is strenuous, so it’s important that cuttings have everything they need.

Use a dibber to make a hole in the soil (this can be a pencil, pen, or anything long and thin), then poke the cuttings gently into the holes. Use your fingers to gently push the compost back against the plant.

A dibber being used to make holes in potting medium
A dibber being used to make holes in potting medium

Before planting the cutting, you can dip the root in hormone rooting medium (water or powder) to boost its chances of growing.

Then cover the pot with plastic film to seal in the moisture, tight enough that condensation forms inside but not too tight that air can’t get in. 

You may want to label the pot to help you remember what’s growing inside. 

After a while, the plant will begin to take root. Timings are covered in the next section.

When the cutting is rooted it’s time to plant it out. Harden it for a couple of weeks (grow it somewhere with a breeze and sunlight to simulate outdoor growing conditions), then plant cuttings individually in pots. From this stage, they can be treated as regular plants.

How long do plant cuttings take to root?

This will depend on the type of plant.

Some begin to root within a week of being cut from the mother plant, while others – succulents, for example – can take much longer.

You should expect the process to take anywhere from six to ten weeks.

It can be tempting to try and get a look at how well your cutting is rooting, but resist this temptation! You’ll be able to tell by seeing whether the cutting is still alive and well after a couple of weeks of being planted. If so, it’s probably taking root well. If not, keep an eye on it, and remove it if it begins to dry out.

And there you have it…

Cuttings are a simple and elegant way of getting new plants. Providing you take care throughout the process, a cutting can grow into a strong and healthy plant surprisingly quickly.

This guide has introduced cuttings and given basic instructions on how to propagate a plant cutting into a new plant. 

man holding rosemary cuttings in hand
Time to go out and take some of your own cuttings!

With cuttings, practice makes perfect. Try not to be disheartened if your first cuttings don’t take properly: you’ll get there!

Happy gardening.

About the author

Chris Lee

Chris is interested in nature and the good things that happen when people are in it. He is a freelance writer, with writing published about cycling, green living, and ways to make a difference without fundamentally restructuring your lifestyle.

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