A trip to the nursery is one of the most pleasurable ways to spend your day if you love gardening. For many Master Gardener’s our favorite nurseries feed our addiction to plants, especially in spring and fall. If your piggy bank is suffering a loss due to those numerous trips to the nursery or garden center, consider propagating your annual or perennial plants from cuttings or layering. Cuttings are stems or leaves from a parent plant that will grow roots and form a new plant. Layering is placing a stem while still attached to the parent plant into the propagation medium until it forms its own roots. Once rooted, the new plant is severed from the parent plant.
Among the easiest plants to propagate are succulents. leaf cuttings from various succulents. The leaves were simply placed on top of the propagation medium that was kept moist and within a few weeks, roots and new little plants sprouted. Also, easy to propagate are plants with softwood such as aster, butterfly bush and salvia. The butterfly bush and salvia pictured below have been cut from the mother plant, bottom leaves removed to expose the nodes. These are ready for propagating as described in the “recipe” that follows.
The recipe for successful propagating from cuttings includes a good propagation medium, moisture, light, humidity, temperature, rooting hormone and the stem or leaf cutting. The propagation medium is made up of combinations of peat moss, coconut coir, perlite, vermiculite, sand or similar materials. The propagation medium provides support and moisture while the plant develops. This propagation is quite different from commercial potting soil which is developed to maintain mature plants.
The moisture level of the propagation medium should be kept moist but not wet. Many organic materials like peat moss or coconut coir may look wet on the surface but can be powdery dry in the middle so it’s important to ensure even moisture throughout the propagation medium. Diffused light (sunlight) provides tender cuttings an optimum environment for rooting without causing injury to the cuttings. If setting your planted cuttings in a window, make sure they don’t receive direct sunlight through the window. Maintaining high humidity around the cuttings reduces the amount of moisture loss. This condition can be achieved by placing a clear plastic bottle or bag over the propagation area. Condensation will form on the underside of the plastic to provide the necessary humidity. For best results, maintain the temperature of the root zone to 70-75 degrees F.
Rooting hormones are often used to promote root formation. Simply dip the cutting into the rooting hormone and tap the end to remove excess hormone before inserting it into the propagation medium. At least one node must be below the surface of the propagation medium. Stem cuttings should be 4 to 6 inches long. Pinch off the leaves on the lower half of the cutting and remove any flowers. Where the leaves were attached to the stem is the node. The butterfly bush and salvia cuttings have been dipped in rooting hormone, flowers and lower leaves removed and ready to insert into the propagation medium.
The Layering method of propagation has a high success rate because the stem or tip is attached to the mother plant which provides water and carbohydrates needed for growth. However, it is still necessary to keep a constant supply of moisture to the propagation medium. For tip layering, dig a hole 3 to 4 inches deep, insert the shoot tip and cover it with soil. For simple laying, gently bend the branch or stem of your existing plant to the ground. Cover part of it with soil, leaving 6 to 12 inches towards the tip exposed. Bend the tip into a vertical position and stake it in place. The sharp bend typically will induce rooting and wounding the bottom side of the branch or stem many also help promote rooting. Some examples of plants that are easy to propagate using the layering method are lantana, azalea, boxwood, honeysuckle.
For a listing of common plants that can be propagated from stem and leaf cuttings visit
Other common types of plant propagation include grafting and budding, mostly used on fruit and nut trees. These techniques are used to propagate cultivars that do not root well as cuttings or whose own root systems are inadequate. If you would like to learn about more methods for propagating plants visit https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/faculty/davies/pdf%20stuff/ph%20final%20galley/M11_DAVI4493_08_SE_C11.pdf