Guest Author - Jessica Carson
Stem, leaf, or root cuttings are very easy ways to 'clone' your favorite plants. Some plants start quite easily this way, especially if the cuttings are taken from a strongly growing branch or shoot. There are four ways in which plants can be propagated from cuttings: softwood or semihardwood (young shoots and branches) hardwood cuttings (small hard branches from a tree or shrub), leaf cuttings, and root cuttings.
Softwood and Semihardwood Cuttings
Softwood cuttings are the soft, green new growth on plants, usually harvested from spring until late summer. They are usually the fastest and easiest to propagate, as the stems are still strongly growing and soft. Semihardwood are harvested in summer to fall, from stems that are firm but snap if bent sharply. These types of cuttings are used for propagating deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees, and herbaceous and evergreen perennials. Common plants for this method are pelargoniums, ivy, boxwood, and fuchsia.
Use clean, sterilized, sharp cutters to take your cuttings. Choose a branch which is young, has good color, strong growth, and is devoid of flowers, if possible. Cut a length several inches long with several leaves, just below a leaf bud. If the cut is ragged, place the cutting on a hard surface and use a sharp razor blade to make a straight cut just below the bottom leaves.
Remove the leaves from the bottom 1 ˝ to 2” of the cutting, and remove any flowers. If desired, dip the bottom portion of the cutting in rooting hormone. Plant the end into a good rooting medium (damp vermiculite or seed starting mix is wonderful for starting cuttings). Enclose in a plastic bag to keep the cutting in a humid environment, and place in a warm location. Open the bag for a few minutes every day for air circulation, and keep the soil damp. When new leaves start to grow your cutting has started to develop roots and is ready to transplant to regular potting soil.
Hardwood cuttings are from fully formed branches on trees and shrubs. Cut them at the start of the dormant season, from wood of the previous season's growth. These will take longer to root than softwood cuttings, so be patient. Take your cuttings below a leaf bud. Cut the bottom of the cuttings flat across and the tops at an angle, so you can easily tell top from bottom. Dip the bottom in rooting hormone, then bury in a soil filled box outdoors for the winter. Over winter, the bottoms will start to form small nodules from which the roots will eventually grow. In the early spring, dig up the cuttings and plant them, flat (bottom) end down, in pots, and keep them watered. The roots will start to grow, and when new leaves form you know your new plants are established.
Note: if you live in especially cold climates (zones 1-3), refrigerate your cuttings over the winter, rather than leaving them outside.
Many plants, such as Begonia, African Violet, succulents, and Sansevieria, will grow new plants from leaf cuttings. Select a young, healthy leaf, dip the end in rooting hormone, and place in damp vermiculite or seed starting mix. Keep the soil moist and in a few weeks to months (depending on type of plant) a new plant will start to grow from the base of the leaf.
Some leaves will grow new plants from the veins of the leaf itself. (Begonia and African violet can be propagated in this way) Make small cuts in the veins on the underside of the leaf, and place, underside (cut) side down over damp soil. Tack the leaf down in a few places to ensure the cut sections stay in contact with the soil. Keep damp, and eventually you will see the new leaves of tiny new plants growing from the areas that were cut.
Any plant which self-propagates from its roots can be propagated with root cuttings. Cut large (one to two pencil-thickness) roots from the main plant and 'plant' in damp potting soil, with the top cut at the surface. Alternatively, plant the root sections on their side in a container under an inch or so of soil. Keep damp. When new growth emerges, transplant to individual containers.
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