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Garden Propagation Tips

Stem Cuttings

Starting a new plant by taking stem cuttings from an existing plant is another common propagation technique. Learn more by checking out the tips that follow.

After stem cuttings survive the winter, transplant them to a larger pot.
After stem cuttings survive the winter,
transplant them to a larger pot.

  • Take softwood stem cuttings in late spring or early summer for fast rooting. New spring shoots are vigorous but soft and succulent. They may wilt before they root. But if the shoots are allowed to mature for a month or two, they firm up slightly and are ideal for rooting.

  • Take stem cuttings in the morning when they are fresh and full of water. Once the stem is severed from its root, it will not be able to soak up moisture for several weeks or until new roots develop. If cuttings are started without enough stored moisture, they will simply wilt and die.

  • Use rooting hormone on older or hard-to-root cuttings. Rooting hormones, available in powdered and liquid forms, contain chemicals (called auxins) that allow cut stems to begin to produce roots. They must be applied as soon as the cutting is taken and before the cutting is put into sterile planting mix.

    Some Plants Suitable for Softwood Stem Cuttings
    Take stem cutting to propagate these plants:
    Not all stems need rooting hormone (mints and willows, for instance), but it can make slow starters much more reliable.

  • Avoid feeding softwood shrub cuttings any additional nitrogen after rooting. A little nitrogen, which is available in nutrient-enriched planting mixes, can help the rooting process proceed. But excess nitrogen can encourage fast, tender new growth that is vulnerable to winter damage.

    Once the cuttings have survived the winter, transplant them into the garden or a larger pot and fertilize them normally.

  • Set a clear glass jar over cuttings of roses, willows, dogwoods, or other easily rooted stems put directly in the garden. The jar will maintain high humidity around the cutting and help prevent wilting. But be sure to protect the jar from the hot sun so the cuttings don't get cooked.

  • Test if a cutting has rooted by gently tugging on the stem. If it shows resistance, roots have formed. After first rooting, allow the roots to develop for several more weeks, if possible, before transplanting.

Sowing seeds and taking stem cuttings are not the only way to propagate. See the next section for other techniques.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.