Gardening Tips: Starting Plant Clippings

Easy to follow guide for taking, starting, and transplanting plant cuttings along with a list of easy to start plants.

If you've ever really taken the time to think about, you've probably realized by now that plants are pretty amazing. They filter the air around us and produce oxygen; they provide an amazing array of edible fruits and vegetables, not to mention how beautiful many are. Less known, but no less fascinating is that each cell in a plant is a complete copy of its entire genetic make up. Now don't worry, this isn't an article on plant genetics! That little factoid is important to know though. Thanks to their unique genetic make up, many plants can be starting by simply taking a cutting from a mature plant and letting that cutting root. No need for seeds, or trips to your local plant nursery for expensive potted plants.

There are many theories on how best to start plant cuttings. Some methods work best for different types of plants, and some methods just work best for the folks who use them! We'll discuss a few of the most common methods, and then the next time you visit friends, family, or your favorite garden spot you'll be all ready to beg or borrow a few cuttings of your favorite plants!

First you need to acquire your cuttings. You need to select cuttings from healthy, mature plants (and with the plant owner's permission of course!). It is best to take the cuttings during the growing season when the plant is green. Avoid diseased or wilted plants. Use a sharp knife to trim the ends of several stems sections of the plant. It is usually sufficient to trim down 4-6 "˜knuckles' or joints on the plants stem. Don't trim so many pieces that you damage the adult plant! It is generally best to take more than one or two pieces though, that way you ensure higher odds of getting at least one good, strong plant from your cuttings (though you'll generally get more, and often all your cuttings will root and grow). Wrap your cuttings in a damp paper towel and then cover with plastic wrap or a plastic bag to keep them damp until you can get them home and planted.

Once home, carefully prepare your cuttings for rooting by trimming leaves and stems at the "˜root' end of the cutting. Trim the cutting with a sharp knife just below a joint. It is also best to remove any buds or flowers from the cuttings. From here on out is where controversy amongst gardeners begins! How you start your cuttings will depend on your personal preferences, what you have available, and to a certain degree on the type of plant. The following methods are general purpose, and will work well for most plants.

Many cuttings will take root in nutrient rich soil that is primarily compost. Small, well drained pots should be filled with well composted soil. The bare end of the cutting is then inserted into the soil and watered well. An even simple method that also works with quite a few plants is to simply stick the bare end into a cup of water and wait for the roots to grow! This works particularly well with common household ivy.

If you are trying to get a stubborn plant to root, or want to take extra precautions there are special root starters available at gardening stores. Root starters contain a hormone that, as the name implies, encourages roots to start! The root starter is applied to the bottom, bare end of the cutting prior to placing the cutting in potting medium or water. Special sterile potting mediums are also available for starting cuttings. The sterile mediums insure a fungus and disease free environment for fragile cuttings to get started in.

Regardless of how you choose to start your cuttings, all cuttings should be kept moist and out of direct sunlight and intense heat until they have taken off. Once you see new growth (which indicates that a root structure has been formed) you can gradually transition your plants to their indented location by exposing them to more sunlight and inclement weather. Once your cutting has been fully transitioned to its new environment it can be transplanted into a garden, or repotted in a larger pot that will accommodate its growth.

The following is a brief list of plants by their common names that are easy to root from cuttings: garden mums, hibiscus, sage, chamomile, hens and chickens, grandfather's pipe, airplane or spider plant, donkey's tale, common ivy, geranium, lantana, verbena, rose of Sharon and cottonwood trees.

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