Bedding geraniums (Pelargoniums) are popular plants – by taking cuttings, you can buy just once and propagate new plants for your garden yourself each year.
Pelargoniums, often called geraniums, are commonly used as annual bedding plants in beds and borders. They are also commonly grown in pots, on a patio or in another outside space, or even as houseplants inside a home.
There are many different types and interesting cultivars to choose from, and one thing that sets them apart is that, unlike most other annual bedding plants, it is very easy to take geranium cuttings and propagate your own plants at home.
Why Take Geranium Cuttings?
Taking geranium cuttings makes a lot of sense. Firstly, because buying annual bedding plants is not the most sustainable or eco-friendly thing to do.
The plants you can purchase usually come in plastic pots, and we all know by now the terrible toll plastic takes on the environment. The pots also often come filled with a peat-based potting mix, or include synthetic fertilisers in the growing medium.
Both peat extraction and synthetic fertilisers also come at a huge cost for people and planet.
Wherever possible, if you want to be an eco-friendly gardener, you should try to grow organically, and propagate your own plants at home. Plants can be propagated through seeds, of course, and many perennials can be propagated through division.
But cuttings – softwood, semi-ripe and hardwood are also key ways to make new plants using those you (or others around you) already grow.
Taking cuttings from annual geraniums means you can get new plants, clones of the original plant, without having to buy new ones each year.
How To Take Geranium Cuttings
If you are new to taking plant cuttings, taking cuttings from geraniums is not a bad place to start. These cuttings are relatively easy to take, prepare and care for.
This is a task best undertaken in summer, sometime between June and August.
Begin by finding a fat, juicy and healthy stem on your geranium plant. Cut this off just above a bud on the parent plant.
Make sure that you use well-cleaning, sterilised tools and make sure that the knife or other gardening implement is sharp. You should aim for cuttings that are around 10-12cm long.
Repeat until you have a few cuttings to work with. It is best to start a few cuttings off at the same time, so you will still likely have some success even if not all of your cuttings make it through.
Preparing Geranium Cuttings
Once you have taken the material for the cutting, immediately remove the lower flower buds and leaves. Leave just the stem over the lower half of each one.
Trim the bottom of the cutting to just below a node. These nodes are areas of the plant which have a concentration of plant hormones, which thereby help rooting to take place.
If there are any particularly large leaves on the upper portion of the cutting, you can also cut half of the leaf off to reduce moisture losses.
To Wait or Not to Wait?
Some gardeners will proceed to the next step immediately, getting their cuttings potted up as quickly as possible. However, some gardeners recommend leaving the cuttings to callus at the end before planting.
This simply means leaving the cuttings on a piece of newspaper or paper towel for 3-5 days so that the end forms a protective ‘scab’ over the cut end.
This can seem strange, and the cuttings will look like they have wilted. But they should perk back up when planted into pots.
The benefit of leaving the geranium cutting to form a callus is that it can reduce the chances of deadly fungal infections like root rot and black leg, which are amongst the most common reasons why geranium cuttings fail.
Rooting Hormone for Geranium Cuttings
To improve the chances that your geranium cuttings will root successfully, you can also consider dipping the bottom end into rooting hormone.
This step is not strictly essential, as geranium cuttings may well root on their own. However, success rates will be higher if you use a rooting hormone.
One thing to note is that you don’t necessarily need to purchase a rooting compound. You can also make your own.
One common natural ingredient often used for this is willow. Willow twigs are added to water to make a natural rooting aid.
You can also dip the end of the cutting in apple cider vinegar, honey or cinnamon powder, for example, to increase the chance of cuttings rooting successfully and reduce the chances of fungal infections killing your cuttings before they root and grow successfully.
Potting Up Cuttings
Next, take your cuttings and insert two or three around the edges of each small pot. Of course, you should prepare your pots and fill them with a suitable growing medium before you take your cuttings.
Reused containers like yoghurt pots with holes pierced in the bottom can work well.
The pots should be filled with seed compost or seed-starting potting mix, mixed with sharp sand to improve drainage.
If you do not have a seed starting mix, and do not wish to buy one, use a light DIY (perhaps coir based) soil-free potting mix (to avoid introducing pathogens), again mixed with grit for drainage.
It is a good idea to place the cuttings around the edge, since around the edges of the pot they stand a better chance of remaining moist and rooting successfully. However, you can also simply place each cutting straight into its own individual pot.
With geranium cuttings, it is best not to cover your pots, since this can encourage mildew to form on the leaves. Fungal infections can be more likely due to increased humidity.
Caring For Geranium Cuttings
Once you have placed the cuttings in the pots, water them and position the pots in a light, bright position indoors.
Do not position them in an area of high humidity (like close to a kitchen sink, for example). Keep them somewhere relatively dry.
Roots should begin to form within a few weeks. If you pull up a geranium cutting, you will see a thicker corky callus over the cut end, and small roots beginning to grow.
After 6-8 weeks, a good root system should have begun to develop. If any cuttings wilt or turn black during this time, be sure to remove them right away, and dispose of them carefully, as diseases they harbour could spread to other plants.
Make sure that you water your cuttings, but not excessively, as you take care of them over the winter months and into spring.
In March or April the following year, remove the cuttings from their starter pots and pot each new plant up into their own individual pots of multipurpose potting mix/compost (or a homemade equivalent).
Once all risk of frost has passed in your area, you can plant out your new geranium (Pelargonium) plants in your garden.
As you can see from the above, taking your own geranium cuttings is pretty easy. And even if your cuttings don’t all take, you should have fairly high success rates if you follow the instructions above.
So even if you have never taken your own cuttings before, don’t be afraid to give it a go. See our Geranium growing tips for advice on caring for your new plants!
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.