Horticulture Magazine

How (And When) To Take Plant Cuttings

mint cuttings propagating in test tubes

Cuttings are a simple way to get new plants without seeds.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the natural elegance of the cutting process: just snip off part of your plant, take proper care of it, and soon you’ll have an entirely new one.

This new plant is effectively a clone of its mother plant, which is truly remarkable.

We’ve written this guide to equip you with the knowledge you need to successfully take and grow cuttings.

What Are Plant Cuttings?

A plant cutting that has taken root

A cutting is a section of a plant deliberately removed for the purpose of propagation.

Done right, you can grow a whole new plant without any seed.

The word “cutting” refers to the removed section of the plant, as well as the act of removing it.

When taking a cutting, there are a few things to bear in mind to make sure it will grow.

But before we get into that, a bit about why people take cuttings.

What Are They Used For?

taking cuttings with secateurs from a tomato plant

You can use cuttings to get more plants, either from one you own, from somebody else’s plant, or from something growing in the wild.

Taking a cutting from your own plants is useful if you’re moving house and can’t take your garden with you, or if you just want to have more.

Taking cuttings from someone else’s plant is a great way to share and enhance each other’s collection.

Taking a cutting from the wild allows you to bring nature into your home without uprooting or harming any plants. 

The beauty of cuttings is being able to borrow plants from nature, friends’ houses, and even plant nurseries (with permission), all without damaging the mother plant.

How To Grow Plant Cuttings

white and green patterned leaves of a Syngonium Wendlandii plant close up

I’ve recently grown a Syngonium Wendlandii (Goose Foot) houseplant from an unrooted cutting bought online.

To help illustrate the process of growing this plant from a cutting, the steps and imagery below showcase how this was taken from a simple cutting into a thriving, healthy houseplant.

1) Take Your Cutting

Cuttings are available online from suppliers and are commonly much cheaper than purchasing a fully grown plant.

If you’re looking at taking your own cuttings, make sure you have a pair of very sharp, freshly sterilised secateurs.

packaged felco secateurs sat on a wooden potting bench

This is very important as it helps to prevent the introduction of root rot, which can ultimately damage or even kill plants grown via cuttings.

You’ll want to cut the plant just below the node: the part where the leaf joins the stem.

hands holding a goose foot plant cutting

Cut just under the node, very close to the stem, so that the node remains on the cutting.

The node contains the highest concentration of nutrients that will give the cutting the best chance of taking root.

For softwood, aim to take a cutting of about ten centimetres: enough that you can plant it in the soil with the leaves still a good distance above.

stem of a Syngonium Wendlandii cutting

2) Remove Any Excess Foliage

On this occasion my Syngonium cutting had only one leaf, but for other cuttings, to maximise the chances of rooting, you should look to remove all leaves except for the top few.

You want some foliage so that the plant can photosynthesise, but not too many that this process competes with the plant’s resources to make new roots.

Here’s an example with some photographs of a buddleja cutting I took to illustrate this:

buddleja cutting sat on a potting bench
a buddleja cutting that has had its leaves removed

3) Situate Your Cuttings

If you’re not planting straight away, transport your cutting in a plastic bag with a couple of drops of water.

This will keep the moisture in and prevent the cutting from drying out. 

Put a label on the bag so you know what you’ve got, as identifying plants just from the leaves can be difficult.

There are three typical options for growing cuttings, with each of these covered below:

Using An Aeroponic Propagator

For my Goose Foot plant, I decided to put my aeroponic propagator through its paces.

an aeroponic propagator with foam plugs in rows

This is essentially a sealed propagator which provides the ideal conditions for new cuttings to thrive:

  • Water sprayer which ensures roots are constantly given enough water, without them being left in standing water (a common cause of root rot)
  • Grow lights to support plant growth
  • Water heater to ensure an optimum water temperature of 20-22°C
  • Sealed lid to maintain humid conditions

The cuttings are placed in small foam plugs which help to keep them in place.

Syngonium Wendlandii cutting in the foam plug of an aeroponic propagator
adjusting the foam plug of the propagator

The 24/7 spraying of water ensures that the roots receive a constant supply of water nutrients and oxygen.

Some choose to add additional nutrients to the water, but I’ve always had extremely positive results using water alone.

Once the cutting was placed in the aeroponic propagator on day 1, it was simply a case of letting it sit for a few weeks to allow the rooting process to take place.

two plant cuttings sat inside the plastic cover of a propagator

The hardest part was resisting the temptation to remove it and take a look!

On day 14 I removed the foam plug from the propagator and was pleasantly rewarded with the very early beginnings of new root growth.

Notice the slight white bump where a new root is forming:

early roots beginning to form on a Syngonium Wendlandii cutting

You can see from these pictures that the plant also spent some energy putting out a new leaf which, while not ideal (we want the plant to focus all its energy on rooting in the early days) was still a sign of healthy growth.

a second leaf beginning to show on a Syngonium Wendlandii cutting

At roughly day 28, I was highly satisfied with the size of the roots, which had grown to around a few inches in length and were close to reaching the pool of water below plug tray.

long roots show from the goose foot plant cutting
another shot of the long roots from a Syngonium Wendlandii cutting

I removed the cutting from the propagator and used a sharp cutting knife to remove any brown matter, which should help to prevent root rot taking hold.

scraping brown matter from a plant cutting using a very small cutting knife

I then potted it up in a mix of bark, worm castings, perlite, coco coir, charcoal and sphagnum moss.

holding a cutting inside its new pot

To help the transition from the propagator, I kept the plant in a warm location, watered it regularly and misted it to replicate humid conditions.

a Syngonium Wendlandii cutting that has been planted into a large plastic pot

From here, the plant can be treated like any other, being kept in a bright location with regular watering.

Planting In Compost

Another option for those that don’t have access to an aeroponic propagator is simply to plant your cuttings in compost.

When it comes to potting, planting compost is a good option for cuttings as it has consistency and nutrient balance to encourage new root growth.

Cuttings should be planted into moist soil so they have water available straight away.

lavender cuttings being placed into rows of compost

Once planted, be vigilant and ensure the soil stays moist – the growth process is strenuous, so it’s important that cuttings have everything they need.

Use a dibber to make a hole in the soil (this can be a pencil, pen, or anything long and thin), then poke the cuttings gently into the holes.

A dibber being used to make holes in potting medium

Use your fingers to gently push the compost back against the plant.

Before planting the cutting, you can dip the root in hormone rooting medium (water or powder) to boost its chances of growing.

steps showing rooting hormone being placed on cuttings and planted

Then cover the pot with plastic film to seal in the moisture, tight enough that condensation forms inside but not too tight that air can’t get in. 

You may want to label the pot to help you remember what’s growing inside. 

Growing In Standing Water

The third (and probably the simplest) option is simply to place your cuttings in standing water.

A test tube propagator is ideal for this purpose, and can be easily filled and placed on a windowsill.

This is a process I recently undertook with a mint cutting and it was very successful, as you can see in the images below:

the roots of a mint plant propagating in test tubes

The water should be replaced at least every few days to prevent any root rot caused by the roots sitting in standing water.

After a while, the plant will begin to take root. Timings are covered in the next section.

When the cutting is rooted it’s time to plant it out.

Harden it for a couple of weeks (grow it somewhere with a breeze and sunlight to simulate outdoor growing conditions), then plant cuttings individually in pots.

From this stage, they can be treated as regular plants.

How Long Do Cuttings Take To Root?

new roots showing on a cutting

This will depend on the type of plant and rooting method used.

Some begin to root within a week of being cut from the mother plant, while others – succulents, for example – can take much longer.

You should expect the process to take anywhere from two to ten weeks.

In my experience, an aeroponic propagator can significantly speed up the process!

If growing in compost it can be tempting to try and get a look at how well your cutting is rooting, but resist this temptation!

You’ll be able to tell by seeing whether the cutting is still alive and well after a couple of weeks of being planted.

If so, it’s probably taking root well. If not, keep an eye on it, and remove it if it begins to dry out.

Which Plants Can You Take Cuttings From?

snake plant being propagated in a small glass of water, with roots clearly visible

Plants that are showing new growth will be best for cuttings, as they’ll have the highest concentration of growth-stimulating hormones.

If you have an old plant, you can prune it back to stimulate new growth, then take a cutting from this section.

Healthy plants should be chosen for cuttings, ones showing good growth and no pests.

Shoots that aren’t flowering will take root more easily.

Herbs are very easy to grow from cuttings – and this is a great place to start if you’re a beginner trying to get a feel for the process.

Taking a cutting from rosemary with scissors

Mint, coriander, rosemary, sage, and all sorts of other herbs can be grown without any soil at all.

Just place a cutting in a jar of water so that the leaves are a couple of inches above the surface, place in a well-lit area, and watch the roots begin to appear.

Top up the water when it begins to get low, and you’re good to go.

Here are some other plants that lend themselves well to cutting:

  • Softwood cuttings, from perennials like petunia, geranium, pelargonium, biden, and more.
  • Deciduous shrubs like hydrangeas, buddleja, lavender, and fuchsia.
  • Succulents, although expect these to take a bit longer to go to root.
  • Berry bushes: these are greenwood cuttings rather than softwood.

When Should You Take Cuttings?

It’s best to take a cutting in the morning, as this is when the plant material will be full of water.

The best time of year to take a softwood cutting is in spring or early summer, as this is when plants are in the most suitable stage of their growth cycle.

Greenwood cuttings are taken from late spring to mid-summer.

There You Have It…

Cuttings are a simple and elegant way of getting new plants.

Providing you take care throughout the process, a cutting can grow into a strong and healthy plant surprisingly quickly.

This guide has introduced cuttings and given basic instructions on how to propagate a plant cutting into a new plant. 

man holding rosemary cuttings in hand
Time to go out and take some of your own cuttings!

With cuttings, practice makes perfect. Try not to be disheartened if your first cuttings don’t take properly: you’ll get there!

Happy gardening.

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