Photo  |  depositphoto.com — Rooting cuttings is easier than you may think. Start with cuttings from your own plants or ask friends to share.

By Alice Marty, Mobile County Master Gardener | CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com

Would you like to double your daisies or triple your thyme? Growing plants from cuttings is an excellent way to fill your garden with lush flowers, herbs and other plants without spending any money.

It’s less complicated than you may think. Some plants will root in water, but cuttings propagated in a growing medium will develop a better root system. Start with cuttings from your own plants or ask friends for their cuttings.

Two important things to remember about taking cuttings:

First, it is considered good gardener manners to ask before snipping another gardener’s plants. Most botanical gardens post that removing plant material is prohibited.

Second, you may have seen a plant tag with the statement “asexual reproduction of this plant is prohibited.” Licensed propagators of patented plants such as roses are generally required to tag the plant with that warning. If a plant is patented, a license is required from the patent holder to make cuttings of that plant, even if it is planted in your own backyard. Unlike with a copyright, there is no concept of “fair use rights” for patents in the United States.

Assemble the materials

• Pot(s) of pre-moistened soil-less rooting medium (potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sand, sphagnum moss, etc.)

• Pruners or a sharp knife

• Rooting hormone (a combination of plant growth hormones that helps to stimulate a plant cutting so it sends out new nodes from a stem node; it may come in powder, gel or liquid form)

• Plastic cup

• Pencil or other object slightly wider than the stem of the cutting 

• Clear plastic bag

Take cuttings

For most plants, cuttings should be 4-6 inches long. Don’t make your cuttings too large; they will not root well or, if rooted, will become a tall, lanky plant instead of a compact one.

Cut stems just below a bud. Using a sharp knife (or pruners), cut at an angle just below where a leaf attaches to the stem (the node). Roots grow easiest from this location. If you leave a section of stem below the node, it often rots.

Remove the lower leaves but leave the top two or three. Any part of the cutting that will be buried below the surface of the rooting medium should be free of leaves.

Remove any flowers. Flowers are not helpful for the rooting process. If left on the cutting, the flowers will try to develop into seed and use the food reserved in the cutting that could be better used for rooting. Dying flowers will also mold and rot in the moist rooting environment. So, as difficult as it may be, remove any flowers or buds from the cuttings.

Ready for “sticking”

Cut back to a node and stripped of lower leaves and flowers, the cutting is now ready for “sticking” into the moist rooting medium.

Using an object such as a pencil or dowel, make holes in the potting mix. Make the hole diameter larger than the cutting so the rooting powder is not rubbed off when the cutting is placed in the rooting medium.

Many easy-to-root plants will not require the use of a rooting hormone but doing so will assure faster rooting. Some plants, such as citrus, may root very slowly or not at all without the use of a rooting hormone.

Dip the cutting

Do not stick cuttings directly into the original container of rooting hormone. The moisture on the cutting will degrade the remaining hormone in the container. Pour just the amount of rooting hormone you need into a separate container, such as a plastic cup, and reseal the original hormone container to keep it fresh.

Dip the cutting in the rooting hormone and swish it around to lightly cover the bottom 1-1½ inches of the cutting. Tap the cutting on the side of the container lightly to remove any excess. If very little hormone powder sticks to the cutting, you may want to dip the cuttings in water first, tap them to remove any excess water and then dip them in the rooting hormone.

Dispose of any excess rooting hormone in your small container. Do not put it back in the original container.

“Stick” cuttings

“Stick” cuttings into prepared holes in the rooting medium, being careful not to rub off the rooting hormone powder.
Hint: More than one cutting can be placed into a single pot. After the cuttings have rooted they can be divided and potted in separate pots. Do not crowd the cuttings, however. Crowding can result in mold and rotting.

Firm the soil around the cuttings, gently pressing the medium around them to provide good contact between cuttings and rooting medium. Water lightly to help provide good contact and provide moisture.

Place the entire pot inside a plastic bag to maintain humidity. Inflate the bag to keep the sides of the bag away from the cuttings as much as possible. Leaves touching the bag are more prone to develop mold. Place the pot in a filtered light location, not full sun.

Examine the cuttings weekly to make sure the rooting medium is not drying out. Test to see if roots are growing by lightly tugging on the cuttings. If there is resistance, the roots are growing. When rooting has taken place (about 3-8 weeks), separate the cuttings and pot them in individual pots.

For step by step photos of the cutting propagation: tinyurl.com/hj8upnl.

YOU ARE INVITED TO THESE UPCOMING GARDENING EVENTS

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Monthly Meeting (free)
When: Thursday, May 10, 10-11:45 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Keep Mobile Beautiful, Phyllis Wingard

What: Fire Ant Control in Home Lawns, Gardens and Pastures (free)
When: Tuesday, May 15, 6-8 p.m. (dinner provided)

Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Register: RSVP to Kelly Palmer, ridleka@auburn.edu or 251-937-7176

What: Mobile County Master Gardeners Lunch & Learn (free)
When: Monday, May 21, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Speaker: Alice Marty, Mobile County Master Gardener
Topic: Free Plants for Your Garden (Propagating)

What: Alabama Cooperative Extension: Wildflower Workshop (free)
When: Tuesday, May 22, 9-11 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Register: Call 251-574-8445 or email jda0002@aces.edu

Become a Mobile County Master Gardener
Next Class: Aug. 8 to Nov. 14, every Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Deadline to apply: June 6
For more information call 251-574-8445.

Master Gardener Helpline: 1-877-252-4769 or send gardening questions to coastalalabamagardening@gmail.com.