When growing your own plants it’s inevitable that you want more of your favorite plants :). Of course you can always buy another or perhaps start one from seed, but you can also start rooting cuttings. Trying to root cuttings is an easy and cheap way to expand your urban jungle, soon you’ll be giving away plants to friends and family. An added advantage of rooting cuttings is that you’ll be sure to get an exact copy of your plant, you’re really cloning your plant! If your plant has beautifully flowers, so will your clone. There are a lot of plants you can propagate from rooted cuttings, though some plants are better off started from seed. Others like fruittrees can be grafted.
So how does it work? Simple: You take a cutting of your favorite plant and put it straight into water or soil. Well that’s the basis anyway. There are still a number of things to keep in mind to ensure your succes!
It’s important to use really clean tools when taking your cutting, clean your pruning shears or knife before and after taking cuttings. It’s always a good idea to clean your shears before and after pruning. This is especially true when taking cuttings for propagation purposes as you don’t want to introduce any bacteria or viruses to your future plant.
Rooting in water or soil?
You can root your cuttings in water or directly in soil. Many people prefer water because any progress on the root development can directly be seen. An added advantage is the cutting is unlikely to dry out. One thing to consider though is the difference between water roots and soil roots. You might think roots are just roots, but that’s not entirely true. Roots adapt to their surroundings, roots grown in water are not the same as in soil. It’s often good to transplant your cutting to soil as soon as small roots (of a couple of mm) are formed. Of course you can also grow plants on hydroculture; in that case water roots are the ones you need! If you plan to grown your plants in pots or in your garden you can start you cuttings just as well in soil, just don’t let the soil dry out.
Plants evaporate water through their leaves, the amount of water that will evaporate depends on many factors including temperature, light and humidity. The problem with cuttings is; they continue to evaporate while there is no new supply of water through the roots (because the don’t have any!). Cloning plants is basically a battle between a cutting drying out or forming roots. To help your future plant it’s important to prevent as much evaporation as possible, an easy solution is to place a plastic bag over your cutting. As plants evaporate water through their leaves it’s also a good idea to remove some of the lower leaves. Be sure to leave some leaves on because your cutting still needs to photosynthesize.
“Cloning plants is basically a battle between a cutting drying out or forming roots”
Some plants are less likely to dry out than others. For example succulents are incredibly easy to propagate, these plants are optimized to keep as much moisture inside even in the baking hot sun. As a result cuttings from succulents are less likely to dry out than cuttings from other plants.
Temperature is also an important factor to account for. When temperatures drop below a certain point plants go into rest or even survival mode. When temperatures are warmer around 20-25°C most plants are active, and that’s what we need for our cuttings to form roots. So place your cutting on a warm place, if you have it use a heated mat specially designed for seedlings and cuttings. Be sure to check the soil stays moist and doesn’t dry out.
To increase your succes you can buy rooting hormone specially designed to help cutting form roots faster. However it does not always work as intended. For example I have found it doesn’t work at all on fig trees, the cuttings start to rot while the untreated ones develop roots just fine. So use at your own discretion.
The perfect cutting
The succes of your cloning experiment starts when your cuttings are still attached to the original plant. Always take a cutting from a healthy plant and choose a healthy looking branch without damage or pests. Make sure there aren’t any flower buds or fruits on the branches as they will take all the energy of the cuttings, preventing any roots from forming. Remove the lower leaves, but keep on or two on top. The best time to prune you plant for cuttings is in the morning. Then the branches are still full of moisture and little water has evaporated. Prepare the plant you wish to take cuttings from by watering it the day before.
Some plants like succulents can easily be propagated from a single leaf and some like Sansevieria can be propagated by just a piece of leaf. Most plants however require a stem cutting, a piece of a branch with some leaves attached. There are also plants like Hoya kerrii and Ficus elastica that can form roots on a single leaf or rather on the petiole. I see a lot of posts on Instagram celebrating the roots on leaf cuttings especially with these two plants. Those cutting will never grow into a plant, with luck you can have the same leaf alive for a few years. So why doesn’t it grow a plant, it has roots so what’s going on? The thing is those cuttings miss a node. On a branch there are multiple nodes, from here leaves grow. The same spot has the potential to grow an entire branch. When taking cuttings it’s important to have at least one node on your plant material. That node can form a bud from which a branch will grow. Without a node your cutting is blind; it can photosynthesize, it can form roots but it just can’t grow.