As rewarding as gardening is, it can cost you a chunk of change if you don’t watch where and how you spend your money. Thankfully, gardening doesn’t have to break the bank if you are into gardening on the cheap. Inexpensive options abound at your local dollar store, and even in your own garden when you learn plant propagation.
Propagating (also known as cloning or planting cuttings) is pretty easy, almost a “set it and forget it” type of project. However, it is a longer game than starting seeds indoors, and there are some things to know about so that you don’t lose all your hard work.
Just in case you are completely new to using plant cuttings to grow new plants, I’ll start at the beginning. It’s where I always like to start so that you can get all you need start your cloning journey on the right track. (Does that sound weird?)
Also, we’ll be focusing on softwood cuttings because they are the easiest to do. Let’s get started.
Three Types of Cuttings for Plant Propagation
There are three types of plant cuttings that you can grow from: softwood, semi-hardwood, and hardwood. All three will work, but there are specific times in the year when you would take each type of cutting.
Softwood cuttings are taken in late spring, about 4-6 weeks after your plants start growing in the spring. At this point, they are almost fully developed, but are still soft and pliable. You want the cuttings you take to be able to hold itself up (versus droop) when you hold it upright. These cuttings are the easiest to root, according to many.
Semi-hardwood (or semi-ripe) cuttings are ones that are taken in mid-summer. The cuttings you take will be firmer and more rigid, and may contain flowers. The can be rooted from mid-summer to fall.
Taken in autumn to early winter, hardwood cuttings are fully mature, young stems taken after leaf fall and before the new growth of spring. They are slower to root, but stronger and less likely to fail.
What You Need to Get Free Plants
There are a few things you’ll need to collect in order for you to get started: plants, something sharp, somewhere to store cuttings you won’t be immediately using, something to help your cuttings root quicker, and something to plant them in. Let’s talk about that.
Plants to Make Cuttings From
Technically, propagation can be achieved for any kind of plant: annual, biennial, perennial, shrub, tree, house plant, whatever. However, the method will differ depending on the plant you choose.
Annuals and biennials are best propagated by planting their seeds. Most other plants that don’t follow the same life cycle as those two plants can be propagated nicely.
For the sake of ease, you will want to choose a perennial or house plant, as those will be the easiest for you to work with. My choices this year are: oregano, catnip, thyme, rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, and an ivy houseplant.
Something Sharp to Take Your Plant Cuttings
When you make your plant cuttings, you will want to use a very sharp tool. The concern here is that you wouldn’t accidentally crush the stem, which is a concern with softwood cuttings. You can use one of the following:
For this job, the garden scissors you choose should be the “bypass” type, which simply means that the blades pass by each other, rather than clamp down on each other as in the case of this anvil pruner.
Pretty much any sharp garden knife would work for making cuttings. If you plan on doing more than one different cutting, make sure to clean your blade (or scissors) with rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading any hidden diseases from plant to plant.
A Way to Store Your Cuttings
If you are taking many different cuttings around your yard, or while you are out on a forage, you can place them in a bucket of water. It’s important that your cuttings remain hydrated for best results.
If you get them home and know you won’t be sticking (planting) them right away, you can keep them cool and moist wrapped in a damp paper towel placed in a plastic bag. Keep them in your crisper drawer for a day and they should be fine.
Rooting compound, or rooting hormone, is a substance that will help your plant cuttings root faster than if you had not used it. It doesn’t really matter what kind you use, powder, gel, or liquid–they all work fine.
For those of you who would like to steer clear of chemicals and weird stuff in your gardening, you can totally make your own rooting hormone. Some things you can use that might be in your cupboard today are apple cider vinegar, honey, or cinnamon. You can also check out this article for more ideas.
You have a few choices of rooting medium, but whatever you choose should be light and well-draining. This year I am using a coco coir and perlite mixture, but you could try peat moss or vermiculite, or any mixture of what you may already have on your shelf. Keep in mind that peat moss holds water very well and is less well-draining, but it should be fine if you mix it half and half with vermiculite or perlite. Try a few different mixtures to see which works best for your and your gardening style.
The Process of Plant Propagation
This process is so easy a child can do it, but there are a few things to know. Here are my easy step-by-step instructions that will help you be successful in getting your free plants.
Selecting and Making Your Plant Cuttings
Cuttings are easy to take! You will want to make sure that you are choosing your cuttings from the tips of the current season’s new growth. At this point, you will want to avoid any tips that have flowers on them, as those are partially spent of their energy. You want to start this project with vigorous cuttings.
You will want to make your cuttings in the early morning, or after having watered your plant very well. Morning is a great time because this is the time when your plant is the most well-hydrated.
Cut your tips to 4-6 inches, makinf sure sure they have at least 3-4 nodes on them. Make your cuts below a node. If you plan on rooting your cuttings in water, you’ll want to make them longer just for good measure–they can always be cut down later. Remember to clean your blade between cuts from different plants.
Sticking Your Cuttings
Strip off leaves, leaving about ⅓ of the leaves on the cutting. Dip in rooting compound, but make sure not to share it between plants and rootings, so as not to infect the whole bottle or tub. Stick your stems into your rooting medium.
If you are rooting a houseplant with particularly large leaves, you can cut them in half so they don’t need so much water to stay alive.
Cover with plastic or a dome (like a cup or plastic bottle) to keep it humid, so the leaves don’t dry out. If it gets too wet in there (if you can see large drops of condensation), take the dome or plastic off for an hour and then put it back.
Lighting and Heating
Your cuttings will need some light, but not as much as you might think. Put them in a place in your house where they will get plenty of indirect sunlight. As for heat, you will want to put your tray of cuttings in a place that will keep an even temperature as close to 65-75 degrees as possible. This is the idea temperature for rooting cuttings successfully.
Alternatively, you can put them in a grow light box with 18-24 hours of light. If you choose this method, you won’t need to worry about covering with plastic or a dome–there will be plenty of warmth and humidity inside of the grow light box.
How Long for Results?
How long does it take to see results? Well, that depends on what type of plant you choose to root. Houseplants generally take 2-3 weeks, while other plants will take 4-6 weeks. Those are very general time frames, so make sure to research what to expect for the particular plants you are working with. Rooting depends on temperature, type of plant, and other factors.
Don’t be tempted to uproot your cuttings because you don’t want to disturb your roots. Instead of uprooting the plant and looking at the root ball, give your plant a gentle tug to see if it feels like it’s “holding on” to the soil. When you feel they have grown roots, gently lift your plants out by putting a knife or spoon beneath the root ball to lift out, then transplant and put back into the indirect light until it looks to be getting its bearings back. Personally, I would wait until I saw new growth on the plant before I harden them off to plant outdoors.
Rooting plants from plant cuttings is a super simple process, but there are “rules” to follow for best results. If you follow the directions in this article, you should be on your way to getting all the free plants you want from your very own garden!
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