By Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
When gardeners get together and someone compliments a plant, it’s not unusual for the admirer to be offered a “piece” to take home and root. Sharing plants is one of the pleasures of gardening. Getting that piece – or cutting – to survive and grow into a new plant is the challenge.
A cutting is a piece of a plant that is cut off and placed into conditions where it regenerates the missing parts and grows into a new, independent plant. For most plants, the best type of cutting to use is the stem cutting, although some plants are also propagated by leaf cuttings or root cuttings. When a stem cutting is taken, it generally has leaves and a stem, and it must regenerate new roots.
Stem cuttings taken from some plants root rapidly and easily, while others are more of a challenge. Success depends on taking the cuttings properly at the right time of the year and providing them with the right conditions for rooting. The cutting must survive until the new roots form.
Cuttings should generally be no more than 3-6 inches long. Cuttings that length can be taken from the ends of branches, or longer shoots can be cut off and sectioned into shorter cuttings.
The cut at the lower end of the cutting should always be made just below the point on a stem where a leaf or pair of leaves is attached. Take cuttings in the cool, early-morning hours when plant tissue is full of water, and immediately put them in water. Keep the cuttings cool, and plant them as soon as possible.
When preparing to plant the cutting, make sure it isn’t too long and trim it if necessary. Remove the leaves on the lower half of the stem.
Products containing root-promoting hormones are available at local nurseries and should be applied to the cuttings following label directions before planting them. These products are effective in making cuttings root faster and more reliably.
The material, or medium, you plant the cuttings into is very important. A good rooting medium must be loose enough to provide the base of the cuttings with plenty of air, yet retain enough water to keep the cuttings from drying out. It should also be free from disease-causing fungi that could cause the cuttings to rot.
Plant rooted cuttings into small, individual pots of potting soil. Keep the newly rooted cuttings in the shade for about a week, and then gradually move them into the type of light the plant prefers. Be prepared for some failures when rooting cuttings, but consider giving it a try. The satisfaction of propagating your own plants is hard to beat.