What Is A Plant Cutting? (Things To Know)


What if I told you that you can create a virtually unlimited supply of new plants from a single mother plant?  It sounds too good to be true, but I assure you that you can do exactly that, provided that you learn how to take plant cuttings and care for them to maturity.

So, what is a plant cutting?  A plant cutting is a piece of a plant’s stem, leaf, or root that is used to produce a new plant (clone).  A successfully cloned plant will have the same traits as the parent plant, and it will produce its own roots, shoots, and leaves.

Of course, there are lots of different ways to take a plant cutting and turn it into a new plant.  For example, you can use stem, leaf, or root cuttings to propagate plants, depending on the species.

In this article, we’ll talk about what plant cuttings are.  We’ll also look at various methods of taking plant cuttings.

Let’s get going.

What Is A Plant Cutting?

A plant cutting (or cutting) is a piece of a plant that is used to produce another plant of the same type (a clone).  If successful, a cloned plant cutting will produce its own roots (in water or soil) and begin to grow on its own as a separate plant.

Plant cuttings are often taken from a stem or branch.  However, it is also possible to use a leaf or root cutting from some plants to create a clone.

According to Purdue University, the clone (new plant) that grows from a cutting is identical to the parent plant.  So, when you clone a plant by cuttings, you keep the traits of the parent plant in the next generation.

Also, new plants grown from cuttings will often reach maturity and begin flowering sooner than plants grown from seed.

Examples Of Stem Cutting Plants

Some popular examples of plants that you can clone (propagate) with stem cuttings include:

  • Azalea
  • Blackberries
  • Common Purslane
  • Dracaena
  • Ficus
  • Hedera (Ivy)
  • Lemon Balm
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Willow
blackberries
You can propagate blackberry plants with stem cuttings.

Examples Of Leaf Cutting Plants

Some popular examples of plants that you can clone (propagate) with leaf cuttings include:

  • African violet
  • Begonia
  • Cactus
  • Crassula
  • Haworthia
  • Kalanchoe
  • Sansevieria
  • Sedum
cacti
Cacti are plants you can propagate with leaf cuttings.

These lists are not exhaustive, and there are many more plants that you can clone by taking cuttings.

How Do You Take A Cutting From A Plant?

Taking a cutting from a plant requires a few important steps.  The first and most important step is to find a plant that is healthy enough for a cutting.

Find A Healthy Parent Plant To Take A Cutting From

A plant should be both large enough and mature enough to take a cutting. Don’t cut one of the few leaves or branches from a very young plant.

Instead, choose an established but healthy plant that has plenty of healthy growth (leaves, stems, and roots).  Also, make sure to take your cutting at the proper time of year (more on this later).

Choose A Container and Growing Medium For The Cutting

First, find a container with enough space to hold the plant cutting and its growing medium (soil, sand, potting mix, or even water).

sandy soil
Some plant cuttings, such as from succulents, prefer a sandy growing medium.

Next, fill with the container with your chosen growing medium.  Some plants will take root in water, and you can grow many plants without soil in a hydroponic, aquaponics, or aeroponic system.

Just remember that you will need to change the water often to avoid bacteria and root rot.

If you use a soil-less growing system, you will eventually need to transplant the rooted cutting into a growing medium.  This may not pose a problem for some plants, but others have delicate roots and are sensitive to transplant shock.

The best growing medium for a particular cutting will depend on the type of plant and the type of cutting (stem, leaf, or root).

Take A Cutting From The Parent Plant

First, find a sharp knife, scissors, pruning shears, or razor blade.  Use a clean cloth and some rubbing alcohol to sterilize the blade between cuttings.  This will prevent the spread of disease.

pruning shears
Use a clean, sharp blade to take cuttings from the parent plant.

Next, decide on the type of cutting you want to take:

  • Stem cutting – this type of cutting is common, but can only be taken at certain times of year for hardwood plants.
  • Leaf cutting – this type of cutting is less common, and does not work for every type of plant.
  • Root cutting – this type of cutting is rare, and only works for a few types of plants.

How To Make A Stem Cutting

According to the North Carolina State University Extension, you should avoid taking cuttings that have flower buds.  Otherwise, the plant will waste energy on flowers that it needs for producing roots, stems, and leaves.

The terminal part (tip) of the stem is the best part to take cuttings from.  It is also better to take cuttings from the upper part of the plant, which has the new growth.

A stem cutting should be 4 to 6 inches long.  After you separate the stem piece from the plant, remove the leaves on the bottom half of the cutting.

stem cutting
A stem cutting will eventually grow roots and leaves to become a full-fledged plant.
Image courtesy of user Kumar83 at Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stem_Cutting.jpg

Put the cut end of the stem into the growing medium, covering about half of the length of the cutting (2 to 3 inches).

How To Make A Leaf Cutting

According to the Iowa State University Extension, there are a few different ways to make leaf cuttings:

  • Leaf-petiole cuttings – with this method, you remove an entire healthy leaf and its petiole (stalk) from the parent plant.  The stalk of the leaf is inserted into the growing medium.
  • Leaf blade cuttings – plants like jade have leaves attached to the stem (there is no petiole).  In this case, you can break off the leaves and stick the cut end into the growing medium.
  • Leaf section cuttings – with this method, you remove a leaf and cut it into 3 inch sections.  For each section, put the end that was closest to the roots into the growing medium.
leaf and petiole
Some plants can be propagated with a leaf cutting.

How To Make A Root Cutting

According to the Penn State University Extension, root cuttings are best taken from plants when they are dormant.

First, lift the plant out of the soil.  You may need to dig around the roots.

Next, wash the soil from the roots.  Be careful with delicate roots, since damage could mean that neither the parent nor the clone survives.

Then, cut off a thick root (not a thin hair like root) to a length of 3 to 5 inches long.  Remember which side of the root is the top (you could mark it by tying a piece of string to the “top” end.

Finally, insert the root cutting down into the growing medium (it should be standing up, vertically).  Push the cutting down into the soil until the top of the root is level with the top of the soil.

Apply Rooting Hormone To The Plant Cutting

Rooting hormone helps plant cuttings to produce roots faster.  The faster the roots form, the faster the plant grows, and the sooner you can transplant it.

Rooting hormone comes in powder, liquid, and gel forms.  All you need to do is dip the bottom end of the cutting (for example, the leaf petiole or the part of the stem closest to the roots) into the rooting hormone.

Then, place the cutting into the growing medium as usual.

Keep The Plant Cutting Humid

After taking a plant cutting, it should be kept humid to encourage rooting and to prevent it from drying out.  After all, the plant has an “open wound” and can lose water and nutrients through this wound.

You can put a clear plastic bag over a cutting to retain moisture, or you can use a spray bottle to mist regularly.

Transplant The Established Plant Cutting

After rooting, you can transplant the established plant cutting outdoors or repot it into a larger container.

Just keep the weather in your climate in mind when you make any decisions about transplanting outdoors.

When Should I Take Plant Cuttings?

The best time to take plant cuttings depends on the type of plant and the propagation method you are using.

Best Time To Take Stem Cuttings

The best time of day to take stem cuttings is in the early morning.  The best time of year to take stem cuttings depends on the type of wood:

  • Herbaceous plants – taken anytime the plant is growing.  These cuttings are taken from non-woody plants such as coleus.
  • Softwood – taken from new growth of woody plants as it begins to harden (usually May to July).  Look for small leaves that have not reached full size yet to identify softwood.
  • Semi-hardwood – taken from new growth after the wood is mature (usually later in the summer, July to early fall).  Look for firmer wood and full-size leaves to identify semi-hardwood.
  • Hardwood – taken from shoots that grew in the previous summer.  These cuttings are usually taken in winter or early spring, during a plant’s dormant phase.  Look for firm wood that does not bend easily.
coleus
You can take a stem cutting of herbaceous plants, such as coleus, whenever they are growing.

Best Time To Take Leaf Cuttings

The best time to take a leaf cutting is when the plant is healthy.  Avoid taking plants with yellow leaves due to nutrient deficiencies or sick-looking leaves from water stress.

chlorosis
Avoid taking leaf cuttings from plants with chlorosis (yellow leaves).

Since cuttings do better in warm temperatures, it helps if you take the cutting at a time when it is easier to keep it warm (spring or summer).

If successful, the leaf will produce roots and shoots to make a new plant.  Usually, the “mother” leaf itself disintegrates and does not remain as part of the new plant.

Remember that not all plants can be propagated by leaf cuttings.

Best Time To Take Root Cuttings

The best time to take a root cutting is when the plant is dormant.  This is also when the roots contain the most stored energy.

The roots that are cut to form a new plant will need this energy to create new shoots and leaves.  The new shoots create their own roots, and the original roots disintegrate.

Remember that there are only a few species that you can propagate by root cuttings.

What Is The Best Temperature For Plant Cuttings?

According to the University of Missouri Extension, a temperature of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 27 degrees Celsius) will hasten rooting for plant cuttings.  Of course, there is a difference between air temperature and soil temperature.

According to Michigan State University, the growing medium (soil) should be 5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) higher than the air.  This will encourage calluses and roots to grow faster than shoots.

To keep the growing medium warmer than the air, heating from the bottom is your best bet.  For example, this heating mat from Gardener’s Supply Company will keep the soil warmer than the air around it, which is useful for rooting cuttings and seed germination.

Remember that cold water can reduce the temperature of your cuttings if you mist them with it.  Consider using warm (not hot!) water in your spray bottle to avoid exposing cuttings to cold.

How Long Does It Take To Grow A Plant From A Cutting?

In most cases, it will take at least a month to grow a plant from a cutting.  Depending on the type of plant and environmental conditions, it can take many months to grow a plant from a cutting.

Remember: you need to account for the time it takes the plant cutting to root, and also the time it takes to grow shoots and leaves to become an established plant.

How Long Do Plant Cuttings Take To Root?

According to the University of Florida, plant cuttings will start to take root within a few weeks.  The longer you let a cutting grow, the stronger the root system will become.

If you rooted your cutting in water, I would suggest transplanting it into a container with soil.  This will give the roots a chance to absorb nutrients from the soil before you transplant outdoors.

How To Encourage Roots To Grow From A Cutting

There are several ways to encourage roots to grow from a cutting, including:

  • Maintain the proper temperature
  • Provide adequate humidity
  • Use rooting hormone

As mentioned earlier, a good temperature for rooting plant cuttings is 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Keep the growing medium 5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding air.

Plant cuttings need humidity, so keep the growing medium moist.  Covering a plant cutting with clear plastic helps to retain humidity, which means faster rooting.

You can also use a humidity dome to provide one or more plant cuttings with consistent humidity.

A rooting hormone is another good way to encourage roots to grow faster and stronger from a cutting.

What Is The Best Rooting Hormone?

According to the Michigan State University Extension, rooting hormone has the following benefits:

  • Easier rooting for plants that have trouble rooting
  • Roots are produced sooner on cuttings
  • Root growth is more uniform
  • Plant cuttings produce more roots
  • Roots grow faster

To use rooting hormone, all you need to do is dip the base end of the plant cutting into the mixture.  Then, plant the cutting normally in a container with the growing medium you want to use.

Remember that liquid rooting hormone formulas are usually more effective than powder formulas.

Be sure to use gloves to protect your hands when using rooting hormone, and follow the instructions on the package label.

You can learn more about how to promote root growth in plants in my article here.

Can You Put Cuttings Straight Into Soil?

You can put cuttings straight into soil, and there is a chance that they will take root and grow into healthy plants.  However, it might be better to wait to put your cuttings into soil.

First of all, some cuttings will root better if you expose them to the air first.  When you leave a cutting out, it has time to dry up and “scab over” the wound before you put it in the soil.

For example, I have had more luck propagating jade leaf cuttings after leaving them out for a few days to dry before planting the cut ends in the soil.

In addition, rooting hormone may be necessary for plants that are difficult to root.  Rooting hormone will also cause plants to produce more roots in less time.

Just remember that when you put cuttings into soil, you will need to maintain proper moisture to keep them alive.

What Soil Is Best For Cuttings?

According to the North Carolina State University Extension, the best growing medium for plant cuttings has the following properties:

  • sterile (this means that the medium is clean and free of diseases – don’t reuse old potting mix that might contain diseases)
  • low in fertility (this means nutrient levels are low, since too much fertilizer can burn plants)
  • well-drained (this means that the medium does not hold too much water for too long)
  • soilless (this means that the medium does not contain soil, which can hold soil-borne diseases)

Some common materials used to make a mix for plant cuttings include:

  • coarse sand (large grains)
  • peat moss (retains moisture)
  • perlite (holds water and releases it when needed)
  • vermiculite (similar to perlite)
  • blood meal (adds nitrogen)
  • bone meal (adds phosphorus)
  • lime (adds calcium)
perlite
Perlite is one ingredient you can use in a soil-less potting mix for plant cuttings.

The Penn State University Extension suggests that you can make four gallons of soilless media by combining:

  • 2 gallons of peat moss
  • 2 gallons of perlite (or vermiculite)
  • Nutrient supplements as needed (blood meal, bone meal, lime, etc.)
  • Water to moisten before use

Do Cuttings Need Light To Root?

Cuttings do need light to root.  For one thing, light provides the energy for a cutting to form a callus (to heal the wound where the plant was cut).

Light also provides energy for a plant cutting to produce roots.  In fact, according to the Michigan State University Extension, light is one of two primary factors that determines root development (temperature is the other factor).

A lack of light delays rooting, but too much light can overheat the growing media or the plant itself, causing stress.  The light levels should be uniform during propagation from plant cuttings.

The best way to do this is to use a grow light to provide uniform light for a plant in an otherwise dark room. You can do this with LED grow lights, which don’t give off too much heat.

LED lights
LEDs are energy efficient, since they do not give off much heat.

Do Cuttings Need Fertilizer?

Cuttings may need some fertilizer, especially if you opt to use misting to maintain moisture levels.  According to the Michigan State University, misting plants often can leach nutrients out of soilless plant mixes (such as the ones recommended for cuttings).

If cuttings lack nutrients, cuttings can get chlorosis (yellow instead of green coloring on leaves and stems).  The roots may also be delayed and slow to grow.

To avoid this, use a small amount of fertilizer dissolved or mixed into the water used to spray mist onto plant cuttings.

Do Cuttings Need Leaves?

Cuttings do not necessarily need leaves, at least at first.  For example, root cuttings do not have any leaves at all.

Instead, the root cutting forms new shoots and then leaves.  Eventually, the shoots grow new roots.

ginger root
Ginger is a root that has no leaves, but it will sprout and grow into another plant given enough time.

A stem cutting with leaves will have an easier time establishing itself, since it can use the leaves for photosynthesis (or, as a last resort, as a source of energy and nutrients).

Of course, a leaf cutting is already a leaf itself.  However, it will need time to grow new roots, shoots and leaves until it is established.

Conclusion

Now you know what a plant cutting is and some of the different methods you can use to clone plants by cuttings.  You also know how to take plant cuttings and how to speed up root formation.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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