Free Plants From Easy Cuttings: How to Snip ‘n’ Stick
Once you realize a little snip off a plant can create a whole new one, your garden possibilities are limitless—and free!
Whether you’ve seen a plant you love in your neighbor’s garden or want to buy only one and grow many, knowing when and how to snip can be the key to creating paradise. When I began gardening, I’d wished all books were written in simple language. Why not have codes like cookbooks, with the degree of difficulty stated? Well, this is just such an article. No Cupressocyparis leylandii (Latin/Greek names) here.
Although most plants can be propagated using various methods, cuttings are from the “easy” category. Raising trees from seed or layering is slow, grafting is better, and root division guarantees a new plant, but you might need to help your neighbor dig and divide.
With this in mind, I’ve snipped for simplicity and give you everything you need to know here!
Taking a Vine Cutting
How to Start a Plant With Leaves and Vines
- Whole leaf cuttings can be taken any season. Cut healthy, mature leaves from the parent plant close to the base of the leaf stalk. Slightly nick the veins at intervals since the new plantlets form at the cut surfaces of large leaf veins.
- For African violets and succulents like aloe, snip ‘n’ stick on equal parts peat and coarse sand so each cut just touches the surface.
- For begonias, geraniums, and vines, snip ‘n’ stick on same as above, adding a bit of nutrients and soil.
Whole Leaf Cutting Process
Starting With Stem Cuttings
- Start softwood cuttings in spring to early summer from new growth. Use stem tip cuttings from healthy, close-noded shoots about 4–6 in/10–15 cm long. Should be soft and almost succulent—if bent they will snap or squash if pressed.
- Trim each cutting just below a node; remove its lower leaves. It will root within two weeks on average.
- For basil, boxwood, carnation/pink, coleus, dogwood, geranium, ginkgo, hop (from female tips), hyssop, ivy, Japonica/flowering quince (lateral shoots), mulberry, sage, spider plants, plum/cherry/ peach (Prunus), thyme, and witch hazel: Snip ‘n’ stick in water with a piece of wire netting over the jar and the stem about 1–2 “ deep.
- Note: With all herbs, the more you use, prune, or divide them, the quicker they grow. Once you let the flowers mature and go to seed, they stop.
Softwood Cutting Process
Pruning: How to Get Your Neighbor to Say "Yes" to Clippings
The following is for anise tree, bay laurel, boxwood, camphor tree/cinnamon, clematis, frankincense, gardenia, grape, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lemon balm, Leyland cypress—and in late summer, magnolia, mint, morning glory, myrtle, nightshade, olive, oregano, passionflower, pepper tree, periwinkle, pistachio, rosemary, sage, thyme, wax myrtle, plum/cherry/peach, and shrubs:
- Greenwood Cuttings: early to mid-summer from slightly more mature wood (when growth begins to slow). These cuttings root less readily but survive better than softwood cuttings for gardenia.
- Semi-Ripe Cuttings: take the shoots or ripened stems (thickened and harder) mid to late summer through fall. These are less prone to wilting since the stems are firmer and woody. Cuttings will bend without snapping and not crush. Have your pot ready with holes poked in the soil for transplanting. Be very careful not to leave the little shoots exposed to drying or the sun – retaining their moisture is important.
- Snip, Trim, Dip ‘n’ Stick in Earth: trim off a few of the bottom leaves and dip in rooting compound which protects the new plant from disease.
Where to Cut a Stem
Take these at the end of the growing season from fall through spring when the tissues are fully ripened/fully mature. They are easiest to maintain in a healthy condition but are often slow to root and best if taken with a heel. Snip, trim, dip, ‘n’ stick in earth with added perlite, sphagnum moss, or peat and sand for caper bush, currant, elder, grape, honeysuckle, jojoba, mulberry, nutmeg, poplar, roses, fig, willows, or leafless deciduous and broad-leaved or glossy-leaved evergreens such as holly and rhododendrons (waxy leaves develop slowly and wilt easily when younger).
Hardwood Cutting Process
Take these mid to late autumn or in early spring. They'll work best if taken from a plant when it is most dormant. While it is easier for a root cutting to develop shoots than a stem cutting to form roots, not all root cuttings develop as readily. Root cuttings from variegated plants will have only plain green leaves.
Select plants with thick roots (about as thick as a regular pencil). You can use thinner cuttings but make them much longer than the ideal pencil width and 2-4 in/5-10cm in length. Thinner cuttings will do better if placed horizontally rather than upright for herbs.
Divide and Multiply
Dividing the roots is the easiest method of all and most commonly used.
- The secret of successful division is always to have more root than shoot, to cut away excess foliage, and to keep the divisions moist and sheltered until established.
- Divide plants in late summer or early spring (when it's warm and mild) every 3-4 years, after flowering, when growth is minimal.
- Don’t allow roots to dry out. New divisions should be replanted immediately. You can wash the roots to make it easier to disentangle them for complete division.
- Snip, trim, dip, ‘n’ stick in same earth or add nutrients to starter soil with a little of the same earth it came from.
- This method works for cardamom (seeds in autumn), cattail (subject to statutory control—Australia), comfrey, iris, goldenrod, fennel, French tarragon, ginger, hop (spring only), hostas, Jacob’s ladder, lemon balm, licorice, lovage, mint, oregano, periwinkle, rhubarb, sage, tansy, thyme, trillium (by seed can take up to 3 years!), valerian (remove flowers to encourage rhizome growth), and wasabi.
Watching Your Snips Grow Is Amazing!
Starting With Suckers
- Not all plants need lifting to separate them. Many produce new plantlets around the parent.
- Dig these up and remove in spring, which helps the parent retain its shape.
- Scrape back the soil, exposing the base of the plant and carefully pulling off the long suckering root where it joins the parent.
- Cut back its main root to just below the fibrous feeding roots. If there are several shoots on the sucker, divide the main root so that each shoot has its own roots. Cut back the top growth by about half, then pot each sucker in soil-based potting mix, and allow to root in high humidity – 59F/15C.
- Some (like strawberries) produce rooted runners, while other perennials produce mats of individual rosettes. Lift a mat and pull it apart gently or lift just a few from the edge, then replant. The absolute easiest I’ve found are herbs that have rhizomes or creeping roots.
- You can cut, snip, and stick pretty much anywhere, and if you keep them moist, they’re bound to grow.
The Latin/Greek terms do come in handy when looking for very specific plants. The little cuttings I planted of Cupressocyparis leylandii/Leyland Cypress are doing well. Cuttings really are easy and I wish you the best in creating your paradise!
All Cutting Types and Additional Processes
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.