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How to Propagate Plants From Stem Cuttings

Eugene is an avid gardener and has been passionate about growing things for over 40 years.

Making New Plants From Cuttings

Did you know that plants can be cloned? Yes you can make duplicate plants for your garden by taking cuttings. The new plant will have identical properties to the original plant and you can repeat this process lots of times. For many plants, the steps are simple and only takes minutes to do. This guide concentrates on taking semi-ripe cuttings from plants. These are pieces of new season growth from plants which are at the transition stage from softwood to hardwood.

I have concentrated here on on taking semi-ripe fuchsia cuttings because these plants are easily and successfully propagated using this method. Many other shrubs such as buddleia and laurel are easy to grow from cuttings. Hardwood cuttings are also possible and these are take in the autumn.


What Is a Cutting?

A cutting is simply a short branch/stem/leaf cut from the original plant. The end of the stem is pushed down into a sand/compost mixture in the ground or a container. Depending on whether the cutting is a softwood or hardwood type, it will develop its own roots within weeks or months, respectively, under suitable conditions.
The new plant retains the genetic make-up and properties of the parent plant. Since the cutting can be quite long, the plant can have a head-start on a plant produced from seed. Unfortunately not all plants can be propagated by taking cuttings.

All varieties of fuchsia are easy to propagate from cuttings

All varieties of fuchsia are easy to propagate from cuttings

Buddleia or butterfly bushes are also easy to propagate from cuttings

Buddleia or butterfly bushes are also easy to propagate from cuttings

What You'll Need

  1. Secateurs. If you don't have one of these you can use a sharp knife, scissors, wire snips (side cutters) or razor blade.
  2. Flower pot. Alternatively you can use a scissors to cut and use the bottom section of a milk container, soda bottle, etc.
  3. Potting compost and sand.
  4. Clear or semi-clear plastic bag (e.g. vegetable bag from store or freezer bag).
  5. Rubber band.


Step 1. Cut a Section From the Plant

Make a clean cut with a secateurs about 1/4 inch below a leaf joint. Alternatively use a sharp knife, loppers or wire cutter/snips. Roots sprout from the nodes where the leaves meet the stem. Don't just break off the stem from the parent plant as this will leave a ragged break which can become infected and the cutting may fail. Cuttings can be taken in mid-summer or when growth is semi-ripe. Semi-ripe means that new growth has hardened somewhat and is not quite as soft and lush as early in the season, but hasn't acquired the hardness of the previous years growth. If you can't plant the cuttings straight away, keep them in a plastic bag in a cool place to stop them drying out.

How long should the cutting be?

The length varies and depends on the plant/flower. Google the specific details of the plant in question. When I'm taking cuttings from a shrub, I generally cut a piece from 6 to 8 inches in length.

The cutting should be from 6 to 8 inches long

The cutting should be from 6 to 8 inches long

Cut just below a leaf node/union

Cut just below a leaf node/union

Step 2. Remove the Lower Leaves From the Cutting

Remove the leaves from the lower 1/2 to 2/3 of the cutting.

Remove the lower leaves from the cutting

Remove the lower leaves from the cutting

Step 3. Mix up the Compost

Mix equal amounts of sand and potting compost together. I just use my own home made compost. Sand increases drainage and prevents the mix becoming overly moist which can result in cuttings becoming infected and rotting. Fill the pot with this mixture to a level just below the rim (to facilitate watering).

Mix up equal quantities of compost and sand

Mix up equal quantities of compost and sand

Fill the pot almost to the brim with the mixture

Fill the pot almost to the brim with the mixture

Step 4. Push the Cuttings Down Into the Compost

If stems are firm, simply push them down as to the bottom of the pot. If they're softer, make a hole first with a pencil, handle of a spoon or stick. After inserting the cutting, firm the compost back around it.

Depending on the size of the pot, you can fit as many cuttings as possible into the available space. I usually fit about 6 to 8 cuttings into a 5 inch pot. Push them down so that about half the length is below the surface or you hit the bottom of the pot.

Push the cutting down into the pot

Push the cutting down into the pot

Step 5. Water the Cuttings

Water the cuttings. Allow excess water to drain away (don't put anything such as a saucer under the pot)

Step 6. Cover the Pot With a Bag

Plants unlike animals don't have a blood circulation system. So a process called transpiration is used to transport water and minerals throughout the plant. Heat and light acting on leaves causes water to evaporate via pores on the surface of the leaves. Water rises via the stem and roots to replace this evaporated water. This is known as capillary action. This is somewhat like the way a candle works and molten wax rises up the wick to replace wax burned in the flame. (or water rises in a piece of paper towel dipped in water).
When a cutting is taken from the original plant, it loses its roots. Without a source of water it can rapidly dry up. So it's important to keep it in a humid environment until it sprouts roots.

Cover the pot with a clear or semi-clear plastic bag, held in place with a rubber band. Make a hole in the top of the bag. This allows some ventilation, prevents the air from becoming overly humid, and discourages mold growth on the leaves.

Cover the pot with a clear bag, held on by a rubber band

Cover the pot with a clear bag, held on by a rubber band

Step 7. Place the Cuttings in a Suitable Location, and Wait.........

Locate the pot and cuttings in a northerly facing location (or southerly facing for Australian readers and the rest of you in the southern hemisphere!) out of direct sunlight. This helps to prevent them drying out and the air within the bag from becoming overly hot and humid. Depending on the plant, temperature, humidity etc, cuttings may root in as little as 2 to 3 weeks. Once 3 weeks have passed, check the bottom of the pot every few days. Eventually you will see roots poking out through the drainage holes in the bottom. At this stage, the cuttings can be carefully removed and the roots teased apart. Plant them into individual pots and allow them to grow on until they become pot bound and lots of roots start appearing from the bottom of the pot. Once this happens, the plants can be planted out to their final location.

This cutting has an extensive root system and is ready for planting

This cutting has an extensive root system and is ready for planting

Do I Have to Use Rooting Powder for Cuttings?

Not for fuchsia. However some plants are "fussy" and need a little encouragement to sprout roots. Also some plants, especially those with fleshy stems, can be prone to rot, so it's essential to use a sterile growth medium plus sterilise your secateurs or knife with boiling water or vinegar before taking cuttings. Rooting hormone is available as a powder or liquid. To use powder, dip the lower 1/2 inch or so of the cutting in water. Shake off the excess water and then dip the end of cutting in the powder and tap it on the side of the container to remove excess powder. Check the product for more specific instructions.

What Other Techniques are Used for Propagating Plants?

Propagation is the process of creating new plants from an existing plant. Taking cuttings is one technique, but there are several other methods:

  • Seeds - Many plants can be reproduced from seed and this technique is used when breeding new varieties of plants. However many plants won't breed true when propagated using this method because the seed carries genes from both parents. So for instance if you sow the seed of an apple, you may just end up with a tree which produces crab apples! Garden flowers grown from seed may also revert to their wild versions.
  • Grafting and budding - These are techniques commonly used to propagate fruit trees and roses respectively. A bud or stem from the donor plant is spliced onto what's called a rootstock. A rootstock is a root and section of stem, usually derived from the wild variety of the plant. e.g. wild rose. The wild variety of the plant has the advantage of being more vigorous and hardy than the artificially bred plant which is attached to it. Grafting is also necessary because some plants are difficult to propagate from cuttings.
  • Layering - The stem of a flexible plant is pinned down onto the ground and covered with soil. Roots sprout from the submerged section. Some plants propagate naturally this way.
  • Division - Shrubs, herbaceous perennials and bulbs can be propagated this way in the fall or spring (depending on the particular plant). The outer sections of the root clump are split up and replanted. This also gives the sections new vigour. Bulbs multiply in the ground and can be replanted.

Many shrubs are easy to grow from cuttings. Shrubs such as fuchsia, buddleia (butterfly bush) and laurel are particularly easy to grow.

The Complete Book of Plant Propagation by R.C.M. Wright and Alan Titchmarsh

This is a very good, detailed and comprehensive guide to propagating trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants using the various methods mentioned above. It doesn't appear to be available new on Amazon, but second hand copies with a "very good" condition are listed:

The Complete Book of Plant Propagation


Growing Plants from Seeds

You can of course grow lots of flowers and vegetables from seeds. Check out my seed sowing guide which shows you how to grow oriental poppies:

Gardening for Beginners: 10 Easy Steps to Sowing Seeds

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can you grow a plant from just the leaf?

Answer: Yes, you can do this with some plants. These are called leaf cuttings and the technique is mostly suitable for tender indoor plants and succulents. Plants that can be grown from leaf cuttings include begonias, streptocarpus, pineapple Lilly and Sinningia.

Question: What are appropriate rooting mediums?

Answer: You can use potting compost for rooting cuttings. For "non-fussy" type plants such as fuchsia mentioned in the article above, a mixture of sand and fine soil can be used.

Question: How can i stop my hostas from getting so big?

Answer: You can divide the plants in early spring.

Water the night before and then dig in a circle around the plant. Lever the root up out of the ground.

You can split up the plant using a washed spade, pruning saw or even pull apart sections.

Plant the sections using the same procedure as for planting a tree or shrub, in a hole twice as wide as the root section, with compost at the bottom of the hole.

Surround the root with compost, shake the root so that compost flows into any air spaces and compact with your hands or foot.

Leave a bowl effect on the surface of the compost and water. Continue to water until established.

This link should help you get started:

© 2013 Eugene Brennan


Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on May 18, 2019:

Thanks Cynthia!

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on May 18, 2019:

Very good article. I appreciate your comprehensive coverage of how to do softwood cuttings and how to maintain and plant them. I am always excited at this time of the year about everything that can potentially be growing in our yard!

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on May 09, 2019:

Hi Jackie.

Potassium is available in the form of potassium chloride which used to be an ingredient I think in farming fertilizers (e.g. 10 10 20). Potassium sulphate is another product that you can buy. Wood ash also has a potassium content (which is where the word "pot ash" came from) and you can add it to water as a feed. I Googled "potash plant foods" and several products were listed.

If you've covered the cuttings and they're in a pot, the soil shouldn't dry out unless it's very sandy or your climate is very hot (maybe they're in the ground and soil is sandy?). Usually I use a mixture of peat based potting compost (which holds water) and sand (which increases drainage and stops it getting too wet). Several products seem to be available for holding water in e.g.pots and hanging baskets. Google "products to keep soil moist". The Facebook group "Gardening Hints and Tips" may have some more ideas.

Jackie Symes on May 08, 2019:

Your cuttings examples are taken from what you called easy to grow cuttings. I love Bougainvillia and for the last four years I buy some more from a good source but except for the first year, (beginners luck), i have been unsuccessful. I always use hormone rooting powder and cover them with upside down clear plastic cups, with a light dusting of cinnamon round the top edge (that will be on the soil), to control mildew. Is there anything I can use as an additive to the water to keep the soil moist. I'm told that Potassium encourages flowering, what is the substance that encoureges rooting, and can I buy these on their own, as they are only included in such minute quantities in ordinary plant foods?

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on December 18, 2018:

If the cuttings are deciduous, this may be natural. It can also be caused by sudden changes in light or temperature. Make sure there's adequate ventilation also to prevent mould on cuttings.

BRIAN on December 18, 2018:

have cuttings in propogator been growing well but leaves just dropped off top for no reason

Sandra on October 11, 2018:

Excelente!! De mucha ayuda..bien detallado y buenas fotos. Muchas gracias

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on June 17, 2018:

Thanks Cynthia!

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on June 17, 2018:

This is a great article and i have a couple of different fuchsias to apply the lessons to. Thank you for the clear instructions!

Chris on February 23, 2017:

Very easy, and understandable, should be able to duplicate and create my own new plants. Thank you

Margie's Southern Kitchen from the USA on August 05, 2016:

Thanks for your very informative hub. I am going to try this on my rose bush!

Umm Haji on July 19, 2015:

very useful hub, thanks, I love planting and bonsai seems like a nice hobby to try

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on May 21, 2014:

Thanks Thelma for the comments, much appreciated!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on May 20, 2014:

I have been using cuttings for planting new plants. This hub is very informative and useful. Thanks for sharing. Have a nice day!

Donna Wallace from North Carolina on November 05, 2013:

Thanks, Eugbug, that's great to know! I will do the search, and see if I can override my not-so green thumb!

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on October 27, 2013:

Thanks Writer Fox, glad you liked it!

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on October 27, 2013:

This is a very informative and well-written article. Your photos add a great deal to the instructions for propagating plants. Enjoyed and voted up!

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on October 27, 2013:

Thanks Donna!

You can actually take hardwood cuttings now, during the period from fall to spring.

I can't post links here but if you Google north + carolina + hardwood + cuttings, the search turns up quite a good horticulture information leaflet from the NC State University on which plants can be grown from softwood and hardwood cuttings.

Donna Wallace from North Carolina on October 27, 2013:

I really enjoyed this hub. I knew you could grow new plants from existing plants, but I never knew how. This is something I'd like to try next spring!

Alexander from United States on October 26, 2013:

I did not know it was possible to grow a plant out of a cutting, but its good to know as it can potentially save a lot of time.

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on October 25, 2013:

You're welcome raguett! Glad you found it beneficial.

Meagan Elaine on October 25, 2013:

Thank you so much this is really going to help me next seaon. awesome range of information ...thanks again .

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on October 25, 2013:

Thanks for dropping in Wacky Mummy!

There's a lot of mystique about taking cuttings, using hormone rooting powder , proper humidity etc. Many plants however are eager to root from cuttings and don't need any special pre-treatment. In fact fences made from willow planks/posts have been known to turn into trees!

Wacky Mummy from UK on October 25, 2013:

Thank you for sharing a very informative hub, I've been gardening for years but have never heard about using cuttings to grow new plants!