Propagating Plants Through Cuttings

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Propagating plants through cuttings and growing them inside during the winter to plant out in your garden next spring is an easy way to save a few dollars. When I started gardening taking cuttings, or clippings as some call it, always intimidated me until I discovered how easy it was to do.

For this example I’m taking cuttings from a Coleus in my garden that I’m going to recycle as a houseplant this winter. The first thing you have to learn is where to cut the plant along the stem. I’ve marked the photo of the plant stem above with were the location of the nodes are on the stem. You want to cut, with a clean, sharp tool, just below these nodes. When the cuttings begins to root, it is from these spots that the roots will emerge from.

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The next step is remove the lower leaves and any petioles on the plant stem. These will eventually die off because there aren’t any roots to feed them, so go ahead and cut them off leaving a clean stem like the image on the right.

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If you’d like to increase the odds that your cuttings will root and survive you can dip the cut end in rooting hormone that you can purchase at just about any garden center around Chicago. This step isn’t always necessary but if you’re a beginner at propagating plants go ahead and use a rooting hormone. Once you’ve dipped your cuttings into your rooting hormone you can gently insert it into a pot with some moist potting soil covering all the nodes, so that roots can develop from them. 

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You could also skip the rooting hormone, pot, soil and simply place your cuttings in water to root over the winter and transplanting them to soil once you have roots established.

How to Care for Your Cuttings

Place your cuttings in a bright location like a south facing window.
Protect your cuttings from extreme heat and cold. Too hot and your cuttings will dry out because there are no roots to take up water. Too cold and your cuttings will rot because there is no warm to stimulate root growth.

It will a couple of weeks for the roots to develop. If you potted your cutting; avoid moving it or pulling it out of the soil so you don’t break any of the developing roots. Keep the potting soil moist but not soaking wet to prevent rot or fungus from killing your cutting.


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  • I'm rotting some coleus right this minute! (I love your representation of roots!) I place the cut stems in water and wait for them to root before transplanting. This has less to do with theory than the fact that I don't have an empty pot at hand right now! This year I've added rooting hormone (that makes the water sludgy) to the water, and I'll see how that goes.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Are you "rotting" or rooting some coleus? Btw, I bought this orange coleus because you talk so much about the color orange that it is starting to grow on me. :0)

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I don't seem to have much luck rooting cuttings in water. They usually end up rotting instead of rooting! I tried it again with coleus cuttings, and it doesn't look like any of them are going to make it.

    In soil with some rooting hormone seems to work best for me. I've also found using a ziploc bag, with a short piece of bamboo stake to keep the bag off the cutting works really well as a mini-greenhouse. It keeps the leaves hydrated before roots form. I usually zip it around the pot, and only use the bag for about a week,ten days for slower-rooting cuttings. Any longer and fungus can start to be a problem. Most herbacious cuttings seem to have enough roots by then that the cutting doesn't wilt.

    I was never much of a fan of orange flowers or plants. I used to prefer softer colors, but orange and other brighter colors have been growing on me too the past couple of years.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    When I have more rotting than rooting in water it I've found that it is because the water is too cold. So I'll keep the cuttings in a warmer than normal area until they start too root.

    Good tip about the bamboo stakes and baggies.

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