University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Rooting Cuttings                                 OH 5

By Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor

Rooting cuttings at home is an easy and economical way to increase your plant collection. It's also a good way to keep garden plants, such as geraniums and impatiens over the winter. Take cuttings from outdoor plants in late summer so you'll have actively growing plants to carry through the winter.

There are many types of cuttings, depending on where they are made. Root cuttings are just that, pieces of roots, that form new shoots. These are often made in winter or early spring before plants begin growing. Roots should be the thickness of a thick wire. Cut into one to two inch lengths, place on a moist rooting medium, cover, and keep moist but not wet. Some plants have underground stems, such as bee balm, which can be rooted but aren't true root cuttings.

Some common perennials from root cuttings:

Anemone, Windflower
Bergenia, Heartleaf Saxifrage
Brunnera, Siberian Bugloss
Campanula, Bellflower (some species)
Cimicifuga, Bugbane
Dictamnus, Gas Plant
Echinacea, Cone flower
Echinops, Globe Thistle
Epimedium, Barrenwort
Eryngium, Sea Holly
Filipendula, Meadowsweet
Gaillardia, Blanket Flower
Geranium, Perennial Geranium (some species)
Humulus, Hops
Ligularia, Leopard Plant
Lysimachia, Loosestrife
Macleaya, Plume Poppy
Mentha, Mint
Oenothera, Sundrops
Papaver orientale, Oriental poppy (after flowering)
Phlox paniculata, Garden Phlox
Pulmonaria, Lungwort (some cultivars)
Salvia, Sage
Symphytum, Siberian Bugloss

Softwood cuttings are just that, from soft wood such as new growth that is somewhat pliable. If woody stems, these are hardwood cuttings, which are from hard wood and generally harder to root. Softwood cuttings are generally made during the early part of the growing season for perennials, end of the season for annuals, or most any time for houseplants. Hardwood cuttings are often made during fall or winter while plants are dormant. Cuttings should be about 3 to 5 inches long, and should be cut from the parent plant just below a leaf or bud. Remove the lower leaves, if present, from the portion of the cutting that will be inserted into the rooting medium, leaving 3 to 4 leaves on the upper portion of the cutting for the best rooting for softwood cuttings.

Some common perennials from softwood cuttings (many more are possible):

Achillea, Yarrow
Arabis, Rockcress
Asters, hardy, Aster
Campanula, Bellflower
Chrysanthemum, Mum
Coreopsis, Tickseed
Dianthus, Pinks
Dicentra , Bleeding heart
Helenium, Helen's flower
Iberis, Candytuft
Penstemon, Beard tongue
Veronicas, Speedwell

There are other types of cuttings especially used with houseplants, such as leaf cuttings or leaf bud cuttings. In the latter such as with african violets and begonias, a leaf stem, with bud attached at the base, is inserted in the rooting medium. For leaf cuttings, notch the veins on a leaf such as of begonias, lay flat on the rooting medium and weight or peg down gently. New plants should arise from the leaf where the veins were notched.

Cuttings can be rooted in vermiculite, perlite, coarse sand, mixtures of sand or perlite with peat moss, or any other material that will support them, while remaining loose enough to allow air to reach newly forming roots. The material should hold enough water to prevent the lower end of the stem from drying, and it should also be free of insects and disease-causing organisms. Plants, such as gardenias, that prefer acid soil often root better in a mixture containing peat moss in addition to sand or perlite. Water is not a good medium to root most cuttings in because an adequate amount of oxygen can't reach developing roots. You'll get a sturdier root system if you use another rooting medium. Some very succulent plants such as coleus and mints, and some vining houseplants as swedish ivy, ivies, or philodendrons will root readily in water.

Place the rooting medium in a container, such as a flower pot, and settle in gently by tapping. Don't pack it down hard. Then insert the cuttings into holes made with a pencil, taking care not to crowd them too closely. Dusting the bases of cuttings, prior to sticking, with rooting hormone powder may increase your success with some hard-to-root kinds of plants, but many kinds of houseplants and herbaceous plants (annuals, perennials) will root satisfactorily without this treatment. Leaves of adjacent plants should just overlap. Water thoroughly to settle the rooting medium around the cuttings and hold them in place.

After inserting the cuttings into the rooting medium, place a polyethylene bag over the entire pot and fasten it tightly around the base. You may wish to support the bag above the cuttings with straws or small stakes. This bag helps maintain optimum moisture conditions for rooting cuttings. Place the pot where it will receive plenty of diffuse light, but no direct sunlight. A north- or east-facing window is a good choice, especially in warm, bright weather. Open the bag every day for a few minutes to allow fresh air to reach the cuttings and to prevent mold from forming.

Check the temperature near the window to make sure it doesn't drop below 55 or 60 degrees F at night. The cuttings will root faster if temperatures are 65 to 75 degrees F. It is not usually necessary to water the cuttings again for about 2 weeks. But check them periodically to make sure the "soil" doesn't become dry. The length of time needed for roots to form depends on the kind of plant, the temperature, and other factors. Many kinds of houseplants, coleus and such will root in 10 to 21 days.

When cuttings have developed several strong roots, they can be transplanted into potting soil. Don't yank rooted

cuttings out of the rooting medium by their stems or you may break off some of the newly formed roots. Instead, insert a broad, flat object, such as a table knife, into the rooting medium below the cutting and gently lift it out. Water thoroughly after potting and leave in diffuse light for a week to ten days until new growth begins. Some plants that wilt easily may benefit if the polyethylene bag is left over the tops for a week after potting.

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Revised  5/03