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Propagate your plants with stem cuttings

Published on September 18th 2020
A close up of a flower
Propagation by cuttings is a widely practised means for multiplying plants, and in our South African climate, one's assurance of success will be quite high.
One of the biggest advantages of multiplying plants by means of cuttings is that all plants that will come from this will be true to type - something that is not that easy when growing from seed. Another great advantage of multiplying plants by cuttings is that you will have much bigger plants in less time compared to growing plants from seed.
Cuttings can be taken from stems, buds, leaves, and even roots. Those made from stems are most common and there are three types: softwood, semi-hardwood, and hardwood cuttings.

Types of stem cuttings

  • Softwood cuttings
These are made from the softer part of the stem with the growing tip still intact. Side shoots are mostly used for softwood cuttings and in the case of annual or perennial plants; one should try and take the cutting as near as possible to the bottom part of the plant. Spring is the ideal time to take softwood cuttings.
Not sure how to take softwood cuttings? Dig into the easy how-to guide below to learn how to do it step-by-step.

Grow from softwood cuttings

A softwood cutting is a shoot terminal with the growing tip intact. They are mostly taken very early in the season before there is any sign of hardening in the new shoot. They can take about 4 - 8 weeks to root and herbaceous plants (those plants that die down in winter) are usually best propagated by taking 8 - 10cm softwood cuttings in Spring. They include: Chrysanthemum, Fuschia, Dahlia, Hydrangea, Impatiens, Pelargonium and geranium. However, in this how-to guide, we took softwood cuttings from lavender which is not a herbaceous plant.

A bottle of wine sitting on top of a green plant
  • Semi-hardwood cuttings
Semi-hardwood, also called semi-ripe, means the stems are partly mature and not yet fully hard or woody. In the summer, side shoots formed during the growing season will make good semi-hardwood cuttings. The bottom part of the cutting should be nice and firm and the top part should be rather firm but not hard at all. Deciduous and evergreen shrubs are good specimens for semi-hardwood cuttings.
A coral in the sand
Summer herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme make for perfect semi-hardwood cuttings.
  • Hardwood cuttings
Hardwood cuttings are usually taken in the following season from mature wood. Big and sturdy branches will not be ideal - rather use side shoots that are firm and hard. Hardwood cuttings can be propagated directly in your garden bed and they don't require as much care as softwood cuttings. They do however take much longer to root.
Try your hand at hardwood cuttings by using the easy how-to guide below.
A person holding a cup
In summary:
- Softwood cuttings are usually taken in spring when shoots are still soft and juicy;
- Semi-hardwood cuttings are taken a bit later in the summer when the shoots have grown a bit and have become more firm;
- Hardwood cuttings are made from trees and shrubs at the end of the growing season when their stems are completely firm.

Tips for taking cuttings

  • When selecting material to propagate ensure you take a stem that is healthy and disease-free.
  • Cuttings are best taken in the morning so as to prevent wilting.
  • Use sharp, clean tools when taking cuttings to ensure you eliminate any chances of disease transmission.
  • Select a shoot that is non-flowering as it will root more easily.
  • Although some plants root better than others, investing in a rooting hormone powder can speed up the process and increase the chances of success.
  • It's important to use soil and containers that drain well. Waterlogged soils can lead to rotting and fungal infections on the cutting's stem and roots.
  • When propagating by cuttings, larger leaves can be cut back in half to reduce water loss by transpiration.
  • Ensure the soil stays moist throughout the rooting stage and keep your cuttings in a sheltered spot, out of direct sunlight and harsh winds.
A plant in a glass bowl

For more ways in which you can multiply your plants, dig into the article below!

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