Last updated on March 26th, 2021
Our site is reader supported, this means we may earn a small commission from Amazon and other affiliates when you buy through links on our site.
How to take cuttings, the complete guide
Taking cuttings is a method that is used to propagate most types of plants and shrubs. It is usually the easiest and quickest way to make more plants from your current stock and fill in any holes in the garden. If you have friends that have plants that you like then this is also an easy way to get your own at a very affordable cost. They also make excellent gifts for friends and family or you could try selling them on online sites such as eBay.
There are three main types of cuttings you can take. All types follow a similar method, but which type of cutting you take may depend on what plant you want to take the cutting from. All you need is a sharp cutting implement such as secateurs or a knife, some medium such as seed / cutting compost, perlite / sand and some rooting powder to encourage root growth.
Tip: Take the cutting first thing in the morning for best results when they are fresh
Hardwood and semi-hardwood cuttings
Semi-hardwood cuttings are usually taken in summer from growth that has started to mature but is not yet fully mature.
Alternatively, hardwood cuttings are taken after flowering has finished in the autumn and winter when plants are dormant. The cutting is taken from hardwood mature wood. Plants including Viburnum opulus, Viburnum davidii, the climber, Wisteria ‘Amethyst Falls’ and Skimmia japonica are just a few of the plants where cuttings are taken in this way.
Other plants where a hardwood cutting can be taken include:
- Most deciduous shrubs including Abelia, Buddleia, Cornus Alba, Forsythia, Philadelphus
- Cuttings of evergreen shrubs are best taken as a semi-hardwood cutting. These include Aucuba, Laurel, Conifers, privet, Cotoneaster.
- Climbing plants including Vitus (grapes), Lonicera (Honeysuckle) and Jasminium
- Fruit plants which include Ribes (all currants red white and black), gooseberries, mulberry and figs
- Ornamental trees such as salix
How to take hardwood and semi-hardwood cuttings
1. Again check that the plant is healthy and has had plenty of water before taking the cuttings. Cut a piece of mature or semi-mature growth that is around 6-12 inches (15-30cm) long from the current seasons growth and remove all the leaves on deciduous varieties if needed and leave one set of leaves on for evergreen plants. If you are taking a cutting from evergreen plants they will of course have foliage but if taking cutting from deciduous shrubs, this is best done when they have dropped all their leaves for the winter.
2. Create a fresh clean cut so that you have a cutting that is approximately 6-12 inches (15-30cm) long and cut the top just above a bud with the cut sloping away from the bud. Next dip the bottom of the cutting into root (hormone) powder.
3. Your cutting then needs to be placed into a suitable container into cuttings compost. We recommend you mix coarse sand into your cutting compost to improve drainage and aeration which will help the cutting to root.
4. Water well and place in a light place but not in direct sunlight. Ideally place in a cold frame or greenhouse. Usually they won’t need checking until the spring when they should start to root and can be transplanted into larger pots before being planting into the garden. Some varieties take longer and it could be the following autumn before they can be transplanted.
The picture on the left are some evergreen laurel cutting that were taken and the picture on the right are rose cutting that were taken the same way but all leaves are removed as they are deciduous.
Growing hardwood cuttings in the ground
Another way you can grow a hardwood cutting is to grow them outside in a sheltered position instead of in pots. Dig a trench for the cuttings and fill the base with a layer of sand. Then mix some good quality compost into the trench and insert the cutting aiming to have two thirds of the cutting under ground with a couple of buds above ground for the new plant to grow. They are generally care free but water regularly during dry spells.
Softwood cuttings are usually taken in spring and summer, although June and July would be perfect as you are taking a cutting from the current years growth. These cuttings are taken from fresh, soft new growth where the plant cells are very active and should root easy. Plants such as lavender, geraniums, bidens, fuchsia, verbena and summer annuals are usually taken this way.
How to take a softwood cuttings
1. First ensure that the plant you are going to take the cutting from is healthy and not dehydrated (not wilting through lack of water). Cut a piece of the new growth which is not flowering and is around 2-4 inches long. Remove all but the top leaves.
2. Create a fresh clean cut so that you have a cutting that is approximately 3-4 inches long and cut the top set of leaves by half and dip the bottom of the cutting into root (hormone) powder.
3. Your cutting then needs to be placed into a suitable container into cutting compost. We recommend you mix perlite into your cutting compost to improve drainage and aeration which will help the cutting to root.
4. Finally water and cover the pot with a plastic bag in a warm and light place but not in direct sunlight. They will grow faster in a greenhouse or indoors. You could place the cutting into a propagator with heating underneath to help speed up rooting but this is not essential. Check cuttings after two weeks and pot on into small 7cm pots if they have enough root, if not leave a little longer until they have more root.
Tip 1: When covering the pot with a plastic bag try inserting canes to hold the bag off the cutting as this can cause them to rot.
Tip 2: Remove the bag once a day to allow fresh air to circulate and avoid rotting off .
How to care for cutting
So you have taken your cutting, but this is just the beginning. Here a few pointers to help you keep them healthy.
- Cutting have no roots so do not allow them to dry out. Keep them damp and well watered especially if grown under cover. If you have taken softwood cuttings, be careful not to over water and cause them to rot off as this can easily happen.
- Once they have a good root system prick them out into small 7cm pots at a ratio of 1 cutting per pot. If you have grown your cutting one per pot already from day one, then once they have established root systems that fill the pot they can be planted straight out.
- Some plants such as fuchsias and summer annuals such as surfinia will benefit from being pinched out to make them into bushier multi-stemmed plants.