Last updated on January 24th, 2022
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 gaps 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 an 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.
Quick 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 and 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 and Philadelphus.
- Cuttings of evergreen shrubs are best taken as a semi-hardwood cutting. These include Aucuba, Laurel, Conifers, Privet and 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 season’s growth, 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 an evergreen plant they will, of course, have foliage but if taking a cutting from a deciduous shrub, this is best done when they have dropped all of 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 in a cutting compost. We recommend that you mix coarse sand into your cutting compost to improve drainage and aeration. This will help the cutting to take root.
4. Water well and place in a location that receives sunlight, 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 planted into the garden. Some varieties take longer and it could be the following autumn before they can be transplanted.
The picture on the left is some evergreen Laurel cuttings that I have taken and the picture on the right is of some rose cuttings that I have taken in the same way, however, all the leaves have been removed because 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 your cutting 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 underneath the ground with a couple of buds above ground for the new plant to grow. They are generally carefree but water regularly during dry spells.
Softwood cuttings are usually taken in the 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 that 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 then dip the bottom of the cutting into the root (hormone) powder.
3. Your cutting then needs to be placed into a suitable container that is filled with cutting compost. We recommend you mix perlite into your cutting compost to improve drainage and aeration as this will help the cutting to root.
4. Finally water and cover the pot with a plastic bag, move to 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 the rooting process but this is not essential. Check the 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.
Quick 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.
Quick Tip 2: Remove the bag once a day to allow fresh air to circulate and avoid rotting off.
How to care for your cutting
So you have taken your cutting, but this is just the beginning. Here are a few pointers to help you keep them healthy.
- Cuttings 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.