Create Oodles of New Plants

"Judy can make a pencil grow from a cedar branch," my friend Richard proclaimed when he gave me some cuttings from a fig tree. It took me a minute to get the meaning, but then the mental image hit me… I couldn't resist using my Photoshop experience to send this photo to Richard! (By the way, I have two fig trees growing successfully from those cuttings.)

I have lots of vegetables, herbs, and flowers which I have started from seeds, but I've also been creating new plants from "Stem Cuttings". There are several reasons to grow from cuttings:
  • low cost
  • easier for certain plants than growing from seed
  • faster way to get a larger plant than from seed
  • easy way to share your establish plants with friends
  • best method to propagate many woody plants, especially shrubs

Cuttings are made by starting with a healthy established plant. Make your cuttings on a day when you have time to get them into their new growing environment without delay. Normally the stem is cut from its newest growth (the terminal end) to a point up the stem several inches - depending on the plant. If I'm pinching back my chrysanthemums to make them grow really thick, I pinch off stems about 4"; if it's a cutting from an elderberry bush, perhaps a piece 12" will work better. I like my cut to be about 1/4" below the joint of a leaf (or leaf bud if it's in dormant season), since this is where the roots will grow from.

Some plants I've successfully started from stem cuttings include:
  • grapes (which I've read is the best method, since they don't reproduce true from seed)
  • elderberries
  • figs
  • chrysanthemums
  • tomatoes (cut in summer to start new plants for a fall season)
  • goji berries
  • stevia
I'm sure there are many other good candidates lurking in my yard!

Fruit trees are not a good choice for stem cuttings, since most often one variety is grown on the "root stock" of a second variety, and you won't get a strong new plant from a stem.

If leaves are growing on the stem, remove lower 1/3 of them, snipping them close to the main stem. A powdered rooting hormone, sold at many garden centers, can be used to help stimulate root growth. You might put some into a clean container to dip your stems in, keeping the original bottle from becoming contaminated. I'm not that fussy - I dip the stems into the rooting hormone bottle itself.

Next step is to fill a pot with good soil and water it, or set up a nursery section in your garden and plant the cuttings directly in the garden soil. Insert a stick or pencil to make a hole for the stem cutting, insert the cutting to cover the bottom 1/3, and firm the soil around the stem. You can put several stems in one pot. Keep this moist and in indirect light. Eventually, you'll see new growth, but beware… the stem can store energy and might send out new leaves before it has made strong new roots. Leave the plant alone, keeping it watered, until you see good vigorous new growth. Then transplant to a new, permanent home.