Plant Cuttings

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Here are the types of cuttings you can take from herbaceous or woody plants.

Stem Cuttings

fig12.jpg (225x238 -- 10173 bytes)Tip Cuttings:   Tip cuttings (taken from the tip of plants) are used to propagate such common house plants as the velvet plant and jade plant.  Tip cuttings are generally 3 to 5 inches long and are removed from the parent plant at a point just below a leaf (Figure 1).

Stem Cuttings: Swedish ivy, pilea, pothos, philodendron, fittonia, etc. can be propagated by stem cuttings (sections of stems with leaves attached). The cuttings should have three or four leaves for best rooting.  Many outdoor plants such as most herbs, and even tomatoes, marigolds, and flowering shrubs can be propagated this way.

Helpful hint:  for leggy houseplant vines, consider ground-layering instead - just loop the long stem back so a portion touches the soil surface in the pot and peg or weight it in place.  It will root nicely without muss or fuss and you can later cut the loop in the stem at an appropriate location.

Heel Cuttings:  Woody stems fare best for rooting when a bit of the bark is taken with the shoot.  This is usually called a "heel" cutting.  The best way to get a bit of the "heel" is to bend the woody shoot down and tear it, taking a bit of the bark below the shoot with it.  Trim the thin tip off, dip in rooting hormone, and treat it like any other type of cutting.  This works well for roses, azaleas, philadelphus, and many other flowering shrubs.

cordylinestemcutting.jpg (150x187 -- 3290 bytes)Cane Cuttings: Cane cuttings are used for propagating dumbcane (dieffenbachia - cordyline variety shown at right), Chinese evergreen and similar plants which produce cane-like or leafless stems.  The cane is cut up into small pieces 2 to 3 inches long.  Place the cuttings on their sides slightly below the surface of the rooting medium (bury it to a depth of about 1/3 of the diameter of the cane).  A bud will eventually sprout and form a new stem when the cutting is rooted (Figure 2 above).  Keep the soil moist but not wet.  Keep in bright light, with no direct sun.  Covering with a plastic tent or inverted pop bottle will help hold in humidity as it roots.  

When new growth appears, usually at the outer tips of the stem cutting, the plant is ready to gradually acclimatize to room conditions.  Lift the plastic or other humidity-retaining covering a bit higher every day for a week.  Mist the young plant occasionally. At this point you can repot, planting it a bit deeper and after it is established, you can treat it as a mature plant.

Scions:  Leafless grape vine cuttings and various deciduous shrub cuttings are often taken in late fall for rooting.  These are called Scions, and are rooted differently.  Take hardwood cuttings in autumn, remove all leaves, and cut into eight to 10-inch lengths.  Plant the cuttings in a well-protected, sunny place with only the top bud above ground.  When freezing weather approaches, mulch the cuttings with several inches of pine straw to keep them from freezing.  Rooted cuttings should begin growth the following spring.  They can be moved to their permanent location once growth is established (usually by mid-summer).

Leaf Cuttings

Africanvioletcutting.jpg (150x150 -- 2863 bytes) A single leaf, carefully detached from many houseplants is often sufficient to start a new plant, and is the preferred method for propagating many plant, e.g., Adromischus, African Violets (shown), Crassulas, many Kalanchoes, Sansevieria and many cacti.  

For succulents, the leaf is allowed to dry for a few days so that the tissues seal and callus over at the base and is then placed against the edge of the plant pot with the stem end touching the potting medium.  This usually works better than burying the bottom end of the leaf as it is less likely to rot.  Keep the soil moist but not wet, and cover with plastic to retain humidity.  After some time, roots will be seen to form, followed by small leaves as the new plant starts to develop.

fig3-4.jpg (200x147 -- 10624 bytes)Whole Leaf Cuttings:  are prepared from leaves with or without their stalks (called petioles).  Roots and leaves will eventually form at the base of the leaf (Figure 3).  Peperomia and African violets are commonly started by whole leaf cuttings.

Leaf Section Cuttings:  can be used for propagating plants like the Rex begonia and snake plant. The leaves are cut into pieces, with the edge of the cuttings closest to the base of the parent plant inserted into the rooting medium (Figure 4).

fig5.jpg (180x132 -- 3933 bytes)Leaf Bud Cuttings:  consist of a single leaf attached to a piece of 1 to 1 1/2 inch stem.  The dormant bud, located where the leaf stalk joins the stem will give rise to a new shoot and branches (Figure 5).  The cutting should be inserted in the rooting medium with the bud about 1/2 inch below the surface.  English ivy is easily propagated by this method.

Cuttings from succulents or cactus should be allowed to dry for 1 to 7 days, depending upon species and size, before placing in a rooting medium.  The drying period will cause the cut edges to callous.  This will prevent the absorption of excessive amounts of moisture that could result in rotting.


Grafting is a method of providing a more delicate plant with a hardy, vigorous rootstock.  For rare plants, grafting is the only way of ensuring survival.  Rare but desirable natural "sports" can only be propagated this way. For example, the relatively new single-trunk apples are all developed from a "sport" that grew off a McIntosh apple tree in BC about 30+ years ago.  Several grafting configurations are used, depending on the material to be used.  Strict attention to hygiene is essential and cutting implements should be sterilized by dipping in methylated spirits or a diluted bleach and water solution.

Grafting Stock:  In all cases the stock must be compatible with the graft to prevent rejection, which usually means the same genus or at least the same family.  Check with your Country Extension Service or local Master Gardener, Agricultural College or reputable nursery for suitable rootstock for the plant you want to propagate.

Flat Grafts:  are probably the simplest system for a beginner to attempt, and suitable for plants with fleshy stems (e.g. cacti and succulents).  The stock is first cut flat with a single clean cut with a sterile scalpel blade, razor blade or very sharp knife at a suitable height, usually above soil level.  The material to be grafted (scion) is then cut cleanly across and the cut surface placed on top of the cut stock in such a way that at least part of the vascular elements just beneath the bark on both pieces are in contact.  The graft is held in place with an elastic band which goes under the bottom of the pot at its other end, or with "splints" gently but firmly tied to support the joint.

Side Grafting:
  is a variant of flat grafting used for relatively thin material in which the stock and scion are both cut at an angle to increase the area of cut stem and increase the chance of the vascular elements beneath the bark making contact.  This works well for most fruit trees, and even roses.

Split Grafting:  is another method used for thin material, in which the end of the scion is cut into a wedge shape and inserted into a "V" shaped incision in the stock. The stock is then bound tightly with cotton to hold the two parts together.  This works best for woody stems, not fleshy ones.  This type of grafting is often used to create topiary effects where one part of a shrub is grafted onto another shoot on the same plant - e.g. (Weeping) Ficus Benjamina.

See Division and Layering and Grafting and Budding for more propagation methods.

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