How to grow plants from tip cuttings

Taking tip cuttings
Photo: Penny Woodward

Many soft-stemmed plants can be grown from tip cuttings at this time of year. Herbs like calamint, lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage are all suitable, as well as perennial flowering bushes like penstemon, ornamental sages and some native plants.

These are the steps to follow
Select containers. The trays or pots will need to be at least 7cm deep and to have drainage holes in the bottom. Several cuttings can be put into one container.

Fill the containers to the top with potting or seed raising mix (the thicker the cuttings the coarser the mix can be), firm down, and water thoroughly.

Using a stick or pencil, make holes in the surface, about 3cm deep. The spacing will depend on the plant from which the cuttings are being taken, but should generally not be less than 3cm, to allow for reasonable root development without too much tangling, and to avoid overcrowding of top growth which increases the risk of disease and damping off. When everything is prepared, take the cuttings.

Choose only the healthiest parts of the plant, and use a sharp knife or pair of secateurs. Cuttings taken in early spring are of new soft growth from the tips of the plant and 6–15cm long, depending on the spacing between the leaves. Cut just below a leaf node and carefully remove the lower leaves, cutting or pulling upwards, leaving only two or three pairs of leaves at the top.

Cuttings taken in late spring or early summer are treated the same way, but the wood is harder and less flexible and several cuttings can be taken from one piece of stem.
Dip the cuttings into honey (this helps to prevent fungal and bacterial disease) and insert them into the prepared holes, about one-third of the way into the soil, and firm around them.

When all the cuttings are in, water the container thoroughly, and keep it moist, but not wet, at all times. Place the cuttings in a warm position out of direct sunlight. If you’ve got a cold frame or greenhouse, put them into this.

Once new growth appears, the roots have started developing. Give them another week or so and the cuttings should now be ready to pot up or to be planted in the garden in a protected position. Cuttings in greenhouses can be planted into a good potting mix in individual pots and, when established, hardened off and planted out.

The time taken for the appearance of new growth will vary with the type of cutting, the type of plant and the time of year. Tip and softwood cuttings taken in late spring can be ready in one month.

If you're short of time, you can also take uttings from plants and just pushed them into the soil beneath the parent plant. The success rate will not be as high and they will need to be kept moist, but it is a much less complicated process.


By: Penny Woodward

First published: November 2019

Related topics

Gardening Basics, All Gardens, tip cuttings, cuttings, Propagating
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