Many annuals, perennials, and shrubs can be propagated by taking stem cuttings. Most cuttings need the same general set of conditions to root, and this article will detail how to set up a successful cutting rooting operation in the back yard.
Materials needed for a successful cutting operation are potting soil, containers, a water source, shaded area, starter fertilizer and soil, and transition stage pots. For shrubs, rooting powder may also be needed. Most of these can be easily obtained.
Potting soil can be purchased in bag form cheap. Look for a soil mix comprised primarily of peat based material and the white vermiculite material. Avoid anything that resembles topsoil or compost. Window boxes, some annual flat carrying cases, or any wide shallow pot will work well for rooting cuttings in. Anything that can hold potting soil that is wide, shallow, and has good drainage holes in it. Rooting powder can be bought at some garden centers.
Locate an area that gets little or no sun at all. The north side of the house is ideal, as long as there isn’t an overflowing gutter or water that will drip off the roof onto the cuttings. There usually is a garden hose spigot on the house for easy access of water to the cuttings. Larger pots and rich soil, although not necessary, are often available. Starting fertilizer can be a time release fertilizer or organic matter incorporated into the soil.
Fill the pots with the potting soil in which to root the cuttings. Then take the cuttings from the plants during the time they root best. Most annuals and perennials root best in late spring from terminal cuttings. Taking terminal cuttings often allows for the pinching of the plant for a more full plant. Take cuttings from leafy stems rather than stems setting flowers. Take cuttings about two to three inches in length, making sure they have at least two good leaves on the upper half of the stem as the lower leaves will be removed. The cut end should be within a half inch of a leaf node for optimal rooting. Pinch off any leaves within the first inch of the cut. Due to plant patents on many newer varieties, first research the plant to make sure it is not a protected variety. Many older plants are not patented; classic varieties such as Autumn Joy sedum are in the public domain and can be propagated freely.
Water in the cuttings well with a fine mist or the softest spray preferable. Hit the cuttings with water ideally every few hours. I was only able to hit them with water in late afternoon and evening and I managed to root a good number of them. Cuttings must never dry out. Water lightly and frequently, to keep the leaves hydrated. Cutting trays should have good drainage so cuttings aren’t sitting in stagnant water.
Within a week, the cuttings will begin to show new life. Wait until new growth is apparent and gently tug on one or dig from under it with your finger to see if it has rooted. Try to have minimal disturbance as disturbed cuttings take longer to root. If the cuttings are rooted, they can be potted into transitional pots in order to gain some size before being planted into their permanent location. This step can be omitted and plants can be directly transplanted to their permanent location if care is taken to water and weed the plants until they are established.