Plant Propagation: How to Multiply Your Plants for Free

Save money and get more plants for free! Follow these plant propagation steps and learn how to make plant cuttings.

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lavender cuttingsSusie McCaffrey / Alamy Stock Photo

If you like to save money, you’ll love the idea of rooting stem cuttings to multiply your plants. It’s pretty simple — find a straight species, an older cultivar or plant not under a patent, clip off a juvenile section of the plant’s stem, then coax roots to grow from it.

Just think, you can clone as many examples of the mother plant as you wish for the cost of potting medium and a jar of rooting hormone.

“Because many plants root readily from cuttings, this is one of the most popular forms of plant propagation, especially for trees, shrubs and vines,” says Justin Hancock, horticulturist at Costa Farms. “Propagating with cuttings doesn’t usually interfere with the plants’ growth, and you don’t need to worry about pollinating a flower and waiting for the seeds to ripen — or digging up the plant to take root cuttings.”

Stem cuttings can be taken in spring, summer or fall, depending on the species. Pliable spring cuttings are called softwood cuttings. Semi-hardwood cuttings are a little more rigid and are gathered in late summer. Finally, hardwood cuttings are taken when plants are dormant in late fall or winter, stored for the cold months, then rooted the following spring. Check out 11 vegetables you can regrow with kitchen scraps.

Benefits of Plant Propagation

The benefits of rooting cuttings versus starting from seed? “It gives you an exact clone of the one you propagated from,” Hancock says. “Seeds, because they’re a combination of the mother and father plants’ DNA, usually provide some variation.”

Depending on the species, stem cuttings also give you a bigger plant, faster. You can also grow succulents from cuttings.

How to Root a Softwood Cutting

  1. Snip off a four to six inch section of new growth, cutting immediately above a node (the swollen area where a leaf forms) and trim the cutting stem so a node is close to the base. Take cuttings early in the morning when the plant tissues have the most moisture.
  2. Remove leaves from the bottom half of the stem. This reduces moisture loss while leaving some foliage for photosynthesis.
  3. Coat the base of the stem in rooting hormone to help stimulate root growth and reduce rot.
  4. Insert the bottom inch of stem with the rooting hormone into a pre-moistened mix of half peat moss and half vermiculite. Firmly tamp soil around the stem.
  5. Mist stem and leaves with a spray of water, then loosely place a clear plastic bag over the plant to increase humidity.
  6. Place the covered plant six inches below a fluorescent light. Remove the plastic cover and transplant when roots are coming out of drainage holes or pressing against the sides of the container.

Plus, here are 24 genius gardening hacks you’ll be glad you know.

Plants to Propagate by Cuttings

  • Abelia
  • Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia)
  • Bittersweet (Celastrus)
  • Cassiope
  • Chaste tree (Vitex)
  • Chocolate vine (Akebia)
  • Cotoneaster
  • Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia)
  • Deutzia
  • Flowering quince (Chaenomeles)
  • Fothergilla
  • Heavenly bamboo (Nandina)
  • Lantana
  • Lavender
  • Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
  • Smokebush (Cotinus)
  • St. John’s wort (Hypericum)
  • Summersweet (Clethra)
  • Plumbago
  • Virginia sweetspire (Itea)
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis)

Up next, learn these 14 tips for bringing plants inside and caring for them through winter.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.