A Guide to Propagating Plants Using Stem Cuttings

Propagating plants from stem cuttings is one the easiest ways to duplicate plants like herbs, houseplants, and shrubs. In this article, Briana Yablonski will share all you need to know about using this propagation method.

Stem cutting propagation. Close-up of a Peperomia prostrata cutting in a glass vase with water, for propagation, indoors. The cutting is a long thin trailing stem with small, succulent, round leaves reminiscent of turtle shells. Each leaf features a striking pattern of intricate silver veins against a rich green backdrop.

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While there’s no shame in purchasing a new plant at a nursery, propagating your plants is a valuable skill. Not only does it allow you to increase your plant collection, but it also lets you share your favorite plants with friends. Stem cutting propagation is one of the easiest ways to produce a lot of plants for cheap.

After you take a healthy stem cutting, you can either encourage it to form roots or graft it onto an appropriate rootstock. Both options will give you healthy new plants to enjoy.

Here we’ll cover the best types of plants for stem cutting propagation, how to take a proper cutting, and how to transform it into a healthy new plant.

What Types of Plants Can You Propagate Using Stem Cuttings?

Propagating plants from stem cuttings is an easy way to create new plants. The method works on everything from houseplants to herbs to woody shrubs.

Houseplants

Close-up of three houseplant cuttings in glass vases with water on a wooden table in a bright room. Curly Spider plant, Pothos plant and rubber plant, rooting in glass containers. The Spider plant, also known as Chlorophytum comosum, is a distinctive cultivar characterized by its curly and cascading leaves. Each leaf features a striking arrangement of light green foliage with creamy-white margins, creating a vibrant contrast and adding visual interest. A rubber plant cutting has a short stem with a large leaf of a rich dark green color with a glossy surface.
Expand your houseplant collection by taking cuttings from common indoor plants.

Are you looking to increase your houseplant collection? Fortunately, you can replicate many common indoor plants using stem cutting propagation. As long as the plant produces a distinct stem, it’s a candidate for this type of propagation. Here are some common houseplants you can propagate with this method:

  • Pothos
  • Fiddle leaf fig
  • Philodendrons
  • Jade plant
  • Baby rubber plant
  • Chinese evergreen
  • English ivy
  • Monsteras
  • Tradescantia

Herbs

Propagating small rosemary cuttings. Close-up of a gardener's hand in a gray glove planting rosemary cuttings into a peat seed starting tray, on a wooden table. Rosemary cuttings consist of small stem segments with several sets of leaves attached. The stems are woody and slender, with a light green to brownish coloration. The leaves are needle-like, arranged in pairs along the stem, and have a dark green color on top with a silvery underside.
Duplicate your herbs by taking stem cuttings for propagation.

If you want to share a piece of your prized rosemary plant with friends or duplicate your basil plant so you can enjoy a kitchen plant, turn to stem cuttings. Many perennial herbs and some annual herbs lend themselves well to this propagation method, including:

  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Basil

Woody Shrubs and Trees

Close up of bigleaf hydrangeas cuttings in small black pots with soil, against the backdrop of a light window. Bigleaf hydrangea cuttings consist of stem segments with several nodes and pairs of leaves attached. The stems are thick and woody, with a brownish coloration. The leaves are large, broad, and heart-shaped, with serrated edges and a deep green color. In one of the pots there is a small garden trowel.
Propagate woody plants through stem cuttings.

You can also use stem cuttings to propagate woody plants like ornamental shrubs and edible trees. You have two options when it comes to propagating woody plants with this method. You can place the cutting in a well-draining growing medium until it forms roots or graft it onto an appropriate rootstock.

Not all woody plants propagate well from cuttings, and some plants form roots more easily than others. The following plants are good contenders for propagating via stem cuttings:

  • Lilac
  • Dogwood
  • Viburnum
  • Willow
  • Blueberry
  • Elderberry
  • Forsythia
  • Clematis
  • Elm
  • Redbud
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hydrangea

The Different Types of Stem Cuttings

While most plants have stems, the type of stem varies depending on the species of plant and the time of year. Knowing the different types of stem cuttings allows you to choose the correct variety for propagation.

Herbaceous

Close-up of young Golden pothos cuttings in a glass of water against the background of potted house plants, on the windowsill. A Golden Pothos cutting comprises a section of vine with several nodes and leaves attached. The vine is slender, flexible, and a vibrant green color. The leaves are heart-shaped, glossy, and waxy, featuring prominent veins and a deep green color with golden-yellow marbling or edges.
Propagate soft-stemmed plants like coleus, mint, and pothos easily.

Fresh herbaceous stems are easy to bend, soft to the touch, and ripe for propagation whenever the plant is actively growing. You can propagate coleus, mint, pothos, and other similar plants from herbaceous cuttings.

Softwood

Close-up of Hydrangea cuttings with roots in a woman's hand against the background of small black pots with soil. Hydrangea cuttings consist of stem segments with several nodes and pairs of leaves attached. The stems are woody and sturdy, with a brown coloration. The leaves are broad and serrated, with a deep green color, and grow in opposite pairs along the stem.
Easily replicate plants like hydrangeas and penstemons from softwood stems.

Softwood cuttings come from the new growth on hardwood plants—this growth easily bends in your hands before eventually snapping. Since softwood cuttings come from parts of the plant that are actively growing, they contain a high concentration of plant hormones called auxins.

Therefore, softwood cuttings form roots more easily than hardwood cuttings. The best time to take softwood cuttings is in the spring or early summer since this softwood begins to harden later in the year.

Some plants you can propagate from softwood cuttings include hydrangeas, penstemons, birches, and magnolias.

Semi-Hardwood

Close-up of a man's hand holding a Boxwood cutting in a sunny garden. A Boxwood cutting consists of a small stem segment with several pairs of glossy, oval-shaped leaves attached. The stems are slender, woody, and often have a light green to grayish coloration. The leaves are densely packed along the stem, forming a compact and neat arrangement. Each leaf is dark green and leathery, with a smooth texture and a slightly lighter underside.
Use semi-hardwood stem cuttings to propagate evergreen plants effectively.

By mid-to-late-summer, the stems the plants produced at the beginning of the year become more rigid and turn to semi-hardwood stems. People often use semi-hardwood stem cutting propagation for evergreen plants, including boxwoods, rhododendrons, camellias, and hollies.

Hardwood

Close-up of Fig cuttings in a starter tray in the garden. The cells are filled with moist soil mixture. The stems are slender, with a light brown to grayish coloration and a slightly woody texture. The leaves are large, broad, and palmately lobed, with a green color and a smooth texture.
Mature hardwood stems are more difficult to root but work well for grafting.

Hardwood stems are the mature, rigid parts of woody plants like trees, shrubs, and woody perennials. All hardwood cuttings come from growth that is at least one year old.

Hardwood stem cuttings are typically more difficult to root, so don’t assume you can stick any hardwood stem in the ground and form a new plant. Some plants that can form roots from hardwood cuttings include figs, viburnums, and willows.

Although hardwood stem cuttings aren’t always the best propagation option for rooting, they work well for grafting. Grafting involves splicing two species of plants together. One plant—the rootstock— provides a vigorous, disease-resistant base. The upper plant—the scion— is the species with desirable fruit or aesthetic growth. Growers often use hardwood cuttings as the upper part of the graft.

How to Root Stem Cuttings

One of the easiest and most popular ways to use stem cuttings is by encouraging the cuttings to form new roots. To do this, you must follow the proper procedure. Otherwise, the stem cuttings may rot or wither before they can grow into a new plant.

Wait Until the Right Time

Close-up of a woman pruning a rose bush in the garden using pruning shears. A rose bush presents as a woody shrub with multiple stems branching out from the base. The stems are covered in thorns and support abundant foliage consisting of serrated, ovate-shaped leaves with a deep green color.
Take vegetative cuttings in spring or summer for best success.

While you can attempt to propagate vegetative plants via cuttings at any time of year, your odds of success will increase if you take the cutting during the warmer months. Even if you’re growing your plants in a protected indoor environment, the decreased daylight will cause plants to experience slow growth during the cooler months. Slowed growth means plants will face difficulties forming roots.

Propagate vegetative cuttings in spring or summer for the best chances of success, and take softwood, semi-hardwood, and hardwood cuttings at the appropriate times of the year.

Obtain a Healthy Stem Cutting

Close-up of pruners cutting the stem of a rose. A rose stem is slender and woody, adorned with sharp thorns along its length. It branches out into smaller stems and supports abundant foliage. The leaves are alternate and pinnately compound, consisting of several oval-shaped leaflets. Each leaflet has a serrated margin and a glossy, green surface.
Start with a healthy cutting containing at least four inches of stem.

To create a vibrant plant, you need to start with a healthy cutting. Look for healthy stems without flowers, and use a sharp, sanitized pair of pruning shears to make a clean cut. The cutting should contain at least four inches of stem and one leaf node.

The leaf node is the area where leaves emerge from the stem. If the stem doesn’t have any leaves, look for small dots or lines on the stem that indicate nodes.

Trim the Cutting

Close-up of a gardener's hands cutting a rose cutting with pruning shears above a bush in a sunny garden. This cutting has a strong pale green stem covered with small thorns and compound leaves. The leaves consist of oval leaflets that are dark green in color and have jagged edges.
The cutting should be trimmed below a leaf node.

After taking the initial cutting, trim it so it’s four to eight inches long. Make the cut just below a leaf node since the cuttings form roots from these nodes. Without a node, the cutting won’t have the proper growth cells to form roots.

Remove the Lower Leaves

Close-up of female hands pruning a rose cutting for further propagation, indoors, above the table. She trims the stem using green pruning shears. The rose cutting has an upright green stem and several compound leaves that consist of oval, glossy, dark green leaflets with jagged edges.
Cut or strip the lower leaves to prevent rot and reduce evaporation.

Remove all but the top few leaves from the cutting. Any leaves at or below the soil line are prone to rot, so ensure none are touching the growing medium. You should also remove extra leaves to lower the evaporation from plant leaves.

Dip the Bottom in Rooting Hormone

Close-up of Rose cuttings with stem tips covered with white powder - Rooting Hormone. On a table covered with paper there is a glass bowl with Rooting Hormone, scattered soil and a pile of rose stems. The stem is slender and woody, with a light green coloration. The leaves are oval-shaped, with serrated edges and a deep green color.
Apply rooting hormone to enhance root formation on stem cuttings.

Rooting hormone contains materials that mimic the plant hormones known as auxins. Therefore, adding rooting hormone to the bottom of your stem cutting increases the odds that your cutting will form healthy roots. Many stem cuttings will still root without the application of rooting hormone, so this step is optional.

If you choose to use rooting hormone, dump a little bit of the powder into a separate cup. You want to avoid dipping the cutting directly into the main container since this can lead to contamination. Aim to apply the hormone to the bottom inch of the stem cutting.

Place in Water or Well-Draining Medium

Once you’ve prepared your stem cutting, the next step is placing it where it can form roots. All types of stem cuttings will root in a well-draining growing medium, and some vegetative plants can also successfully form roots in water.

Rooting in Water

Close-up of rose cuttings in a transparent glass vase with water. Rose cuttings are strong, upright, green stems with compound leaves that consist of oval leaflets with jagged edges.
Easily root stem cuttings in water for new plant propagation.

Rooting vegetative stem cuttings in water is one of the easiest ways to form new plants. I can’t count the number of times I’ve trimmed off a piece of a houseplant, stuck it in water, and forgotten about it. A few weeks later, I wandered by and noticed the new roots growing from the base of the cutting.

Rooting cuttings in water has a few advantages besides ease. Since the cuttings sit in water, there’s no need to worry about soil moisture. The cutting-filled jars add a vibrant yet relaxing feel to homes and offices.

However, not all vegetative cuttings will root well in water. Some plants fail to form roots in water, and other plants produce spindly, weak roots. Therefore, propagating in a well-draining medium is the best option for many types of stem cuttings.

Rooting in Growing Medium

Close-up of several pots of rose cuttings growing indoors. Pots are filled with soil for root growth. Rose cuttings are heeled, strong stems covered with complex leaves. These leaves consist of oval, serrated leaflets that are dark green in color with a glossy surface.
Use a well-draining medium like perlite or sand for rooting cuttings.

Another option is to place the cuttings in a well-draining growing medium like perlite, sand, or vermiculite. These materials provide structural support and a small amount of moisture to the cutting.

If you opt for this method, fill a container with the well-draining material, then use a pencil or chopstick to poke a hole in the medium. Insert the bottom few inches of the cutting into the hole, then push the material around the stem until it’s secure. Water the medium until it’s moist.

Since the cutting has no roots to uptake moisture, keep it in an area with high humidity. The best way to trap humidity is to place a germination dome, plastic bag, glass container, or other impervious but clear material around the plant. Ensure the covering doesn’t touch the cutting, as this can damage the plant.

Set in a Warm Location in Indirect Light

Close up of bigleaf hydrangea cuttings covered with water drops on a light windowsill. These cuttings take root in black plastic pots filled with soil. Bigleaf hydrangea cuttings consist of stem segments with pairs of large, glossy, ovate leaves that are deeply veined and serrated along the edges.
Place cutting in bright, indirect light.

Keep your cutting in a spot with lots of bright, indirect light. Avoid bright light since this can damage the plant’s leaves and even cause the leaves to wilt. Keep the air temperature between 65-85°F (18-29°C).

If your cutting is in a growing medium, water when the top inch is dry. Successful stem cutting propagation requires consistently moist soil that is never soggy nor overly dry.

Wait Until Roots Form

Close-up of a rooted Fiddle Leaf Fig cutting in a glass vase with water in a woman's hand, on a white background. A Fiddle Leaf Fig cutting consists of a single stem with large, glossy, violin-shaped leaves that are leathery in texture and prominent feature veins running across their surface. The leaves are a deep, rich green color.
Cuttings root in weeks to months.

Depending on the type of plant and the environment, the cutting will form roots within one week to two months. Herbaceous and softwood cuttings typically form roots after a few weeks, but semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings take longer to root.

If your cuttings are growing in medium, you won’t be able to watch the roots form. However, if you notice new growth emerging from the tops of the cuttings, there’s a good chance they’ve also formed roots. You can check for roots by giving the cuttings a gentle tug—if you feel a bit of resistance, the cuttings have rooted.

After the roots are about an inch long, you can move the cutting into a container filled with a standard potting mix. Once the cutting is in its final container, move the plant to an environment with the proper sunlight, temperature, and humidity.

How to Propagate by Grafting

Grafting is another way you can propagate plants from cuttings. This process involves taking a hardwood cutting and adding it onto an appropriate rootstock.

Not only does grafting allow you to form a new plant, but it also allows you to combine the favorable characteristics of two different cultivars. For example, growers often graft an apple with a delicious fruit onto a dwarf rootstock with disease resistance. The result is a small, disease-resistant tree with delectable fruit.

Grafting works for many woody trees and shrubs, including peaches, apples, roses, and maples. If you’d like to try grafting, follow these steps.

Choose the Correct Time of the Year

Close-up of Grafting a pear in a sunny garden. Attached to a large tree branch is a small scion of a peach tree with green leaves covered with water droplets. This scion is attached with blue tape. The leaves of a pear tree are oval to elliptical in shape, with a glossy, dark green upper surface and a paler green underside. They have finely serrated edges.
Graft plants during scion and rootstock dormancy.

The best time to graft plants is when the scion and rootstock are dormant. In most areas, anytime from the late fall to early spring works well.

Obtain a Suitable Rootstock

Grafting of an apple tree in a garden on a blurred green background. Two scions with smooth brownish bark are attached to the rootstock. An apple tree has a sturdy, gnarled trunk with rough, dark brown bark, branching out into a dense canopy of ovate to elliptical leaves that are glossy green on top and paler beneath.
Select suitable rootstock for hardwood scions.

Find a suitable rootstock before you take hardwood cuttings to use as scions. Since the rootstock plays a big part in plant size, pay close attention to the type of rootstock you select. You can order many different types of rootstocks online.

Obtain a Hardwood Cutting

Close-up of a man's hand pruning hardwood cutting from a fruit tree in the garden, using orange pruning shears. The tree has strong, smooth branches covered with smooth, brownish-gray bark.
Take 12-18 inch hardwood cutting as a scion from the dormant plant.

When the tree or shrub is dormant, use a sharp and sanitized pair of pruning shears to take a hardwood cutting. This cutting will serve as the scion of the graft. The best cuttings are from the previous year’s growth.

Look for a healthy stem with a diameter similar to the rootstock. It’s okay if the scion is a little smaller than the rootstock, but the scion should never be larger.

Each cutting should be 12-18 inches long and contain at least three nodes. Only take as many cuttings as you plan to graft that day, but don’t be afraid to cut some extras since making successful graft cuts can take a bit of practice.

Choose the Graft Type

Once you have your scion and rootstock in hand, it’s time to select the type of graft you’d like to perform. There are many different graft options, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. However, each type of graft is best suited to particular applications.

No matter which type of graft you choose, use an extremely sharp and sanitized knife. It’s also a good idea to wear gloves to protect yourself from any knife slips.

Splice Graft

Close-up of a gardener performing splice grafting on a fruit tree in the garden. A splice graft involves joining two plant stems or branches by cutting matching diagonal slices in each, then fitting them together like puzzle pieces to create a seamless union. On the ground covered with a layer of mulch lies a knife with a white blade and a black handle.
Use a splice graft for hardwood cuttings.

The splice graft is one the simplest yet most effective methods for grafting hardwood cuttings onto similar-sized rootstocks. First, make a one-to-two-inch diagonal cut on the top of the rootstock. Next, cut the bottom of the scion so it mirrors the top of the rootstock.

If you do things correctly, the rootstock and scion should fit snugly together, and the edges of the bark should line up all the way around.

Whip-and-Tongue Graft

Close-up of a Whip and Tongue Grafted branch in a garden against a blurry blue sky background. Whip and tongue grafting involves cutting both the scion and rootstock with complementary diagonal cuts to create a tongue and groove-like joint, ensuring maximum contact between the cambium layers for successful grafting.
Use whip and tongue graft for a more intricate connection.

The whip-and-tongue graft starts out just like the splice graft. First, you cut the rootstock and scion on sharp diagonals so the cuts mirror each other. However, the whip-and-tongue graft takes things one step further.

After your diagonal cuts, make vertical cuts in both the scion and the rootstock. When done, the cut edge of each graft should resemble a lightning bolt. At this point, you can gently push the scion and rootstock together.

This is a trickier graft to master, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to perfect.

Cleft Graft

Close-up of a gardener grafting a tree using the cleft graft method. A cleft graft involves splitting the main stem or branch of the rootstock vertically and inserting a wedge-shaped scion into the cleft, ensuring good contact between their cambium layers.
Use a cleft graft to change the fruit variety on trees.

Growers often use this type of graft to add scions to trees already growing in the ground. This grafting allows you to change the variety of fruit and also grow more than one variety of fruit on a single tree.

Start with a rootstock one to four inches in diameter and a scion about a quarter of an inch wide. Make a flat cut on the top of the rootstock. Next, use a clefting tool or a sharp knife to make a vertical cut down the middle of the rootstock. Prepare your scion by making two diagonal cuts along the bottom to form a V shape.

Insert the scion into the outer edge of the rootstock so the cambium layers—the layers that produce new growth—are lined up.

Seal the Graft

Close-up of a grafted apple tree with white tape covering the healing site. An apple tree boasts a canopy of ovate, glossy green leave with finely jagged edges.
Wrap the graft with tape or plastic to promote healing and moisture.

After you complete your graft, you need to wrap and seal the graft so the plant can heal. First, wrap the graft union with grafting tape. You can use electrical tape or rubber bands if you’re in a pinch. Next, wrap the graft with budding tape or plastic wrap to seal in moisture.

Another option is to use grafting wax to both secure the graft and trap moisture.

Set the Graft in a Suitable Location

Grafting wrapped with electrical tape. Close-up of grafted branches with the healing area taped. The bark is rough and burgundy brown.
Heal graft in warm, humid environment with indirect light for weeks.

It will take a few weeks for the graft to heal. During this time, keep the plant in a warm, humid environment with indirect light.

Final Thoughts

Rather than tossing out pruning trimmings, you can use stem cutting propagation to create new plants. Remember to take your cutting at the right time of year and choose the proper propagation method.

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