A Guide to Propagating Herbs: Softwood Cuttings

Fill your landscape for free, beautify your garden and share the bounty with these three easy techniques.

| April/May 2009

  • Lavender can be propagated by taking softwood cuttings in spring. Click on the IMAGE GALLERY for detailed how-to images.
    Rick Wetherbee
  • 1. Insert lower portion of a 3- to 5-inch cutting into the damp rooting medium.
  • 2. Place several cuttings per pot, then label and date. Water with a fine spray.
  • 3. Cover pot with clear plastic, and set in a warm location. Ventilate daily. When new top growth appears, check for rooting.

Herbs and other perennials can be propagated by taking a cutting from the stem of an existing plant. You can take softwood, semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings, but softwood cuttings—taken from the plant’s soft, new growth—are the easiest to do and the fastest to root.

Best candidates: Stems or tips of either herbaceous or woody plants root well using this method, so the group of potential candidates is quite large. You can take softwood cuttings to propagate lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary, santolina, scented geraniums, sages and thymes. Certain groundcovers and vines, as well as many shrubs and trees, also root easily this way.

When: Take softwood cuttings from the new growth (soft, succulent tips or stems) of healthy plants in either late spring or early summer, when growth is most active. You might also try taking softwood cuttings later in the season; although these later cuttings won’t root as easily, they will be less prone to wilting and drying out than earlier cuttings.

How: You’ll need clean pots or flats with drainage holes, a rooting medium, sharp scissors or pruners, label markers, and a clear plastic dome or plastic bags. The rooting medium should be porous but also able to retain moisture. Common rooting media include perlite or coarse sand; equal volumes of peat moss and vermiculite; peat moss and coarse sand; or vermiculite and perlite. Rooting time will vary by plant; some plants root in days while others take weeks.

1. Fill containers with slightly damp rooting medium of choice (See options above.)

2. Take 3- to 5-inch cuttings early in the morning, using a sharp knife or bypass pruners. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle, about 1/2 inch below a node, where a leaf emerges from the stem. Remove any flowers or buds as well as leaves from lower part of the stem.

3. Place cuttings in prepared containers, several to a pot, leaving the top part with leaves exposed. (Softwood cuttings will root without the use of a rooting hormone.) Label each container with the type of plant and date started. Firm the moistened medium around cuttings and water with a fine spray. (Click here to see an illustration.)

4. Set containers in a warm, semi-shady to semi-bright location and cover with a clear plastic bag or dome. Keep medium moist but don’t over-water. Be sure to open the bag or cover for several minutes every day to provide ventilation. (Click here to see an illustration.)

5. When cuttings send out new leaves and roots have formed (test by pulling gently), remove the bag or cover and repot each plant in its own pot filled with potting soil. Allow the new plant to put on some growth before transplanting to the garden.

A frequent contributor to The Herb Companion, Kris Wetherbee grows and propagates herbs in the hills of western Oregon.

Click here for the original article,  Cut, Divide & Conquer: A Guide to Propagating Herbs .

• Learn more about  division .

• Learn more about  layering. 

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