Multiply the Bounty by Cloning Free Plants

Reader Contribution by Regina Hitchcock
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Several weeks ago, when it became clear that we would not be able to have monthly garden club meetings, I began a podcast about gardening in St. Johns. I also put together short videos as I was doing things around my garden and put them on TikTok, as well as posting to our Garden Club Facebook page. One thing I had several people asking me about was how to take cuttings and turn them into new plants.

Many plants can be cloned through taking softwood stem cuttings. I’ve used Wisteria for this blog post, but I’ve done grapes, Rose of Sharon, roses, hydrangea, and many more. If you want to know if you can propagate your plants from softwood stem cuttings, do a general web search. Most deciduous shrubs can be copied this way.

In St. Johns and the surrounding area, maintaining moisture while cuttings take root is the hardest part, so preparing your rooting area should take place before you go to cutting stems off of plants.

Fill a pot with some soilless mix. When you are going to take cuttings, rooting them in soilless mix is much easier and more successful than it would be to try to root them in heavy soil. It is easier to water and is more consistent.

When I water potting “soil” for the first time, I always overwater, making sure water runs all the way through and out the holes in the bottom of the pot. Northern Arizona in incredibly arid, with “humid” days being somewhere around 25 to 30% humidity. Extra water will drain out of the pot very quickly.

Knowing when to take cuttings, and how to take them and prepare them to root is the first step. Most cuttings should be taken from soft wood, before the bark has hardened. 

The cuttings themselves should only be about 6″ long, at a maximum, and all but the top couple leaves should be cut off. This not only helps the cutting to send out roots rather than sending energy to the leaves, but it also helps the cutting to lose less water through respiration out of the leaves. 

**Note** This next part can be done with or without rooting hormone. I have had less than 60% success with wisteria in the past without rooting hormone, so I did use it for this round. 

After you have your stem cuttings (notice how they are still somewhat green, rather than covered with bark), dip them in rooting hormone. Shake off the excess powder. 

Whether or not you used rooting hormone, it is best at this point to poke holes in the soil with a stick or something, about 4 inches deep. The potting soil will rub off the hormone if you used it, or can plug the phloem at the bottom of the cutting if you didn’t use it, so it is best not to use the cuttings and press them right into the soil. Blocking the phloem, or the little channels water runs up the stem through, will cut down your success rate. Just poke a hole with a pencil or small stick, set the cutting in it, firm the soil around the cutting, and then continue with all the rest of the cuttings.

In a pot this size, about 8 inches in diameter, you can place 10 or so cuttings. Once the soil is firmed up around each of the cuttings, water well, allowing water to run through the bottom of the pot. This pushes out air from around the cuttings, and will allow the stems to be in good contact with the potting soil.

Because we are in this arid area, I always set my watered pot in a seedling tray to allow a small amount of water to sit to increase the humidity immediately around the pot. Then cover the pot with a big trash bag or other plastic cover, making sure the plastic doesn’t touch the leaves (more important in more humid areas). In 4 to 6 weeks, the cuttings should have roots strong enough to allow you to transplant each new baby plant into its own pot or directly in the ground where it will be growing. 

Make sure you water well, until the plant recovers from the shock of transplanting, and then enjoy your new babies as they grow!

Regina Hitchock is a high school biology teacher in St. Johns, Arizona, where she co-founded the Gardeners with Altitude organic garden club and brings gardening, aquaponics, aeroponics, hydroponics, and seed starting into her classrooms. She serves as Secretary for White Mountain Community Cooperative to promote food- and economically secure self-sufficiency in Arizona. Connect with Regina on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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