Propagating herbs from cuttings, or cloning herbs, is simple to do and will have you expanding those herb beds in no time flat.
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Let’s face it. Most everyone love herbs. What’s not to love? They provide flavor to our meals, offer beauty, scent, and even deter pests and wildlife in our gardens, and supply our bodies with both medicinal benefits as well as beautification for our bodies when making our own personal care products.
Here on the hill, I love to grow my herbs for all of those reasons & probably a few more as well.
I use my herbs to create beauty in my herb beds and gardens, and intersperse them in my veggie beds as well. Check out my Herb Bed Creation and see what’s being done to beautify the space.
And finally, I use my herbs both grown and wild-crafted to create some of the most amazing natural remedies such as Herbal Tinctures & Herbal Infusions, as well as in many of the beauty products I make, Dandelion Salve & my Healing Gardener’s Hand And Skin Salve being two of my favorites.
And did I mention that herbs are probably one of the easiest plants to grow? They do amazingly well in garden beds, containers, and even your kitchen window sill.
One downside when adding them to your gardens? Cost. Unfortunately, fresh herbs can be expensive to purchase.
How to get around this costly endeavor? By propagating herbs from cuttings, either from your own plants or from a friends (thinking FREE here 😊 ), you are literally creating FREE plants.
If you are just beginning your herb gardens & containers or looking to expand your existing plants, propagating herbs from cuttings is for you.
DEFINITION OF PROPAGATION
Vegetative or plant propagation, also known as “cloning”, is the process of creating or “breeding of specimens of a plant or animal by natural processes from the parent stock”. In other words, creating a new plant.
Creating a new plant can be done in a few ways. Growing new plants from seed, cutting, bulbs, and plant parts are all ways of propagating new plants.
When it comes to herbs, propagating them can be done using seeds, cuttings, or dividing existing plants. As stated earlier, the quickest method to utilize when it comes to creating new herb plants is with cuttings.
That being said, there are just a few terms you should be aware of, in essence defining the plant and its growth. Three different cuttings of the stem can be used when cloning with some subtle differences, and largely depend on the maturity of the plant when making the cutting.
When propagating herbs, or any plant for the matter, you will tend to have greater success when the mother plant is in its growing stage & not in its flowering stage. Think of cloning your plants in the spring or early summer due to this reasoning, although for some, that time frame can be extended through the fall months.
Softwood is considered the new growth of the herb. The stem will be soft, pliable, and typically brighter in color. This section of growth will typically root easier & quicker.
I’ve had great success using only water for propagating my herbs in this manner.
Just down from the softwood you will find the semi-hardwood on the stem. You will find it still a bit pliable but beginning to show signs of browning into hardwood.
When using this section of the stem for propagation its best to wait until the active growing stage of the plant has past, typically between summer or early fall.
Although these semi-hardwood cuttings can be successfully rooted in water, you will have greater success using either soil or sand.
All herbs are not created equal. They will not all develop this stage of growth. Typically you will find hardwood development of the stem on last years growth of the plant. Thus, only hardy, cold tolerant perennial herbs will develop hardwood.
The hardwood section (toward the bottom of the stem) will be unbending, hard, woody, and brown.
To root from hardwood cuttings, you will have greater success utilizing a growth hormone & sand or soil. Take hardwood cuttings during the early fall to late winter months, waiting for the the plant to drop its leaves. It’s recommended that pencil size cuttings are made from the current seasons growth for best results.
HERBS THAT CAN BE PROPAGATED BY CUTTINGS
Nothing could be more awe inspiring than the miracle that nature provides us. Vegetative propagation. It’s truly amazing that by snipping a small stem off an existing herb a whole new plant can be created.
With that being said, not all herbs have this magical power. When it comes to propagating, think woody, perennial herbs. Those that can for the most part withstand winter temperatures and still come back year-to-year.
The above are all part of the perennial herbs which can easily be propagated from cuttings, and although this is not a comprehensive list, they are just a few of my favorites.
Feel free to experiment with your favorite perennial herbs and let me know in the comments how they did!
THE BEST TIME TO PROPAGATE CUTTINGS
When it comes to propagating herbs with cuttings, it’s best to do so during the time frames listed again below for your convenience.
- SOFTWOOD – Early stages of growth, spring or summer
- SEMI-HARDWOOD – Past active growing stage, summer or early fall
- HARDWOOD – Present seasons growth, early fall to late winter
As with any type of gardening endeavor, take only cuttings from healthy, disease free plants. Although it’s recommended to take your cuttings prior to flowering, should you have any flowers on yours, be sure to remove any flowers prior to rooting. This encourages the energy to be directed toward creating roots instead of supporting the blooms.
Take your cuttings in the morning, once the dew has dried. If you live in a drought prone area or have recently had a dry spell, water your herb the day or night before taking your cuttings to help give the herb a bit of a boost.
SOURCING HERBS FOR PROPAGATION
When sourcing your herbs for propagation, first and foremost, confirm the health of the plant. If it looks healthy, no spots, discoloration on the leaves etc, it should be good to go.
Using your existing plants is always a good start 😊. Friends & family are always a good source, as are neighbors when asked.
Think about creating an herb exchange through your local garden club, or look to visiting your local community garden. Gardener’s are a friendly sort & most times are willing to share.
Last, consider organic herbs you purchase at the grocery or farmers markets. Yup, they too can be rooted.
GROWING MEDIA FOR PROPAGATING HERB CUTTINGS
Here too, you have a few choices of growing media.
- WATER – Water is an economical, ok, free way to root your herb cuttings. Be sure you are using clean, filtered, water that has not been chlorinated. Should your water be slightly chlorinated, dechlorinate it by filling a jar and leaving it in the sun opened for 24 hours. Water works exceptionally well when taking softwood cuttings.
- SOILLESS MEDIA – Soilless media, basically the same type of media used when growing plants from seed, that is loose in consistency (allowing for plenty of oxygen flow) and well draining will work wonderfully. Think perlite, vermiculite, sand, or peat moss mixed with any of the three mentioned when creating your own media.
- SAND – No, not the sand from your child’s sandbox here 😂 at least the stuff that’s been used (although who knows, it may work if mixed with other media). When using sand, you will want a coarse sand thats clean. I personally have not used sand so would love to hear your recommendations for using this media!
- ROOTING HORMONE – Although not a media, using a rooting hormone especially for those semi-hard & hardwood cuttings, will ensure success with your cuttings. Using this type of hormone may also speed the whole process up.
Personally, I prefer to time my cuttings (taking them in the spring or early summer) so that I can simply use water. Below you will find complete instructions on how I do just that.
PROPAGATING HERBS FROM CUTTINGS IN WATER
I find that by using only water, it saves me the hassle of having to mix media, and saves me a bit of cash by not having to purchase any as well.
Remember, greater success can be had in rooting successfully in water when you use the softwood portion of the plant, but can be into the semi-hardwood area as well.
Gather the following….
- GLASS JAR
- SHARP SCISSORS
- RUBBING ALCOHOL
- PLASTIC BAG (optional)
I. Begin with clean tools always to help prevent any potential disease from spreading. To sterilize your scissors or sharp knife, simply rub them with a clean cloth and rubbing alcohol. Do this before & after each cut.
II. Take a stem cutting from your herb, basing it on how the stem looks to determine where (softwood, semi-wood, hardwood) that is between 2-6 inches in length using your sterilized scissors or sharp knife. Make your cut at an angle just below a leaf node (where the leaf meets the stem). When using herbs you’ve purchased from the store, simply snip off the end of the stem.
HINT: Always take a few additional cuttings to allow for any failures.
III. Clean up the bottom of the stem by removing the bottom leaves, leaving the bottom two-thirds or so of the stem bare (approximately the bottom 2+ inches). Take care during this process to not injure the stem itself.
Remove any flowers or buds that may be emerging to redirect the plants energy to creating the roots. Yes, I know my featured image at the top of this article has buds. They will be removed, but they just made such a pretty image ☺️
HINT: Don’t throw away those removed leaves and flowers! Dry them for future use in your kitchen or make a cup of tea on the house.
IV. Place the cuttings in water, making sure none of the remaining leaves are touching the water in any way. Place the container in a window with indirect light and plenty of airflow.
OPTIONAL: You can take a plastic baggy and cover your herb and container to create a greenhouse environment. Personally, I’ve never done this added step and have had no issue with rooting.
V. Change the water every couple of days to keep things healthy and fresh.
In a few short days to weeks you will begin to see the roots emerge from the stems. The time your herb cutting needs to begin to grow its roots is largely dependent on the plant itself and the growing conditions.
PROPAGATING HERBS FROM CUTTINGS IN MEDIA
Propagating herbs from cuttings using media or a soilless growing mixture, or sand as stated above is another way to encourage root growth. Remember, greater success for rooting in this manner can be found when using the semi-hardwood or hardwood section of the stem.
Follow I through III of the directions above for taking your cuttings, making sure to cut at an angle to increase the area exposed for the rooting hormone if you are using it.
IV. You can choose to use rooting hormone powder or not. Your choice. I feel with using this method of propagation, the rooting hormone only increases your success rates.
To use the rooting hormone, simply dip the exposed and prepared ends of the cuttings into the powder prior to planting into your dampened, soilless mixture.
V. Plant the cuttings into a sterilized pot filled with your soilless mixture. I find it’s easier to do so by using the eraser end of a pencil as your dibble, creating your hole to place the cutting into. Firm the soil around the cutting, making sure that the soil has good contact with the stem itself.
VI. Place the potted cuttings in indirect sunlight. Rooting can take upwards of 3-4 weeks or more.
CARING FOR YOUR HERB CUTTINGS
Once the herbs roots begin to grow and have reached 1-2 inches in length, you have several options for caring for your herb cuttings. You can keep growing them in water, snipping off leaves as you need, or they can be hardened off to pot up or plant in your garden bed.
If they have been propagated in media, you will want to create a greenhouse for the herbs by placing a plastic bag over the top. Don’t allow the bag itself to touch the leaves. Small bamboo stakes or even twigs inserted around the outer edges of the pot would work well to hold the plastic away.
Alternatively, you could use a cut plastic jug with the bottom cut off to invert over the pot, still making sure that it does not touch the cuttings.
Either way, you will need to remove these coverings each day to allow for airflow and reduce the risk of molding.
The cuttings should be kept moist but not wet. Keep an eye out for any signs of molding. Should that occur remove all signs of mold immediately and hope for the best ☺️
Any new growth on the cuttings is a sure sign that rooting has taken place. They can now be hardened off for transplanting if you like.
HARDENING OFF ROOTED HERB CUTTINGS GROWN IN WATER
As with most tender plants, prior to planting they need to acclimate or be hardened off. Hardening off will help reduce any shock when moving or transplanting those cuttings.
When propagating my herbs in water, to strengthen those very soft roots, begin to drop a few cleaned & sterilized pebbles each day into the vessel and onto the new roots. Do this each day for a week prior to planting into soil.
HARDENING OFF ROOTED HERB CUTTINGS GROWN IN MEDIA
To harden off your cuttings grown in media, begin to slowly expose them to direct sunlight & outdoor conditions if you are transplanting into a garden bed.
Begin by placing the cutting in partial shade for 1/2 hour, increasing their time exposed over a week to two weeks time period. Slowly place into longer direct sunlight until into full sun.
Once they reach the full sun/full day exposure, they can then be confidently transplanted into your garden bed.
ROOTING HORMONE – A GARDENER’S CHAMPION
Master gardener’s know that utilizing rooting hormone can increase your success rates of cloning the parent plant exponentially.
Why? Because rooting hormone contains the same growth regulator as plants do: auxin. By liberally applying a rooting hormone, the auxin can not only increase the likelihood of the cutting developing healthy roots but also speed the process up. WIN, WIN!
SOURCING ROOTING HORMONE
You know me. Ms. organic cheerleader of the Northeast 😂. It should be noted that most commercial rooting hormones are created, well, in a lab. They are made using chemical formulations that this organic garden does not want to have introduced into it. Like with all things, it is a personal choice, however.
The good news? You can easily make your own rooting hormone using ingredients you may already have in your pantry AND can be made, you got it, organically.
- ORGANIC HONEY
- WILLOW WATER
- ALOE VERA
- APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
HOMEMADE ROOTING HORMONE RECIPE
This simple homemade rooting hormone recipe is one that we love here on the hill. Simply due to the fact that we raise bees and have easy access to our organic honey 🍯 .
To make your own simply bring 2 cups water to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a bit. Add 1 Tablespoon of honey, mix well. Store in your favorite mason jar out of direct light for about 2 weeks or in the refrigerator for up to one month.
To use, simply dip the ends of your cuttings into the mixture and pot them up as you would any other rooting hormone.
That’s it! Cloning or propagating your herbs from cuttings couldn’t be more simple to do. It’s a free way of increasing access to herbs of your choice!
What are your favorite ways to propagate herbs from cuttings?
Love, Light, & Laughter ~