Most propagators use the softwood cutting technique. This has the highest rooting potential and often provides the best chance of rooting for species that are difficult to propagate.
Usually, species of tree stem cuttings are hard to root. So this is the method used by many to propagate hard to root species like woody ornamental plants.
This procedure happens when you take a piece of a plant stem from a shrub or a bush during its particular growth phase.
4 Types of Stem Cuttings
Plant cuttings are categorized based on the plant part in which they are taken and their phase of growth.
It consists of four types – herbaceous, softwood, semi-hardwood, and hardwood. These are the four terms related to the growing cycle when a cutting is taken.
These are the most important factors influencing whether or not the cutting will root, and it reflects the growth stage of the parent plants.
Herbaceous cuttings is a technique used on non-woody herbaceous plants, also known as garden flowers or house plants like lavender, lemon plant, oregano, rosemary, and many others.
These type of cuttings taken from the plant’s new growth, which usually measures a 3-5 inch piece of the stem parent plant, is the easiest and fastest to root.
Propagators usually remove one-half to one-third of the leaves from the lower part of the stem. It propagates quickly with a higher percentage of success rate.
For herbaceous cuttings or non-woody perennials, you can take cuttings at any time during the season. Roots are quick to grow within several weeks.
Herbaceous plants that are suitable for softwood cuttings.
- Lemon balm
- Lemon verbena
- Scented geraniums
There are numerous other herbaceous plants you can propagate by softwood cuttings. If the plants generate lots of side shoots, then you can give it a go.
Softwood cuttings are those that are made from soft, new-growth woody plants and succulents as they begin to mature.
When the shoots easily snap when bent and still have a progressive leaf size, that is the ideal time for making softwood cuttings.
Semi-hardwood cuttings are prepared from partially matured wood. It occurs when the wood is reasonably firm, and leaves have a mature size.
It is usually prepared from mid of July until early fall. This type of propagation is often used on evergreen shrubs.
Hardwood cuttings are best to use mostly for deciduous shrubs, and many evergreens.
Propagators usually prepare the cuttings when the plants are fully dormant, and have mature stems in the late fall, winter, or early spring, with no visible signs of active growth.
There are 3 types of hardwood cuttings.
- Straight cuttings
Straight cuttings is the most common type of hardwood cutting.
- Heel cuttings
This type of cutting is when you include the small section of older wood at the base of the cutting.
- Mallet cuttings
Mallet cutting is a type of cutting that includes an entire section of the older stem wood.
Note: Mallet and heel cuttings are procedures that are best to use for plants that are hard to root.
Common Ornamental Plants Suitable For Softwood Cuttings
There’s no fit-all trick when it comes to planting propagation. Some plants are best to propagate from softwood cuttings, while some are good in semi-hardwood cuttings, and others do well in hardwood cuttings.
Below are common names of selected woody ornamentals with the optimum stage of wood maturity suitable for softwood cuttings.
Type of Cuttings
|Arborvitae, American||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Azalea (evergreen & semi-evergreen)||Semi-hardwood|
|Barberry, Japanese||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Boxwood, little leaf||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Boxwood, common||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Camelia||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Ceanothus||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Chamaecyparis; False cypress||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|English ivy||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Gardenia; Cape jasmine||Softwood, Semi-hardwood|
|Hemlock||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Holly, Chinese||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Holly, Yaupon||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Holly, Japanese||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Juniper, creeping||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Juniper, Chinese||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Juniper, shore||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Leyland cypress||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Osmanthus, holly||Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Pine, Eastern white||Hardwood|
|Privet||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
Deciduous trees are those massive flowering plants like maples, oaks, and others. They usually have flat and broad leaves that spread wide as they grow. They have flowers called blossoms that turn into seeds and fruits.
The trees that often have rounded shapes thrive in areas that have a mild and wet climate. The word deciduous means to fall, because they shed their leaves every fall.
Types of Cuttings
|Basswood; American linden||Softwood|
|Bittersweet||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Cherry, flowering||Softwood, Semi-hardwood|
|Dawn redwood||Softwood, Semi-hardwood|
|Forsythia||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Ginkgo, Maidenhair tree||Softwood|
|Hibiscus, Chinese||Softwood, Semi-hardwood|
|Ivy, Boston||Softwood, Hardwood|
|Mock orange||Softwood, Hardwood|
|Poplar; Aspen; Cottonwood||Softwood, Hardwood|
|Poplar, Yellow; Tulip tree; Tulip poplar||Semi-hardwood|
|Rose of Sharon; Shrub-althea||Softwood, Hardwood|
|Rose||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
|Trumpet creeper||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, HW|
|Virginia creeper||Softwood, Hardwood|
|Willow||Softwood, Semi-hardwood, Hardwood|
Rooting The Softwood Cuttings The Right Way: Step-by-Step Procedures
- Avoid using blossoming materials as cuttings.
- It is essential to remove flowers and buds when preparing the cuttings. This technique will help the plant use its energy in producing new roots rather than flowers.
- Take cuttings only from healthy, disease-free plants, most preferably from the upper part of the plant.
- Do not take cuttings from plants that indicate a mineral nutrient deficiency.
- The fertility status of the parent plant can influence rooting. Plants that have been fertilized heavily, particularly with nitrogen, won’t root well.
- The parent plant should not be under moisture stress. Cuttings from young plants have higher chances of rooting success than cuttings taken from more mature plants. Also, cuttings from sideways shoots often root quicker than cuttings from the last remaining shoots.
- Early in the morning is the ideal time to get cuttings. This is when the plant is fully hydrated.
- Keep the cuttings crisp and moist until you are ready to propagate. Use an ice bucket or dark plastic bag with wet paper towels to store them.
- If sticking the cuttings is not possible sooner, you can store them in a plastic bag in a refrigerator.
- You can divide long shoots into several cuttings, about 4-6 inches long. A sharp and thin-bladed knife or sharp pruning shears are ideal to use when preparing the cuttings.
- Also, it is essential to disinfect the cutting tool by dipping in 70% denatured alcohol or a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts of water. Doing this will prevent the spread of disease from infected plants onto the healthy ones.
- Remove about ⅓ to ½ leaves from the lower stem of the cutting. Removing leaves will reduce water loss, aside from conserving extra space. It is necessary to lessen about half of the leaves of large-leaf plants, and species hard to root should be wounded to encourage rooting.
- Treat cuttings using root-promoting compounds to stimulate rootings, particularly on hard to root plants.
- Place rooting hormone in separate containers to prevent possible contamination of the entire supply before treating cuttings.
- Discard any materials left after treatment. Also, tap the cuttings to remove excess hormone when you prefer powder type formulation.
- Use a rooting medium that is sterile, low in fertility, and well-drained for sufficient aeration. The rooting soil should retain enough moisture to avoid frequent watering. Propagators use materials like a mixture of one part peat and one part perlite or one part peat and one part coarse sand. Water the mix before using it. Expert propagators do not recommend the use of vermiculite because it is compact and can hold too much moisture.
- Insert the cuttings about ½ to ⅓ of their length into the medium, maintaining the stem’s vertical orientation. Avoid inserting the cutting upside down, ensuring the buds are all pointing up.
- Allow enough space to ensure all the leaves will receive adequate sunlight.
- You can water again if the container you use is three or more inches deep.
- Cover the cuttings with plastic and place them under the shade. Avoid direct sun exposure.
- Keep the medium moist regularly to encourage quick rooting until the cuttings have to root.
Do not transplant newly rooted cuttings directly into the garden landscape. It is always best to transplant them first into containers.
To let them grow in a bigger container size before transplanting into a permanent location will increase the chance of survival.
The Best Time To Prepare A Softwood Cutting
Softwood cuttings are best when taken in spring from April to May when the new growth is still green and flexible.
This type of cutting dries quickly. To avoid quick drying, it is best to place the cutting in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel to prevent moisture loss until you are ready to propagate. It usually takes four weeks to produce roots after planting.
Semi-hardwood are cuttings taken from new growth that have just begun to mature and harden. The ideal time to get the cuttings is in early summer until July. It appears woody because it no longer has leaves left, but it is still slightly flexible.
Just like softwood, this type of cutting quickly loses its moisture after being removed from the tree. It generates roots about six weeks after planting.
Hardwood cuttings are taken from the ends of the upper branches where the growth is younger.
The best time to get this type of cutting is when the tree is not actively growing, during the dormant season.
This type of cutting is slow to root and usually takes six months or more to generate roots on the branches.
Bonus Tips: The right timing and the type of plants vary if cuttings will root quickly during the season. If you take cuttings from a woody stem during these following periods, woody cuttings will take several months to root.
- Post period while the plants are dormant
- Just after the leaves fall in autumn
- Just starting to bud in early spring
Of course, everyone wishes to propagate successfully. And to ensure a high rate of success, you have to be mindful of the plant’s several conditions, particularly water loss.
Once you take cuttings from the mother plant, it can no longer access water, and excessive water loss may result in its death.
Also, the wound from the cut is susceptible to diseases, so it is best to provide a soil that can retain moisture and won’t hold too much water that can cause the cuttings to rot.
To fill a regular backyard garden with plants can be costly. But, it doesn’t always have to be that way.
If you work with nature, you can fill your garden with a free and abundant supply of plants, with minimal efforts.
Plants naturally can reproduce themselves, and you can take advantage of this ability to produce plenty of plants in your garden.
It really all depends on how you manage your plants and the effort you put out. By generating beneficial conditions, using the right tools, and being patient, you can propagate and achieve success with softwood cuttings even at home.
Have you tried propagating any plants you have in your garden? We’d love to hear your experiences too. Please don’t hesitate to share them with us by writing in the comment section below.