By Matt Gibson.
Most annual herbs should be grown by planting seeds, and this includes a few herb garden favorites, like dill and cilantro. Surprisingly, though, most perennial herbs can be propagated very easily by taking cuttings from healthy plants.
Learn how to take soft-stemmed cuttings and how to get your cuttings to form roots.
Some basic information to get you started
For soft-stemmed herbs like basil, mint, lemon balm, and stevia, all you need is a glass of water to place the cuttings in, a sunny windowsill, and a bit of patience.
Woody herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage, and oregano are typically tougher to propagate and require that the cutting comes from new, green growth. Some require soil instead of a glass of water, and some need a little help from a rooting hormone. Growing any of these herbs from cuttings is possible, and once you master the technique, you can create quite an impressive herb garden by taking cuttings from established perennials.
There are even a few annuals that can be propagated by cuttings, like parsley and basil, to help round out your herb garden.
Start with an easy to propagate herb, like basil, or mint. Once you have had a bit of success, move on to trickier herbs, like oregano, or thyme. Learn about rooting hormones, and use this article as a guide of reference when you need to remember the best technique for a particular herb.
Drop your cuttings in water, or dip them in a rooting hormone and plant them into soil, and in just weeks, your cuttings will be forming new roots. As soon as the roots have formed, you can transplant them into pots or move them outdoors.
If you have a few gardener friends, you know that gardeners love to share. Just a few successful cuttings taken from a friend, could lead to an immense wealth of fresh herbs, that are always within reach.
Should You Use Water or Soil To Root Your Cuttings?
Just because you can use water to root many cuttings doesn’t mean that you should use water. Because soil has all the nutrients that a plant needs to survive and thrive, it is much more effective to allow your cuttings to develop roots in soil instead, as long as you have the means to do so. However, for rooting your cuttings, you don’t want to use regular soil or even standard potting soil.
Instead, you will need to use a lighter substrate, which you can find at any garden center or nursery, or make yourself. Soils labeled seed starting mix make great rooting medium soils, or you can also make your own out of a combination of perlite, vermiculite, sand, coconut coir, sphagnum moss, and potting compost.
Some people use pure sand for rooting their cuttings, but it can be too dense and can have a tough time draining if it is not mixed with something else. Try using a combination of equal parts potting compost and sand. You can use a glass of water if you prefer, but you will likely have better results in a rooting medium.
If you decide to use a glass of water and a sunny windowsill to root some of your cuttings, be sure to use a clean glass and good water. If the tap water in your area is high-quality (do you drink the tap water in your area?) and low in chlorine, using tap water is fine. However, filtered water and spring water are better choices for developing plants.
Don’t use distilled water for cuttings, as it doesn’t have any trace minerals in it, which are important for new plant development, especially when they have no soil to rely on for nutrients. Avoid using tap water that is high in chlorine, as it can burn plant tissues. No matter what kind of water you use, be sure to change it as often as possible. Changing the water every other day is sufficient, but changing it everyday is better.
Using Rooting Hormones
When it comes to developing roots, a rooting hormone will increase your success rate and speed up the time it takes for cuttings to develop healthy root systems. Whether you are placing your cuttings into water or soil for root development, each cutting will have a better chance of growing new, strong roots. You can buy rooting hormone powder, but you can also easily and cheaply make it yourself using household items. Click here to learn more about making your own rooting hormones.
Taking A Cutting
Take your cuttings in the morning time when garden plants are firm and fresh. Look for new growth on side-shoots, as long as the side shoots don’t have flower-buds attached. Because some cuttings will fail, you want to take more cuttings than the number of plants you want. If you want one plant, take two or three cuttings. If you want three plants, take about six cuttings.
Using a sharp, clean blade, take a cutting of about three to six inches in length. Being careful not to crush the stem, cut just below a leaf node, which is where a leaf set joins to the stem. The reason why cuttings are taken just beneath leaf nodes is that this is the area where a plant’s natural rooting hormones are most active. Cut the stems at an angle to allow the largest possible surface area for roots to form on.
Remove the lower leaves on the cutting, leaving one half to two-thirds of the stem bare. Leave only a few sets of leaves at the top of the cutting. Some people like to dip each cutting into a rooting hormone powder. This is encouraged as it can increase the success rate for your cuttings developing new roots, but rooting hormones do not guarantee success, so it is up to you whether you want to use them or not. Whether you are using water or a pot of rooting medium to root your cuttings, they are now ready to be placed into a glass of water or planted in a pot.
Top Herbs to Grow From Cuttings
Though Basil is an annual herb that is usually grown from seed, it is one of the easiest plants to propagate by cuttings and can even develop roots in a glass of water. Just be sure to take a cutting from a basil plant that hasn’t flowered or gone to seed.
Basil plants are best propagated using cuttings from juvenile plants. Once a basil plant flowers or goes to seed, it is an adult plant, so be sure to take your cutting from a younger basil plant when propagating.
Basil cuttings should be a minimum of three to four inches in length. Cut basil stems at a 45-degree angle with a sharp, clean, disinfected pair of garden shears or scissors. The 45-degree angle will ensure that there is enough surface area on the bottom end of your cutting for roots to form securely.
Remove almost all of the basil leaves from your cutting, leaving just a few at the top of the stem. Cut the remaining leaves down to one-third of their size if they are especially large. Removing the majority of the leaves from your cuttings and trimming down the size of the remaining leaves is recommended to encourage the cutting to focus its efforts solely on root production in order to build a strong root system.
Basil is one of several soft-stemmed herbs that can develop roots in a glass of water before being transplanted into the garden. Put your cuttings into a jar with water and place the jar in a sunny location that is bright but indirect. Direct sunlight exposure is too intense for basil cuttings and will cause your cuttings to flop over, shrivel up, and eventually die, instead of developing healthy roots. Pick a location that has good air circulation and ventilation, but keep your cuttings out of areas that are exposed to frequent drafts of cold, frigid air and high winds. Change the water in your glass every other day.
If you want to skip the glass of water and allow your basil cuttings to develop roots in a soil medium, that’s okay too, and in fact, will likely increase your success rate. Instead of potting soil, use a seed starting mix, or just combine equal parts sand and potting compost.
In about two to three weeks, your basil cuttings should develop new roots. Once new roots have developed, the stems are then ready to be moved into a planter, or transplanted outdoors. When propagating annuals like basil, it may be smart to allow one or two of your plants to go to seed so that you can collect the seeds and save a little money.
Mint is just as easy as basil to grow from cuttings. Like basil, mint can develop roots in water or soil. Mint cuttings will generally develop roots within just one to two weeks.
One thing about mint plants, even though they don’t require any special treatment to root their cuttings, it is still important to note that mint plants can be highly invasive. Whenever you decide to transplant your cuttings after roots develop, it might be a wise choice to move your mint into a container, where the plant cannot spread wherever it wants.
If you do decide to plant mint in the ground, make sure you plant it in a location with deep borders to keep it from spreading out into places where it isn’t wanted.
Oregano is a little more tricky than basil and mint to propagate from cuttings, but it is not impossible.
Cut three-to-five-inch long stems from a young oregano plant with sterilized shears or scissors. Make the cuts at a 45-degree angle and remove all leaf sets except for the top three to four sets on each cutting.
Oregano roots grow much slower than basil or mint roots, so you may want to use a natural rooting hormone in the water glass. Keep your oregano cuttings in a bright area but out of direct sunlight. Allow at least four weeks for oregano cuttings to develop new roots and become ready to transplant to pots.
Thyme is a woody-stemmed herb, so it needs to be rooted in soil instead of a glass of water.
Be sure to take your thyme cutting at a node from the point where leaves grow, as plant roots are more responsive in these areas. After removing the lower leaves on the cuttings, plant your thyme cuttings into damp soil and keep away from direct sunlight.
Stevia plants are often used to add sweetness to a pitcher of tea, and it’s easy to root stevia from a cutting.
You can root a cutting taken from stevia in water if you choose, but probably the easiest way to root stevia is by placing the cutting straight into a damp seed starter or perlite. Keep the cuttings moist and exposed to light (natural or fluorescent), and your stevia cuttings will start to grow roots within two or three weeks.
Once they have roots, move stevia cuttings into a south-facing window or wherever you plan to grow them on a more permanent basis.
Lavender cuttings should be taken during the summertime, as lavender is known to root easier during the summer. Take new growth cuttings that measure three to four inches long using a sharp knife. For hardwood cuttings, cut the stem just below the bump that indicates a leaf node. Remove leaves from the bottom half of the stem and carefully remove the skin from the bottom part of the stem on just one side of the stem.
Plant in a container with a seed starting medium and dip the cutting into rooting hormone if you prefer. The rooting hormone will encourage strong root development and will help in keeping the tip of the cutting from rotting, but lavender cuttings are known to root quite well without the hormone.
Plant lavender cuttings about two inches deep into the soil. To create a greenhouse environment for your lavender cuttings, cover them with plastic. Keep soil moist until roots have developed. Softwood cuttings will root in two to four weeks, but hardwood cuttings may take a little bit longer. Check to see if roots have formed by giving the plant a gentle tug. If the plant resists, then it has formed roots.
Germinating marjoram seeds is a slow process, taking up to two weeks for the seeds to germinate. But marjoram can be propagated by cuttings much easier and have new marjoram plants in no time.
Take your cuttings from the tip of the stem and pick a stem that is at least three inches long. Leave the top four-to-six-leaf sets attached but remove all other foliage from the cutting. For best results, plant marjoram cuttings in late summer or early spring in cool climate areas and in the winter in especially warm climates.
Cuttings of savory should include some bits of roots and should be four to six inches long. You can plant the cuttings in moist potting mix or sand, and keep them moist as they develop roots.
It can be difficult to grow savory from seed, so propagation via cuttings is recommended. You can also use layering, anchoring long stems to the ground to encourage them to take root.
9. Sweet Woodruff
Remove sections of sweet woodruff to grow as cuttings in the fall, and by spring the new plants will be ready to establish in their permanent locations.
You can use containers full of soil or heat mats to help your cuttings of sweet woodruff develop their roots. Space your cuttings at about one foot apart, and provide them with consistent moisture as they grow.
10. Lemon Balm
You can root sections of lemon balm that are stem cuttings two or three inches long to produce new plants. Remove the lower leaves so that only the tip of the cutting has new growth attached. Then place the stem cutting of lemon balm in a container of water, refreshing and replacing the water as needed while you wait for new roots to appear.
It will take a few weeks, as lemon balm isn’t the quickest to set roots. Once your cuttings have had a few weeks to develop their roots, move them into the container or spot in the garden that will be its permanent home.
11. Lemon Verbena
You can encourage stem cuttings from a lemon verbena plant to take root by keeping them in a container of water. It will take a few weeks for roots to grow, so be sure to keep the container serviced with clean, fresh water on a consistent basis.
Let cuttings have a few weeks from the time roots appear until they are planted in their new locations so their roots can develop a strong foundation first.
The best time to take cuttings from your rosemary plant is when it puts out new growth as warm weather amps up and plants go outdoors for the summer.
Take softwood stem cuttings of sections a few inches long from the newest growth on your plant. You can take multiple cuttings from a rosemary plant at the same time if needed. Take more cuttings than you want to eventually grow, as not all your rosemary cuttings will put out roots. Choose sections five or six inches long, then remove the leaves from the bottom two inches or so of the cutting.
Place the cuttings into a container kept filled with fresh water so they can develop roots. It’s important to keep the water in the container refreshed and full throughout this process.
After a few weeks in the water, your rosemary cuttings should have developed roots and will be ready to plant. However, bear in mind that it can take longer for cuttings to take root in cold weather.
Growing new Sage plants using cuttings taken from established plants couldn’t be easier.
Sage cuttings should be taken from a shoot about six centimeters beneath the node and planted into a well-moistened soil in a partial shade location that gets a good amount of morning sun but is shaded in the heat of the afternoon.
Sage plants can be rooted in water as well, but soil mediums have a much higher success rate for sage.
Salvia cuttings can either be rooted in water or in the soil. To root your cuttings in water, simply add them to a vase or glass that holds a few inches of water, then store them in a sunny window and watch for a few weeks until roots develop. If you want to root salvia in soil instead of in water, it’s best to treat the cut end of the sections of cuttings with rooting hormone.
Next, plant your cuttings in a blend made up of 70 percent perlite/vermiculite and 30 percent potting soil. Roots should appear in 2 weeks or so when plants are rooted in soil.
Take cuttings to propagate tarragon in the morning, choosing four to eight inches of growth that appears just below a node and stripping off the lower third of its leaves.
Treat the cut end of the section with rooting hormone, and set the cuttings up in a container filled with moist potting soil. Water your cuttings regularly using a spray bottle to keep them consistently moist as they grow.
Once the danger of frost has passed in springtime, you can move your tarragon cuttings to the outdoor garden.
You can propagate watercress using stem cuttings, rooting them either in water or in moist soil. Even a bucket with two or three inches of water inside it can be used to grow watercress in containers with the water helping the soil to stay moist.
Make sure to change the water out once or twice each week and to ensure the watercress plants’ roots remain under the surface of the water. The best medium for growing watercress cuttings is peat mixed with perlite, vermiculite, or another soilless mix.
Learning how to propagate plants by using herbs is a great way to start mastering the practice. However, herbs are just one of many different kinds of plants that you can propagate using cuttings. You can start a vegetable garden from cuttings, a perennial flower garden using cuttings, even fruit trees can be propagated using hardwood cuttings. So, now that you know how to root most herb cuttings, it’s time to expand your horizons and discover how many different kinds of plants you can grow from cuttings.