Cuttings without fear


Many plants are easily propagated by cuttings. And the process is far from complex. The most important step is, of course, to do it… and not be daunted by rules or regulations.

I own rooting hormone (#1 for softwood cuttings) which would have been an essential tool in the right way to take these geranium cuttings — for Pelargonium ‘Happy Thought’. It’s good to have Happy Thoughts in the garden, and the more the merrier! The rest of the right way to take cuttings involves a sterile potting medium, moist but well-drained, with a dip of the cut stem into the powdered hormone. Ideally, the procedure should be done earlier in the season; August is good.

However. As I lacked sterile potting soil, and I didn’t get around to taking any cuttings in August, what I did – in October – was follow Monty Python’s Mr. Gumby method of taking cuttings: first you take the flowers, and arrange ’em in a vaaaaaase.

The slightly expanded version of that method might say: Cut fat, green stems (about 3-4″ long) just below a leaf node. Remove any flower buds, and all but the top 2-3 leaves. Pop them in water in an opaque container. Put the container in bright, indirect light. Wait (topping up the water as needed). After a couple of weeks, you might have this…

Only one geranium cutting had rooted when these photos were taken last week, but now they almost all are. And, now, I have potting soil.

As you can see, the coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) cuttings were even more enthusiastic about rooting in water. I’ll be potting these up soon… when I can rediscover the pots I’d put aside for them.

My point is this: there are definitely right ways (or better ways) to do things in the garden, but sometimes plain old, unscientific ways work just fine. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. This method gave me 100% more cuttings that I’d had before.


  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

    Words of wisdom to live our lives by! Thanks for taking the mystery out of cuttings, Helen. We have been taking some ourselves lately, just sticking them into the same pot as the mother plant and hoping for the best.


  2. My Daddy's Way was the only way to do anything.

    Now I try everybody's way, just in case. There's magic in any combination of cuttings combined with soil, or tucked into a bottle of water.

    If it doesn't work, it is still a learning experience. Maybe we needed more heat, or less sun. Maybe it was the wrong time of the moon. I'm always game to try again.

  3. I grew some great geraniums from cuttings from a friend's garden. And I overwintered them once . . . but then got lazy and haven't tried it since. I think overwintering just isn't going to work for me. You remember those dahlia tubers I dug up? I procrastinated dunking them in fungicide and wrapping them carefully and just left them in the garage. Now they're shriveled. Oops. I'll have to buy more next year!

  4. Frances, That was our dad's saying – his way of fighting the family trait of perfectionism (which can be the biggest killer of initiative). It has served me well through many a trial.

    Thanks, AZ, the right way is certainly more reliable, but we have nothing to lose by trying it the messy way, too.

    Deborah, What you say makes perfect sense to me.

    Nell Jean, I'm with you. Mistakes are how we learn best, if we allow ourselves to make them.

    VW, I find that mature geraniums take up too much space and try to avoid overwintering them. Sarah is the real mama-geranium girl, and her front porch is usually overflowing with geranium trees.

    Cuttings, however, are easy to tuck onto a window ledge. I'm pretty good at remembering to give them a quarter turn every so often, so that they don't get lopsided.

    However, the truth is that I haven't bothered with cuttings much for the last few years, as I haven't had anything I've wanted to take cuttings of. I do love my 'Happy Thought' though, which was my impetus this year.

    Tatyana, For sure, the plants will tell you if they want to grow.

  5. Brilliant post, Helen. I suffer from a complete inability to get my act together with cuttings. Not only that, but I always think it will never work for me. This was very encouraging!

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