Did you give your indoor houseplants a summer vacation in a shady spot outside? If so, their time in the great outdoors is coming to a close. September could bring nighttime lows in the low 50s, and while that isn’t anywhere near freezing, it’s not a temperature that tropical houseplant types enjoy.
Have a plan to bring your houseplants back inside before the temps take a downward turn. Otherwise you might end up rushing the job after a local weather report, piling up all the pots in your mudroom until their winter spots are ready. Having a plan also gives you more options on how you can bring your plants back into an indoor environment. One of those options is take cuttings.
What Is a Cutting?
A “cutting” is a rootless portion of a plant. It can be a leaf, a stem, a branch or even a portion of an underground stem that has not developed root hairs (or very tiny roots). Propagating cuttings is the process of taking this essentially rootless piece of plant, encouraging it to grow roots and then seeing it through into a new potted plant.
You may have previous experience with “taking cuttings” by snapping off a portion of a coleus stem, for example, and placing it in a glass of water. And as easy as that, roots emerge a few days later. They aren’t all that easy! Just as there is so much diversity within the Plant Kingdom, there are a great many ways to take and propagate cuttings. We’ll talk a bit more about this later in this post.
Why Use Cuttings?
Why would you want to go to all the work of snipping off portions of houseplants, nurturing them through the rooting phase and potting them anew when you could simply pick up your pots from outside, dust them off and set them back inside? Great question.
For starters, your houseplants may have picked up an infestation during their time outside. Ants, for instance, could have made a nest in the potting soil (speaking from experience!). Spider mites, scale or another insect could have taken over a good portion of your plant. Sanitizing the entire plant can be really difficult, especially with ones that have curly leaves or grooved stems. Taking a portion of the plant as a cutting and making sure it’s thoroughly clean is one way to limit the risk of bringing in unwanted outside creatures.
Another reason to take cuttings is to increase your number of houseplants! They’ve surely thrived outside, unfurling new leaves in the great outdoors. Taking cuttings of them now before they come inside is part giving them a haircut and part increasing their numbers.
Tools and Materials for Cuttings
As mentioned earlier, there are many different methods of vegetative propagation via cuttings. Before you start snipping and cutting your houseplant, find out which method is best for the plant you have. A few resources you can consult are Plant Parenting by Leslie Halleck and “How to Propagate Your Houseplants” from Better Homes & Gardens.
Many houseplants will initiate root growth simply by placing snipped stems into a glass of water. Remove submerged leaves. Trim most of the leaves to half in order to reduce evaporation. Keep an eye on the water level. Root emergence depends on a number of factors, but a good rule of thumb is to keep the process going until either roots emerge or the remaining leaves look decidedly dead.
Rooting Material-Based Propagation
In addition to propagation in water, houseplants can be replicated using a rooting material-based method. The basic materials needed for this technique include:
Planting trays. Seed starting kits with a humidity dome are ideal. Fiber pots set into the bottom tray are a more eco-conscious method as the fiber pots eventual break down into compostable matter. The key here is to have the hardware that creates a humid environment around the cuttings, helping to limit water loss as the cuttings form roots.
Rooting materials. The cuttings must root into some material. We suggest using our Premium Blend Potting Soil, which is a blend of compost, pine bark (forest products), coir, earthworm castings and perlite. It’s a moisture-retentive blend with a soil structure that promotes the growth of roots. Some folks use straight perlite or blocks of rockwool.
Rooting solution. A rooting solution helps stimulate root growth. There are several non-organic products on the market, but if you want to propagate cuttings the organic way, coat the cut ends of the cuttings with honey, or soak them in a willow extract. Read about both methods, as well as step-by-step instructions for how to cut and plant cuttings, in Practical Organic Gardening: The No-nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally by Organic Mechanics’ own Mark Highland. You can find that incredibly helpful resource right HERE, and peruse the SITE for amendments such as fertilizers you’ll need once your houseplants are rooted and potted.
Whether you’re using the water technique or the rooting material-based methods, your indoor houseplant collection is about to be super sized. But that’s quite alright—your newly rooted plants make great gifts.