Root cutting newbie questions

aprilbirdMarch 14, 2011

I'm new to the whole 'plant' thing in general, but became interested a few seasons back and have started having success with outdoor and indoor plants.

When I found out about this root cutting 'thing' I tried it with a couple of things. I've read 'Lazy... plain old water' post. The water/soil thing is kind of my issue.

I tried water, got roots, planted in soil...died. Thought maybe I needed to let root longer, until I had lots of roots. Also failed once in soil. Got something to put on the roots cuttings, used that on fresh cuttings and put straight into soil. Not even close. Never get roots when I try straight soil. Went back to water, I can get roots, but then they die in soil. Talked to someone at the nursery and they explain the water to soil problem and it does sound better to start straight in soil, but when I do that I never get anywhere.

What am I missing?

3 things I am interested in trying to do this fall so that I can plant them again next spring are Lanta, Mexican Heather & coleus. I heard you could do that with these pretty easy. But I would be happy with general information to tell me what I'm doing wrong.

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Those are all easy to root in the right mix, with the right temperature and humidity. Starting in water as you have been doing, the water keeps the humidity high and if started in the house the temperature will be OK. A cutting mix must be able to accept water without excluding air, yet not become soggy from not draining. Many mixes will do this, but an easy to find combination is 80% perlite and 20% peat. I use four inch salvaged square plastic nursery pots. I can get up to four cuttings per pot. I use about foot long bamboo stakes in all four corners to support a clear plastic tent(recycled bread wrappers)held to the pot with a rubber band. My cuttings have been dipped in hormone and inserted in the mix that was soaked in water. I do keep the pots on a 70 degree mat for faster rooting. Vent the pot by removing the tent every other day and turn the tent inside out to remove excess water and put back on the pot. Most plants will root within two months softer cuttings much faster usually. Al

    Bookmark   March 15, 2011 at 10:19AM
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Thanks. I have dipped my cuttings in hormone and I've been told the mix I have been using is good for cuttings. But.... I have not been covering them with anything. That's sound like something to try. I know things seem to dry out fast, but I don't want to over water(I'm notorious for that with EVERYTHING). I will have to give that a try.

I've rather wondered if during the winter, where they are in my home is too cool. I had thought about getting a heating mat, but before I went to that expense (and it now is warming up) I wanted to see if there might be other things I am doing wrong.

I will give the cover/wrapper/tent a try and continue working on it.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2011 at 4:22PM
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The thing to remember with cuttings, it is the roots we are trying to grow not the foliage. A heat mat keeps the roots warmer than the air temperature and encourages root growth over foliage, so for cuttings a bottom heat is beneficial. The energy stored in the wood of the cutting is what promotes the growing of the roots. This energy is lost through evaporation or transpiration of the moisture from the cutting and roots will not usually grow. To retain the energy long enough for rooting to happen is the reason for tenting or misting. You should not have to add water to the mix until moisture no longer forms on the inside of the tenting plastic. Al

    Bookmark   March 17, 2011 at 9:56AM
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More useful information. Thank you. This may seem silly, but how do you know if you are still 'ok' or if the cutting has died? I know I don't want hardly any leaves and it takes a while for the roots to start growing, but that was one thing I liked about the water. I could see the roots forming. I've got two now that seem to be just sticks, but I have tried to be patient and not mess with them. I've had them in the soil for about 6-8 weeks.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 3:58PM
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Yes thats the reason I like to leave at least a half of a leaf on a cutting, I don't want the leaf itself to grow,but it lets me watch the cutting for its drying out. Some cuttings will have a green stalk that acts the same as a leaf, even to photosynthesize. I have had green stalk cuttings with no leaves for a year before they started growing leaves, a clue that they MAY have roots. I like to wait at least two months for roots to grow before I give the cutting a gentle tug to see if it resists coming out of the mix. This takes a little practice and if the cutting does pull out with a callus and no root. just put it back in the mix and wait another month before trying again. Al

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 10:06AM
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Thanks again. I picked up a very nice Mexican Heather at a nursery sale the other day. It is way to early to put in the ground here, but I thought I might try a root cutting or two from it and and mabye be able to get them far enough along to put in the garden later in the season. Or at least a learning exerinece.....


    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 12:06PM
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minirose1(z6 AR)

I've been propagating by cuttings for a good thirty years now, but still don't pretend to be an expert. The question of rooting in water or a mix is a good one. Rooting in water develops roots with large cells full of water, so when they are then planted in a potting mix, the roots have to change up rather fast in order to take up nutrients and many times they go into shock and die. I prefer to start everything in a soil-less potting mix. I have also found that for some reason I have a much better success rate by using styrofoam cups as the containers. I simply punch a small draining hole in the bottom, then fill with the mix and really water thoroughly. This means watering them until I am positive that they are damp all the way down. Most of my cutting are around six inches in length and I remove all the lower leaves but leave a few of the upper leaves. This is necessary so the cutting will have the leaves to help produce food and will be able to take up nurishment when the roots begin to develop. I then put the cutting in the center of the mix, take a bendable straw and insert in into the cup at the edge. This will hold up the plastic bag that will be placed down over the cutting, straw, label and cup and fastened on with a rubber band. The plastic bag needs to have a small hole put through both sides at the top so that excess heat can escape if necessary and provides for a bit of circulation. A knife point or icepick will do nicely for making the hole in the bag. I usually use sandwich bags, the foldable kind, not zip. The cuttings are then placed in a bright place, but not in direct sun and if put together properly need not be disturbed for at least a month. Many things this time of year will be rooted in a month, but I suggest checking for roots and perhaps giving them a drink at this time. If not rooted, they will then be alright for a couple more weeks or better, until they do root. There are very few things that you can expect 100% success with, but there are some. I've never lost a forsythia, miniature rose, african violet, spirea, and many houseplant varieties, but most things you will lose some. The most dangerous time for doing cutting is when they are amply rooted and you attempt to uncover them. Take your time doing this. Take the rubber band off and loosen the bag for a day or two, then pull the bag up a bit to expose one side to the air for a day or two. If that all goes well, then take the bag off, but at no time during the procedure allow the potting mix to dry out. Patience is all important in doing cuttings. Once you've been successful,you will be amazed at how much you will learn.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 10:22AM
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I never mentioned how I water my cutting mix. I fill the pot with mix and set it in a sink with water deep enough to saturate the entire mix. I do this before sticking the cuttings. Using my finger or a stick I make the hole in the wet mix so I can insert the cutting without wiping off the hormone. I then press the mix down around the cutting. If I find I need to water again before roots have grown I again set the pot in the sink. Al

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 10:02AM
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Wow! Thanks Minirose1 & calistoga. Learned a lot there.

Silly question to you all I imagine, but what is 'soil-less' potting mix?

I will be experimenting more and more and I imagine I will get the hang of at least some if it. As long as I don't kill off my original plant, I've got nothing to loose but some time and effort. Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 5:13PM
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I too have had no success with growing cuttings (except for an oregano sprig that I left in water, which grew long roots; that seems to actually be growing okay in soil now). I'm certain my bad technique is to blame.

I really wanted to salvage some of my rosemary plant, which suddenly started to die -- this is probably because of something I did :(. One cutting I put in a jar with water, and the others I took the bottom leaves off, dipped in rooting hormone and put in potting soil. None of my methods worked out in the end, they all seemed to die. Now after reading this thread it looks like there are several factors I did not consider, the first one being the quality of the soil I used. Maybe it wasn't appropriate for my plants? I also did not cover the cuttings in a plastic bag, which I should try next time. Another thing that intrigues me is providing heat for the roots and not necessarily for the leaves.

Without knowing what exactly I did or didn't do that caused my cuttings to fail, I would guess that in general I just shocked my plants too much. I need to let it adjust to the new environments, not put it outside right away, etc. Nothing I can do but keep trying, and keep trying to learn.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 4:49AM
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