Propagating plants by cuttings 101

Should I use softwood, semi-hardwood or hardwood cuttings and when?

Peter Miles


Cuttings of Correa alba and C. decumbens in a home garden. Image by author.

Propagating plants at home with cuttings is relatively easy and in this time of climate change we need all the plants we can get. It is also quite satisfying being able to say I propagated it myself. The time of year of taking cuttings and the species are both important factors. Some species don’t strike readily from cuttings and seed is needed.

Cuttings are pieces of plants made to form roots, and when they do grow roots, they are said to strike. The cutting when placed in propagating sand should form a callus on the cut end and then grow roots from the callus. Striking roots may take a few weeks to a few months.

This article will cover the soil or propagating sand to use; the moisture and temperature; tools; cutting material; the types of cuttings and timing; and some species of plants suitable for cutting propagation.

A propagating sand for use in containers needs to be a clean, coarse grained, sharp sand. Sharp meaning each grain of sand is angular in shape, not round, reducing the tendency to pack together. Good drainage resulting from large pore spaces is required, this allows for more aerated soils which are less suitable for fungal growth.

Sometimes the term double washed sand is used, this is suitable for cuttings, as most of the clay and organic matter has been leached out with water. Other sands, such as bricklayer’s sand and orange plaster’s sand are not suitable for cuttings because of the clay content, which holds more water and reduces the aeration.

Propagating sand is better if it has a neutral pH or slightly acidic pH of 6 Soil pH.. A measure of the acidity or alkalinity… | by Peter Miles | Medium

Sand is often alkaline and mixing sand with peatmoss or compost which are slightly acidic will make the mix neutral. Suitable mixes are 50:50, or 25% compost to 75% sand.

Compost is a good environmentally sustainable alternative to peatmoss, which comes from peat bogs which are carbon sinks.

The addition of peatmoss or compost will increase the water holding ability of the mix, and also reduce the tendency of sand to run out the drainage…



Peter Miles

45 years in Environmental Science, B.Env.Sc. in Wildlife & Conservation Biology. Writes on Animals, Plants, Soil & Climate Change.