How to take Cuttings

There are several reasons why it’s good practice to take cuttings from your plants. Like everything else, there are right ways to go about it and not so right ways. As you’d expect from the Caliponics website, this article examines the right ways of going about things.

But first of all, we need to consider what a cutting actually is.

What Is A Cutting?

Taking cuttings is another way of cloning a plant, so a cutting is a genetically identical plant taken from another plant, the baby from the mother, as it were. The cutting is then put in a different environment and will grow into another plant.

The quality of the cutting will depend on such factors as hydration levels and growth hormones within the cutting. It’s important to take the cutting during the plant’s vegetative phase when the plant is two months old at least and after it has been freshly watered.

Advantages Of Taking Cuttings

There are quite a few advantages and benefits in taking cuttings from your plants, whether you want more plants without paying for them or simply for efficiency. Cuttings will replicate every part of the original parent. So as long as the conditions are acceptable, you’ll have a new plant genetically identical to its parent without costing you a penny.

You’ll also find that, like other growers, growing from cuttings is a much faster means of growing than starting your plants from seed. Most plants will manage to produce a substantially rooted plant from a cutting considerably ahead of the time it takes for some seeds to sprout.

Reasons for Taking Cuttings

The main reason for taking cuttings is that you won’t need to buy seeds. It may be that no seeds will be available with certain plants. Another good reason is quality control, as each cutting will have identical properties to its parent (whereas each seed will be slightly different).

The principles of DNA operate in the same way across all species, so when you’ve got exactly the right plant with the properties precisely as you want them to be, you’ll know that any cutting of that plant will have those same properties as well.

What You Need for Taking Cuttings of Your Plant

  • Here is a list of all the items and tools you’ll need to take your plants’ cuttings.
  • Razorblade or cutting tool, as sharp as possible (careful!)
  • Wood or plastic cutting block – something solid to cut on
  • Seed tray
  • Plastic cups to hold growing medium and the cuttings – put these into the tray.
  • Humidity dome to cover the seed tray, ventilated with two or three small holes
  • Commercial ‘rooting hormone’ – several brands are available such as Clones, Woods and Dip and Glow
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Small glass tumbler about a half-pint size
  • Plastic bottle for spraying water (only use distilled water)
  • Heated propagation mat if needed
  • Mild fertiliser solution.

All the above are available to purchase from this website.

Preparations Before You Start Taking Cuttings

Only take your cuttings from existing plants that are healthy. Remember that the cloned plant you grow from each cutting will only be as healthy as its parent. Take several cuttings at a time from each plant (more than you need) so that you’ll be able to select the best ones to use.

Sterilise all equipment and potting resources at the start before you do anything. Cuttings are vulnerable to viruses, fungi, and disease until they take root. Use rubbing alcohol, and apply this to the tools, the cutting block, and your hands. Rinse out your glass tumbler with the alcohol and then dry it. When dry, fill the tumbler two thirds full of the rooting hormone for later.

Water your plants liberally with pH regulated water – don’t use nutrient solution – for a couple of days before taking the cuttings. This is to get rid of the nitrogen in the plant, which will be detrimental to rooting.

You’ll probably have decided what growing medium you’ll have for your hydroponic system – see our Beginners’ Guide to Hydroponics. Although it is sometimes recommended that you use Rapid Rooters for cuttings, as these have a very good success rate.

Cut a hole in the bottom of some plastic cups to hold your growing medium or Rapid Rooters. It’s best to soak the growing medium with pH regulated water for a while beforehand. Use distilled water at this stage; this is especially recommended if your local water is hard. The pH of the water should be between 5.5 and 6.5.

In your growing medium, make a hole that is slightly smaller or the same size as the cutting stem. Ensure that there’s plenty of room as you don’t want to have to force it into place.

You should take care when taking your cuttings; in particular, when making the cut to separate the cutting from the parent, you should transfer it to the rooting hormone as quick as you can, as you don’t want air getting at the stem.

How to Take Your Cuttings

You should include at least one leaf internode in each cutting that you take. A leaf internode is that part of the leaf which connects the leaf to the stem. Using your cutting tool, cut one or two leaves off.

Cut approximately a quarter of an inch below each internode at about a 50-degree angle. Use the block to make the cut on as this will provide support. Your cut should be as clean as possible, avoiding any tearing action.

Put the cutting into your rooting hormone as quick as you can. It’s best to follow the specific instructions for the rooting hormone.

Then put the cutting gently into your growing medium or Rapid Rooters, taking care not to push it or use undue force and leaving plenty of space for the root system to grow. The cuts you made at leaf internodes should be beneath the growing medium’s surface.

Now pat up the growing medium or Rapid Rooters fairly firmly against your cutting, ensuring that you have good all-round contact between your growing medium and your cutting so that the roots have every opportunity to benefit from the growing medium or Rapid Rooters.

How to Take Care of Your Cuttings

Having taken your cuttings, it’s now your job to keep the cuttings alive and well so that they can take root. Remember that the cuttings are incredibly fragile at this stage, so treat them with great care.

Using your spray bottle, spray a mist of distilled water over the cuttings once embedded in the growing medium or Rapid Rooters. It’s recommended that you use a clear humidity dome over the seed tray, and you should spray the inside of the dome as well. The dome should be ventilated with two or three small holes.

Take a breather. Have a cup of tea and put your feet up as most of the work for the first day has been done!

You should repeat this process of misting the cuttings with distilled water twice or three times every day, which prevents them from drying up during their present delicate state. Until your cuttings develop their own root system, they cannot take in any moisture to replace the moisture lost naturally, so misting them is crucial if your cuttings are to survive. Mist inside the humidity dome each time as before, as the humidity level needs to be around 90% until the cuttings’ roots start to develop.

You should prevent the air within the dome from getting too warm. Increase the venting by cutting more holes in the dome if the temperature is a problem, and also mist the cuttings and dome interior more frequently each day. The temperature should be between about 22 and 27 degrees Celsius.

Conversely, you should also take action if the temperature is too cold. If the temperature in the humidity dome drops below 22 Celsius, you’ll need to buy a heated propagation mat. The most reliable ones are controlled by a thermostat. These are recommended for colder climates and during the winter months.

Grow Lights For Your Cuttings

Several grow lights are available for the cuttings stages of plants. For plants in general, we recommend LED grow lights, but for the cuttings stage, we recommend that you use the popular T5 fluorescent grow lights.

Distance the lights at about 3 to 5 centimetres above your cuttings or follow the manufacturer’s recommendations if using any other type of light. T5 grow lights are quite cool and more efficient than metal halide or HPS (high-pressure sodium) lights available for cuttings. Ultimately it’s your own choice.

Keep the lights switched on over your plants for about 20 to 24 hours every day during the cuttings stage.

Watering Your Cuttings

As stated above, we recommend using only distilled water. Some experts recommend also adding a mild fertilising solution at this time. You’ll also need to ensure that the water or fertiliser solution’s pH levels remain at around 5.5 to 6.5.

Water your cuttings every couple of days (instead of misting them as described above). If you live in a region with a very dry climate, you’ll find that it’s best to water the cuttings every day instead of every couple of days. In any event, the growing medium should never be allowed to dry out. Nor should you see any water set in a pool at the top of the nutrient solution either. Go for the Goldilocks moisture level that’s right in between.

Signs that Your Cuttings Are Successful

Part of the job of taking cuttings is curbing your enthusiasm and waiting to see if your cuttings have started to take root. But wait you must, and your patience is needed during the first week, after which you can first check to see how things are developing.

Take off the humidity dome and leave it aside for a couple of hours. If the plants aren’t showing signs of wilting, they’ve most likely developed enough of a root system, albeit fledgling (so continue to treat them very carefully), to sustain themselves adequately.

But if they have wilted, you should spray the cuttings and the humidity dome again and replace the dome again. Repeat this process until the cuttings have stopped wilting. You should see signs, after a while, that the cuttings can sustain themselves. This indicates that their roots have developed or are developing healthily. Once you reach this stage, it’s imperative that you stop misting or spraying the cuttings, as this may be harmful to your plant.

You may see that some of the lower leaves have started to turn a yellowish colour or may indeed have died. This is a sign that the plant is effectively deriving moisture and nutrients from its older parts and so is a good indicator that the cuttings have a strong inclination for survival: this is a very good thing, so there’s no need to worry if you see this happening! Some growers will panic at this stage, but there is absolutely no need.

If this is happening, it’s important not to remove parts of the plant which have died until its roots have developed substantially. The healthy plant will still be feeding off the water and nutrients within the dying parts, and removing these means of sustenance may leave the plant dying altogether. So leave well alone.

Once your plants have completely and healthily rooted, you will be able to carefully move them into your main hydroponic system, whichever type you have chosen.

In conclusion, this cloning process may take getting used to the first couple of times. But once mastered, you’ll find that the process is almost second nature. Just remember to do things stage by stage and do everything with the utmost care. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find that this has produced healthy plants successfully. As with everything else, the care and diligence that you put into this will reward you in the long run and for many years to come.