Did you know that your garden can regenerate itself? There’s no limit to the number of herbs you can foster once you learn how to grow new plants from your cuttings. When you know how to use what you have to grow your next generation of crops, you will be able to double, triple, and quadruple your harvests without ever having to buy seeds again.
Here’s how to grow herbs from cuttings:
- Grow a healthy “parent” plant.
- Prepare a space for your new plant.
- Select the right stem.
- Cut properly.
- Use rooting powder (optional).
- Propagate a leaf by putting it in water.
- Wait for the roots to form.
- Sow the plant into the soil.
- Add some extras (compost, mulch, nutrients, etc).
- Harvest and store your herbs.
In this article, I’ll go over each of these steps along with some herb-specific tips and tricks and a run-through of some easy strategies to allow your garden to thrive. First, I’ll talk about propagation (which is the technical term for growing from cuttings) and the best herbs to grow from cuttings. Then, I’ll provide you with a table on these herbs’ sunlight, pH, moisture, and temperature preferences.
What Is Propagating?
You might be thinking that all you need to do in order to grow a new herb from a cutting is to throw a leaf into the soil and watch it transform. There’s no denying that this approach can work, as this is the natural growing process of most plants, fruits, and vegetables (which is why bees, birds, bugs, and other seed-spreaders are so important!). However, for the best results, some believe in propagating the plant first.
Propagating, in terms of plants, means cultivating a parent plant and selecting a cutting to create a new separate adult plant. Herbs, fruits, and vegetables can be propagated by selecting pieces (whether a leaf or a seed) of a parent plant and growing them independently.
This process is often done in water first, then in soil, which can be relevant to the discussion at hand, as it may reshape your idea of how you’re going to grow an herb from a cutting. You won’t just throw it in some dirt and call it a day. You’ll likely propagate first, which is what you’ll learn more about in this guide. This video explains the phenomenon in terms of plants a little more in-depth:
If you’re big on plant growth, you may have found propagation stations online or DIY ways to make a propagation spot in your garden. Here’s a video example of a propagation station:
Again, the process typically begins in a glass or jar of water before the cutting is transferred over to soil. This is important to know before propagating or growing herbs from cuttings: while you could just throw a leaf into the soil and see what happens, most gardeners begin with the water-in-a-jar strategy for the best results.
What Herbs Can I Grow From Cuttings?
The best thing about growing your own garden is that eventually, you’ll become self-sustaining. You can propagate carrots, pea plants, and eggplants, but the process is especially easy to carry out with your herbs.
All herbs can be re-grown from a cutting, and herbs, in particular, thrive from this method of growing. Gardeners can propagate cilantro, parsley, mint, sage, and more.
I can’t emphasize enough how easy it’s to grow herbs from cuttings. You could easily take a propagated cutting of any of your herbs and give them to a friend to start their garden. I’ve seen many videos of people getting a cilantro bunch, a container of mint, or a bag of parsley from the store, finding the right piece with growing potential, and starting their garden like this!
While this can be done with all herbs, I’ve made this handy-dandy table, including some of the most common varieties for backyard farmers. This table lists the most common gardening herbs’ sunlight, water, pH, and temperature preferences.
|Basil||6 to 8 hours of full sun||1 inch (2.54cm) weekly||6.0-7.5||50 degrees F (10 degrees C)|
|Cilantro||Full sun||1 inch (2.54cm) weekly||6.2-6.8||50-85 degrees F (10-29 degrees C)|
|Mint||Full sun||Water 1-2 times daily||7.0-8.0||65-70 degrees F (18-21 degrees C)|
|Parsley||Partial shade||2-3 times weekly||5.0-7.0||40-90 degrees F (4-32 degrees C)|
|Dill||6 to 8 hours of full sun||1-2 inches (2.54-5.08cm) weekly||5.8-6.5||70 degrees F (21 degrees C)|
|Lemon Balm||Full sun, partial shade||Daily||6.0-7.5||Survives in -20F (-29 degrees C)|
|Oregano||Partial shade||1 inch (2.54cm) weekly||6.0-8.0||65-70 degrees F (18-21 degrees C)|
|Lavender||6 hours full sun||1-2 times weekly||6.7-7.3||70-75 degrees F (21-24 degrees C)|
|Rosemary||Full sun||Water once every 1-2 weeks||6.0-7.0||55-80 degrees F (13-27 degrees C)|
|Sage||Medium to full sun||1-2 times per week||6.0-7.0||60-70 degrees F (16-21 degrees C)|
|Thyme||Full sun||1-2 times per week||7.0||68-86 degrees F (20-30 degrees C)|
Remember, this isn’t an all-inclusive list! You can grow any herbs from cuttings. You can also grow houseplants, fruits, veggies, and even trees or bushes from cuttings with similar strategies as those I’ll go over below.
1. Grow a Healthy “Parent” Plant
First things first: you’ve got to grow a healthy parent plant if you want to utilize cuttings.
Of course, parent plant isn’t the official term, but it’s an easy way to look at what you’re about to do. You’re going to take a baby leaf or baby herb from a parent plant and provide it with the right soil, water, and sunlight, to grow into a healthy adult plant on its own. This can be done with herbs, houseplants, and flowers.
We see it happen most commonly (though we think about it way less) in our fruits and veggies. The seeds we pick or spit out of our watermelon, jalapeno, or even apples are the “baby” pieces of the plant we attempt to grow.
As you’ll learn a little later on in this article, you’ll be looking for healthy baby leaves that have sprouted from your plant, which you can then cut and use to create a new organism. If your parent plant is struggling, whether due to disease or a lack of attention, it’ll be pretty hard to sprout new baby leaves for the taking.
Additionally, if you use a plant struggling to thrive, the new cutting may already have difficulty once propagated. Additionally, propagating a plant without first considering the health of the parent plant might make the parent plant weaker. For this reason, it’s essential to ensure your parent plant is doing well before you consider propagation.
Tools for Growing a Healthy “Parent” Plant
Growing a healthy “parent” plant is all about ensuring a healthy, thriving garden, which is exactly what this blog is dedicated to. Some quick tips for making sure your herbs are doing well are:
- Utilize a moisture meter. These can help you determine whether or not you are watering enough, giving enough sunlight, and/or putting your plant outside at the right temperatures.
- Consider an irrigation system. Irrigation systems can help you water your plants with less effort and ensure they get the same amount every day.
- Try mulching or composting. Doing either can add biodiversity to your plants and soak up excess water.
- Pay attention to your plant and look out for diseases. Some pests live underground and attack the roots of plants, and you’d never notice! Look out for signs of wilting, discoloration, and weak growth.
- Check your soil pH. Make sure to monitor the soil pH to ensure your soil isn’t too acidic or too alkaline.
- Monitor sunlight. If the weather is constantly changing where you live, watch out to ensure your plant isn’t getting too much or too little sunlight.
As long as you’re paying attention to all facets of a healthy plant (water, sunlight, pH, nutrients, temperature, disease), you are probably growing a whole crop of potential parent plants.
2. Prepare a Space for Your New Plant
There are two spaces you’ll need to have prepared to grow a new herb: you’ll need your propagation station and the place you plan on putting your herb once it’s ready to grow in soil.
In the section above, I talked about what propagation was. To review it quickly, most will plant their cut leaves in a jar or glass of water before putting them directly in the soil. Doing so gives a chance for the roots to grow strong while hydrated. You can simply prepare a glass of water, a jar, or even a bowl.
A propagation station is a trendy gardening term, and while unnecessary, you might find it a good investment if you plan on propagating a lot. While readily available online, many gardeners craft their own propagation stations, walls, or even tables. This video shows some tips on making your propagation wall:
Remember, though. No need to get fancy. A simple jar of water will do.
Then, make sure you have a spot for your new plant once it’s ready to plant into the soil, which could take anywhere from a week or two to a month later. The timing of the transfer depends on the quality of the cutting and the circumstances you will grow your plant in.
However, you should get the new spot prepared right away, especially if you have an in-ground garden. There’s nothing worse than prepping a plant to be propagated and having nowhere to put it afterward!
3. Select the Right Stem
When you have your space prepped and your healthy parent plant shooting off little leaves, it’s time to select the right stem to propagate.
You want to find one that looks healthy, has quite a few leaves (depending on the plant), and the parent plant can survive without. If your parent plant has a long structure with a thick stem, similar to how rosemary or mint may look, don’t cut the base of the stem and expect this to grow into another herb. It will grow into another herb but at the expense of your original plant. The goal here is to get two healthy, thriving plants.
Make sure to find one with a few leaves, though you won’t submerge these leaves. Don’t grab a stem that’s flowering or very small. Look for something that’s an inch (2.54 cm) or so long. This video will give you a visual of selecting the right leaf of basil, but the same idea goes for all herbs:
If you want to see what it would look like to propagate your specific herb, you can search for a video to see it.
4. Cut Properly
First things first when it comes to cutting: cut intentionally. Though some gardeners will tell you that pulling off the leaf or ripping it hasn’t ever caused their propagation any harm, the better rule of thumb is to use a pair of shears, scissors, or even a specific clipping tool to remove the part of the plant you’d like to remove.
When you cut, you’re not going to just grab a leaf or a tiny section of the plant you plan on propagating. You want to look for something long enough that it can stand up and be submerged in water without the leaves getting wet. So, you’ll be looking for a long stem.
You want to cut somewhere you can leave enough room, typically under the leaf node. Be careful not to damage the parent plant. Otherwise, you’ll be defeating the purpose of getting a clipping to propagate (meaning your parent plant may die). Try to cut around one inch (2.54 cm) of something, or you can even go longer. However, no need to get greedy! You can always fill your water jar just enough for the right cutting to work.
Tools for Cutting Properly
As I mentioned above, you won’t just want to pull or yank willy-nilly. You can buy specific tools for cutting or use something you have on hand. Scissors work, shears work, and even a thread cutter (for those who sew) will work beautifully.
5. Use Rooting Powder (Optional!)
If this isn’t the first guide you’ve read or you’ve already watched any herbs-from-cuttings videos, you’ll see that most people will suggest a root powder. This step is optional, so you can skip it if you don’t have any on hand and don’t want to go to the store! However, if you’re reading this guide in advance and don’t mind grabbing a few extra items, a root powder doesn’t hurt.
Root powder stimulates plant roots using indole-3-butyric acid. This helps plants grow from the cuttings, especially if you didn’t do a pro job at cutting the piece you wish to propagate.
You apply root powder to the cut ends of your propagated plant before putting it in the water. Tap the root to get rid of any excess if need be. I found root powders to be inexpensive compared to the success I had with propagating stems.
6. Propagate a Leaf by Putting It in Water
Propagating is technically the entire act of taking a leaf, cutting, and placing it in water. Still, this next step is what separates propagating from simply cutting a leaf and planting it. At this point, you have cut your leaf-cutting and have (possibly) dusted it with some root powder. Now, you will stick it in the jar we prepared earlier. And, voila! You’re propagating.
Some swear by using tea or other liquids; just stick to water unless you’ve done a little experimenting and have decided you want to try something else.
Place the container in a sunny spot on a windowsill or somewhere where it won’t get knocked over. Now, the observation process begins!
7. Wait for the Roots To Form
Roots will start to grow out of the bottom of your plant. Keep an eye on the propagated plant to ensure that the roots don’t get too long, but don’t jump the gun either.
They will look about one to three inches (2.54 to 7.62 cm) long when you should move them, and they’ll have grown out all long and scraggly. Remember, though, they’ll only grow as long as they can. You’ll know you’re ready to plant them in soil once the length is right.
8. Sow the Plant into the Soil
Make sure your soil is ready with a pH test and proper nutrients. Also, depending on how big you plan on letting your cutting grow, think about this when you decide what pot size to use (though we talked about picking out the right plot above). You can dig a little hole in your soil and deposit your freshly rooted plant into it when you’re ready.
Again, if you are using a pot, make sure it’s clean and refrain from putting the propagated cutting in a small nursery container or sowing it directly. Sometimes pots can hold onto diseases or pests that have persisted from old plants.
Treat your roots like they are fragile when you plant them because they are! Be gentle with the roots when you place them in the soil. Having any of them get nicked or ripped will affect how your plant grows. For this reason, you should pull the roots gently from the water while holding the plant leaf as carefully as possible.
9. Add Some Extras (Compost, Mulch, Nutrients, etc.)
Helping your plants thrive means going that extra mile by giving them some additional nutrients, and your cuttings will be sure to use them. This isn’t to say that propagated plants are weaker than your plants grown from seeds – it just means they need a little more attention. You can add some extra love to your cuttings by composting, mulching, or adding specific nutrients to help your plant thrive.
Composting does a ton for your soil. It can help retain moisture, which is especially helpful for cuttings because it ensures a proper water supply. It can also help to deter harmful pests and works to attract helpful ones like worms, so your plant can focus on growing. And the most prominent reason for adding compost, it adds extra nutrients to your soil.
Typically, you can find compost at a garden store. Some gardener-heavy cities will have a city program for composting or a city-run compost facility. You can also buy tools and compost your plants using machines; however, vermicomposting (using worms) is another less expensive alternative.
Mulching also does wonders for a plant, especially if you live in a rainy climate and have issues with your soil flooding. Waterlogging issues can be solved through proper mulching, which also protects your plants from diseases.
Knowing whether your soil is deficient in one nutrient or another is always helpful. Nutrient testing is an easy, proactive way to do this. You can buy nutrient testing kits online to ensure your soil has the right amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, or other nutrients.
10. Harvest and Store Your Herbs
If all has gone well, it’s time to harvest the rewards of your hard work!
After planting your herb cutting and watching it grow, it’s time for you to take some more cuttings for culinary use or even for growing more plants. If you have friends interested in growing their cuttings, you (an expert by now) can start to give them cuttings which they can propagate themselves. This makes for an awesome gift!
If you’ve successfully grown an herb from a cutting, I assume you know when to harvest and store your herbs. However, just to summarize this process, let’s go over when to harvest the most common herbs. Harvest them when they look big enough to cut and store (which will be different for rosemary and cilantro), the coloring looks right, and the stems are strong. If they look leggy, wait and see if your plant grows stronger.
Go ahead and propagate again when you’re ready. Herbs can be grown year-round indoors or in some of the hydro gardens mentioned above.
Herbs can typically not be frozen. Store your herbs either by putting them in the fridge in a dry, cool place or by drying them out to grind later and add to jars. Also, some people swear by storing some of their herbs in water (as if they were propagating them) in the fridge. This video shows an example of this:
Remember, though, that all herbs are different. Oregano and thyme will require different storage methods than parsley and cilantro.
When you learn to propagate and grow your herbs from cuttings, you’ll likely grow more than you know what to do with, so learning how to dry your herbs may become useful!
Other Strategies To Support Herb & Garden Growth
Once your leaf cutting is in the soil and ready to keep flourishing, you can consider a few extras (as mentioned above) to help your herbs grow. Below, I’ve listed some of the best ways to make sure your herbs continue to do well (or just to make gardening a little easier!), so you can continue propagating and growing a larger harvest! This wouldn’t be an ultimate guide if we just stopped at the end of the propagation process, after all!
Irrigation Systems for Herb Growth
You might want to consider investing in an irrigation system if your herbs grow outside and you want to have better control over their watering process. Irrigation systems can be found online and help you water the same amount every day, so your plants aren’t getting stressed out by an irregular watering pattern.
Mulching for Herb Growth
As mentioned above, mulching can be beneficial to herb growth. Many gardeners are already mulching their flowers, vegetables, and fruits but worry their herbs are too fragile to mulch. This isn’t the case at all! Mulching can help soak up any excess water (which herbs DO NOT do well with) and protect from little pests (who love the smell of your herbs).
Composting for Herb Growth
Composting is beneficial to every type of plant, herbs included. All plants need nutrients to grow, and finding a balance between the right vitamins and minerals will definitely benefit your herbs. Regardless of what you’re growing, consider using compost to up your plant’s vitality and optimize its longevity.
Shading Herbs During Growing
Herbs are fragile creatures. Some like a lot of sunlight while some like a little (you can check our chart above), but all have their limits. Don’t let them burn up in the sun! If you live in an extra sunny or warm climate, consider buying some shades to keep the sun at bay on those extra hot days.
Outdoor Greenhouses for Growing Herbs
Greenhouses are wonderful solutions, especially for herb growth. And you don’t have to get a fancy, all-glass, small-house-sized herb garden for your plants for them to benefit from a greenhouse-like setting. You can get a small plastic one online or find one small enough for just one potted plant. This will help keep temperature and humidity regular for your plants.
Container Gardening Your Herbs
You can always consider container gardening your herbs, which may be especially beneficial if you plan on growing all year long. Some herbs won’t do well in the cold or don’t do great with too much sun, so a container garden is an easy way to protect your plants when bringing them inside or moving them around. Then, when the season is over, you can bring them inside and keep an eye on them near a windowsill or a grow light.
Hydrosystems for Your Herbs
If you want to go the non-traditional route, hydro systems are an excellent option that is especially well-suited to herb growth. The most inexpensive ones are also perfect for growing smaller herbs and will stay in your kitchen all year round with little to no fuss! One day, we may be able to grow vegetables and fruits inside our homes without soil, but today, most hydro systems are made specifically for herbs.
Tips & Tricks Specifically for Growing Herbs
At the beginning of this article, I provided you with a chart listing some of the needs of your most basic gardening herbs. Now, I’ll go over some general tips and tricks (beyond giving your plants the proper amount of light, water, and soil nutrients) for specific herbs and herbs in general.
General Herb Growing Tips
In general, you should always prune your plants. Using pruning scissors or a little thread cutter works well to ensure your plants don’t become overcrowded. A plant with too many leaves or volume makes it hard for the soil to provide proper nutrients to supply its needs. Pruning keeps your plant healthy.
Moving plants when they get overcrowded is also a good idea, even if you’re not repotting or composting. If you have your system set up just so, you may find that your soil stays nutrient-rich time and time again, even after harvest. However, most plants will need some revamping every once in a while. You can either take the plant out and give it fresh soil or get a bigger pot and re-establish some nutrients in your old soil via compost.
Specific Herb Growing Tips
Though they belong to the same family, Herbs still have their own individual needs. Beyond this, they also have their companion plant preferences.
- Tips for growing mint. Mint is technically a weed, so know that when you plant it directly into your soil, it may branch out on its own without your permission. Even if you want to grow bunches and mint, you may consider keeping it in a container to make sure it doesn’t spread to parts of your garden you hadn’t planned for it to go.
- Tips for growing parsley. Your parsley needs to be snipped to encourage growth! Cut your herbs at ground level once you get a good harvest out of them. You may be surprised how much higher they grow back after a few snips.
- Tips for growing chives. You can continue growing your chives even after harvest. If you go to the store for some chives or have picked some fresh from the garden, setting them in a glass of water near a windowsill will encourage them to grow taller.
- Tips for growing lavender. If you already have a rose garden growing, adding lavender near it will mutually benefit the plants. Lavender does well with companion plants like echinacea and roses.
- Tips for growing basil. Basil is especially prone to overcrowding, so make sure to prune often. You can also grow basil pretty easily inside.
- Tips for growing sage. You’ll plant your sage earlier than most of your other herbs. Sage is a cool weather plant, meaning you should plan on planting it in the spring or fall. To grow herbs from cuttings, try to gather all of your cuttings in the spring.
Plants are products of your environment. Your soil, pests, climate, watering habits, and even pets have a lot to do with how they grow. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and trust your gut!
Growing herbs from cuttings will extend the life of your harvest and save you money in the long run. Giving herb cuttings to your friends or neighbors can alsol make for an excellent, practical gift! Seek advice from the gardeners in your area while following the general rules of this list for herb cuttings that are sure to grow and flourish.