Classification of cuttings types
Cuttings are commonly classified broadly in two different ways:
According to the type of plant tissue used.
Example: a leaf cutting is a cutting made from just a leaf, or part of a leaf; and a stem cutting is made
from a piece of stem.
According to the age (or tenderness) of the tissue used.
Example: softwood cuttings come from tissue that is soft; whereas hardwood cuttings come from harder
wood, which is older. The age of the wood is generally related to seasonal growth characteristics, for
example, softwood cuttings are commonly taken in spring after the first flush of new spring growth,
however they also be taken at other times of the year if suitable plant growth is available.
The classification of cuttings is not always the same from country to country, or even place to place within
a country. Terms used in one place are sometimes different to those used elsewhere. The term “tip”
cutting, for example, is often used to describe a cutting taken from the end of a stem. This in effect is
normally, but not always, the same as a softwood cutting.
Some cuttings might contain different types of tissue in the one cutting. A heel cutting, for example, can
contain wood that has grown recently at the top (still soft); wood that is semi -hard in the middle, and a
small section of hard wood (from last years growth) attached at the bottom.
TYPES OF CUTTINGS
A section of stem usually (but not always), with some leaves left on the top, but lower leaves removed.
There should generally be a node (this is a point at which a bud emerges) at the bottom of the cutting and
at least another node at the top of the cutting. There may be one or several nodes in between.
The techniques of softwood, hardwood, semi-hardwood and root cuttings are covered in more detail later
in this section. Only these are covered in more detail, due to the significance of these techniques to
Stem cuttings are usually classified as softwood, semi-hardwood or hardwood.
Stem cuttings can be taken from different parts of a stem. They might be taken from the very tip, with the
terminal (end) bud left attached (or in some cases removed). They might be taken from sections of stem
lower down, with the soft growing tip removed. In this case, several cuttings might be made from one
single section of stem.
Another alternative is to pull a short side shoot, from a stem, with some older tissue still attached to the
base. This older tissue is called a heel.
Some plants will even grow from sections of old stem (ie. wood that is 2 or more years old).
These are sometimes also called soft-tip cuttings. They are stem cuttings taken from new growth that is
soft. This commonly occurs during spring, but may occur at other times of the year if suitable material is
available. The genus and species in conjunction with the climate can alter the time period. Pruning
techniques used on mother stock plants can also govern when softwood cuttings are taken.
Common softwood cuttings include: Baeckia, Banksia, Bauera, Billardiera, Boronia, Brachyscome,
Brachysema, Bracteantha, Callistemon, Calothamnus, Cassia, Correa. Crowea, Dampiera, Dillwynia,
Dododea, Epacris, Eremophila, Eriostemon (Philatheca), Grevillea, Hakea, Hardenbergia, Isopogon,
Kennedia, Kunzea, Lambertia, Lechenaultia, Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Melia, Myoporum, Olearia,
Pandorea, Persoonia, Phebalium, Pimelea, Prostanthera, Scaevola, Sollya, Syzygium, Telopea,
Thryptomene, Verticordia, Westringia, Zieria.
Semi-softwood cuttings are taken from tissue that is in the process of changing from soft to semi
More on softwood cuttings:
The emerging shoots of plants used for softwood cuttings are tender and weak, and prone to quick
death if allowed to dry out after being removed from the plant. For this reason when the plant material
is taken, it is usually removed from the plant early in the day and placed immediately in a cool moist
environment (ie. a bucket of water, or moistened and placed in a sealed polythene bag stored in a cool
shady position until ready for preparation ). The plant material taken is generally larger than what is
needed – it is later cut to size during the softwood cutting process.
Soft plant tissue is easily bruised so careful handling and harvesting is essential. Extremely soft tissue
that wilts the moment it is cut from the plant is not recommended as the success is often low and it
often rots on the propagation bench.
Softwood cuttings are traditionally taken about 50-120mm long (2-5inches) with several nodes. With
misting, fogging and base heating equipment, softwood cuttings are now taken even shorter at around
30-40mm (about 1.5 inches).
A weak concentration (1000-3000ppm) of rooting hormone in a quick dip is used which increases the
The tug test (a careful tug made near the lower part of the exposed part of the cutting) is used to
indicate when the cutting has formed roots. This is when a gentle tug upwards of the cuttings is
performed – if the cutting offers some resistance then the cutting has roots; if no resistance then no
Taking softwood cuttings
After rooting has occurred, watering (misting, etc) is usually reduced progressively.
a. take a cutting (new growth) from the parent plant about 30-50mm long with several leaves attached
a. cut the stem with a clean sloping cut below a node
b. remove 2 or 3 of the lower leaves
c. treat with propagating mix
d. set into damp media
f. label and place in a humid environment ie. glass-house or cover with plastic
These are sometimes called half-ripe cuttings, semi-ripe or green wood cuttings.
Semi-hardwood cuttings are usually taken in late summer or early autumn, when recent spring growth is
in the process of hardening. Many commonly grown shrubs are propagated this way, including;
Auracauria, Boronia, Darwinia, Hibbertia, Grevillea, Pittosporum, Prostanthera, Pultanea etc.
climbers such as Pandorea and Hardenbergia.
More on semi-hardwood cuttings
Very soft tips of these semi-hardwood cuttings are generally removed as this soft tissue can desiccate
during the rooting period and increase chances of disease. Additionally this limp soft tip may interfere
with water penetration to the rooting media.
Cuttings are usually taken 80 -150mm (3-6 inches) long with the lower leaves (half to two thirds of
Top leaves can be trimmed to reduce water loss, or to facilitate handling, but conflicting evidence
indicates no clear benefit to this practice.
Hormone treatment is recommended to maximise root uniformity and success. Concentration will be
dependant on the species being propagated. (See later listings for different plants).
Taking semi hardwood cuttings
a. Take a cutting (firmer growth without woody bark, test: cutting should snap like a bean when bent)
from the parent plant up to 200mm long (depending on species, each cutting should have at least 3
nodes on the stem)
b. Remove the soft growing tip
c. Cut the base just below a node
d. Remove half to a third of the leaves
e. Treat the bottom 15mm with rooting hormone
f. Set in damp propagating mix
h. Label and place in a humid environment ie. glasshouse or cover with plastic
This is a stem cutting without a heel, where the base of the cutting is made as a cut, just below a node
(ie. where the leaf joins the stem). A single node cutting (also called leaf bud cutting) utilises a single
node and a leaf as part of the cutting. The node may have one or two buds depending on the species
Examples of plants grown by single bud node cuttings include: Double bud nodes plants include:
Clematis and Pandorea.
Double node cuttings are made from plants where two leaves emerge at the same point along the
stems length, but on opposite sides of the stem. The cutting retains two pairs of buds that are opposite
each other. Double node cuttings are popular for climbing plants in that if one bud fails to shoot, the
other might succeed. Clematis are commonly propagated by these methods.
Stem cutting where the base of the cutting is made at the point where the young shoot joins the older
branch. At this point there is often some swelling in the stem. The basal cutting does not necessarily
contain any older wood, as does the heel cutting.
A small section of cane from the plant, containing only one or two nodes, and no leaves is inserted
horizontally (instead of vertically - like most cuttings are normally done); with a bud showing just above
the surface of the media. This is used with plants such as Cordyline, Dracaena and Diffenbachia where it
is difficult to obtain large quantities of cutting material. Heating and misting are usually essential for
A range of other types of cuttings are used for various types of plants, though in general, these are
uncommon for the vast majority of plants you are likely to grow. They include leaf cuttings, root cuttings,
and some others.
How to take cuttings at a glance:
1. Collect cuttings of appropriate wood from parent plant
2. Label the cutting wood you have collected
3. Fill a container with propagating media and water
4. Make a cutting
5. Treat cutting with rooting hormone (dip into water first if using powder, shake of excess)
6. Make hole in cutting media with a dibbler and insert cutting firmly
7. Water gently to settle cuttings
8. Label and date
9. Cover with plastic or place into controlled greenhouse environment with misting
See diagram “how to Take Stem Cuttings” - following page.
Division of orchids
During the dormant growing season some types of orchids can be cut with a sharp knife, each section
containing four or five pseudobulbs. These sections are then potted; each developing into a new plant
(eg. Cattleya, Odontoglossum etc).
Dividing and separating perennials (herbaceous and non herbaceous)
Plants with modified stems or roots: ie. rhizomes, tubers, corms and bulbs can be easily separated or
divided by digging up and separating during the dormant period after the foliage has died back. Some
perennials such as grasses and plants are simply such as the Viola hederaceae, (native violet)
Brachyscome, (Swan River daisy) Aslpenium
- are lifted and split into smaller clumps in early spring late
Use a sharp knife to cut into smaller (disease and weed free) clumps alternatively use two garden forks
centred into the crown (back to back) then ease the forks into opposite direction to the outside of the
crown. Most herbaceous plants divide easily using this method. After trimming back any damaged
roots, the separated portions can then be re-planted straight into a well composted, moist garden bed
or potted up into appropriate sized pots.
For non herbaceous type plants it is usually necessary to cut back the foliage by at least half to prevent
too much moisture loss and transplant shock.
Stock plants are those plants which you take your cuttings from. Stock plants are frequently the most
under rated aspect of HEALTHY cutting production. "YOUR CUTTINGS ARE ONLY EVER AS GOOD
AS THE PLANTS THEY COME FROM"
If your stock plants are in poor condition:
Your cuttings may have a lower rate of success.
Your cuttings may be slower to form roots.
You may transmit pest or disease problems from your stock plants to other plants in your propagation
bed or greenhouse.
Your cuttings may not develop as strong a growth as it might otherwise.
Selecting stock plants
Plants free of disease and pests.
Plants which are true to type. The stock plants need to be correctly identified and clearly labelled.
Plants which have been grown under preferred conditions.
Plants which have been growing well.
Plants which have been adequately fed, and are free from signs of any nutrient deficiency or leaf
WAYS OF GETTING ROOTS ON DIFFICULT TO ROOT CUTTINGS
1. Hormone treatments
This involves applying chemicals which stimulate root development. Such chemicals can be applied
in powder, gelatinous or liquid forms, and at varying concentrations
2. Obtaining the correct type of material
The stage of growth of the cutting material is often critical.
Juvenile material will often strike
Healthy material is important
3. Etoliation and Banding
Banding involves wrapping a band around the stem (frequently Velcro is used). This stops light
getting to that section of stem.
If the base of the cutting has been banded for a period it may produce roots more easily.
Etiolation involves covering a section (or all) of a plant and keeping it in darkness for a period. Growth
which develops in darkness becomes elongated between the nodes. This etiolated growth is often
easier to strike as cuttings.
4. Cutting grafts
A cutting is grafted onto a piece of root. This helps the cutting take more easily. This method works
well with Bougainvillea, and Liriodendron, Brachychiton.
Some types of plants have too much sap in the tissue to be grafted when in an active growth state. If
grafted when in an active growth state a greater proportion of grafted cuttings may fail with rapid
Misting involves applying small droplets of water in an intermittent mist, to the cuttings. This both
keeps the cutting from drying out, and provides control over high temperatures. Mist droplets are big
enough to get into the root media though and can lead to water-logging.
Fogging applies water in superfine sized particles, much smaller than mist. -Water droplets are too
small to get into the media and cause water-logging.
6. Temperature treatments
(the West-Australian Christmas tree) is difficult to strike from cuttings. Some success has been
achieved with cuttings taken from suckers however they usually die, because mucilage oozing from the
cutting promotes development of bacteria which kill the young cutting. Cutting material which is chilled
has less oozing of mucilage and less of a problem with bacteria.
7. Light treatments (on stock plants).
Increasing light intensity for a period before taking cuttings will decrease rooting of cuttings taken
from many different types of plants (but not all).
The same treatment will decrease rooting for some plants though and have no affect on others.
For most plants, moderate light conditions for stock plants is more ikely to produce better rooting
cuttings than low or high light conditions. Reference: Hansen J. 1987 "Stock plant lighting and
adventitious root formation" published in Hortscience.
8. Bacterial treatments
Inoculation with a bacteria (Agrobacterium rhizogenes) has been successful in promoting root
initiation on difficult to root species.
WARNING: This fungus can over stimulate root production to the point where it leads to infection. It this
should only be used with difficult to root species. Ref: Patena, Suter and Dandekar in Acta Hortic. 1988
9. Combination of treatments
Banding is sometimes used with hormone treatments (ie. IBA is put on a velcro band, the velcro hooks
scratch/break the bark and transfer hormone into the plant tissue.
While nurseries aim to provide the ideal conditions for propagating and growing on plants, the same
conditions can be ideal for the spread of pests and disease problems. In particular diseases such as
‘damping off’: (ie. Pithium, Rhizoctonia, Phytophthora, Fusarium), Sclerotinia rot, Mildews (eg. Powdery
Mildew), and Grey Mould (Botrytis) can quickly infect and destroy large numbers of germinating seeds,
young seedlings, and even more established plants.
"Many diseases, once established in a nursery are a source on many on- going problems, as they are
often difficult to eradicate because they reside in soil, on nursery surfaces, equipment, in water or on
alternate hosts from which they can spread and re-infect new nursery plants" (Nursery Paper No. 10 -
97 produced by the Nursery Industry Assoc. of Australia).
Insect pests (eg. aphis, white flies, mites) can also breed prolifically, in such ideal conditions (warmth
and moisture), and severely damage plants in all stages of growth. They can also help spread
diseases, acting as a carrier of some (eg. viruses) from plant to plant, or by making it easier for the
disease to infect the plant through damaged tissue (eg. chewed areas), and because an insect
damaged plant is usually less vigorous, and therefore less likely to be able to resist infection, and
subsequent damage by diseases.
Pests and diseases can spread many different ways including:
By dipping healthy cuttings in hormone or water in which diseased material has been dipped.
Through irrigation (eg. from contaminated water sources) or rain water (dripping off structures or
diseased plants or by splashing up soil).
Soil-borne diseases on the hose - if it is dropped on the ground.
Soil on the bottom of pots/trays.
On tools, clothes, shoes and workers hands.
Contaminated soil mixes or pots.
Infected plant material etc.
Some recommended nursery hygiene practices include:
Treating all soil with either steam or chemical fumigation or solarisation.
Disinfect recycled water.
Changing the spacing of plants can increase ventilation, reducing the likelihood of diseases
occurring and spreading.
Segregate clean and treated pots. Never store clean pots on the ground. Clean all used containers
before reuse with 2000ppm quaternary ammonium compounds (quats) to remove media and plant
debris. Dip all plastic containers and trays in a 1% sodium hypochlorite solution for 20 minutes, or
steam treat at 60 degrees C for 30 minutes.
Don't use/transplant diseased seedlings or cuttings (destroy by burning).
Use good quality plant material for cutting propagation (vigorous growth, free of obvious pest and
Disinfect cutting material before using (a 2% sodium hypochlorite for one minute then rinsed in
clean disinfected water to remove excess chemical).
Take cuttings from top of plants - this is the cleanest part.
Clean tools before using, and ideally between working on different plants. Scrub them clean first
using plastic 'scratchies" and 2000ppm quaternary ammonium compounds (quats). For larger tools
and machinery pressure clean with a 2000ppm quat solution.
Place clean plant material on cleaned/sterilised benches (cleaned with quat solutions).
Segregate propagation activities from sales/growing on areas.
Avoid handling treated soil unnecessarily. It should ideally be sterilised just prior to being used, or
stored in such a manner (eg. sealed containers) that minimise the likelihood of the mix being
infested with pest, weed and disease problems.
Don't handle soil or plants unless hands have been washed with hot water and soap, or a suitable
disinfectant such as Savlon or Dettol, or use disposable gloves.
Footwear should be scrubbed clean with a brush and 2000ppm quat solution, or changed to other
footwear designated for use only in the propagation or other designated areas.
Avoid splashing water near sterilized soil, pots, benches, etc.
Pots should always be placed on well drained surfaces (preferably concrete, screenings or raised
Hang hoses on a hook - don't lay them on the ground, particularly nozzles.
Place any plants which you suspect to be diseased in an isolated area.
Apply control methods to pests and diseases as soon as they are detected to prevent their spread.
Wooden stakes and other similar materials should be steam sterilised at 60 degrees C for 30
Perform the self assessment test titled ‘test 2.3.’
If you answer incorrectly, review the notes and try the test again.
1. Find a native plant which needs pruning (this could be a fully grown shrub or tree). Demonstrate
pruning of this plant both in sketches and in before and after photographs. Indicate the species you are
2. Plant a pot of native seed, or cuttings (whatever you prefer - don't worry too much about the time of the
year for the purpose of this exercise).
Download and do the assignment called ‘Lesson 2 assignment’.