Many landscape and indoor plants are propagated by taking softwood, semi-hardwood, hardwood or herbaceous cuttings, all inexpensive methods of creating a new plant from an older, mature plant. While propagating plants by taking cuttings isn't difficult, the key is knowing when to take cuttings, and understanding the difference between each type of cutting. Some plants are propagated by more than one type of cutting.
Softwood cuttings, taken from vigorous new growth in spring, are used to propagate a variety of woody plants, including arborvitae, viburnum, camellia and forsythia. Softwood cuttings, taken from succulent young stems, are still flexible enough to break with a snap when the stem is bent. Take softwood cuttings early in the day when the stems are well hydrated. Two or three days after a rainfall is an ideal time.
Gardeners take semi-hardwood cuttings from cuttings that are from the current year's growth, but are more mature than softwood cuttings. The stems are fairly firm, but still slightly flexible. The leaves are fully grown. Taken between mid-July and the first hard freeze in autumn, semi-hardwood cuttings are useful for propagating crabapple, gardenia, flowering cherry, flowering quince, butterfly bush and spirea.
Hardwood cuttings are taken from mature stems when the plant is dormant -- between late fall and early spring. The stems are hard and won't bend, and no leaves or buds are evident. Taking hardwood cuttings is an effective way of propagating deciduous shrubs such as grape, ivy, abelia or photinia. Hardwood cuttings are also used to propagate many evergreens, including juniper, pine, spruce and cedar.
Herbaceous cuttings are taken from non-woody plants such as dahlia, begonia, impatiens, chrysanthemum, geranium and coleus. Herbaceous cuttings are also used to propagate indoor plants, including Chinese evergreen, Christmas cactus, dracaena, philodendron, rubber plant and hoya. Herbaceous cuttings, also called "slips," are taken from tender shoots any time the plant is in active growth in spring, summer or autumn.
- University of Nebraska Extension: Propagation With Softwood, Semi-Hardwood and Hardwood Cuttings
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Types of Stem Cuttings; 1993
- Arizona Cooperative Extension; New Plants from Stem Cuttings; Jeff Schalau; 2008
- University of Missouri Extension; Home Propagation of Houseplants; Mary Ann Gowdy; 2002
- NC State University Extension; Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings: Instructions for the Home Gardener; Erv Evans