Herb Cuttings: How to Propagate Your Own Plants at Home
Propagate simply means producing a new plant from a parent plant, or how you can get herb plants for free!
It's also good for the planet as your food miles for herbs will be cut to zero.
Let us start with cuttings.
How to Take Rosemary Cuttings
Some herbs such as lavender, rosemary, scented geraniums, and lemon balm are easier than others to propagate through cuttings.
In late spring or summer, when your rosemary parent plant is strong and healthy, have a pot of free-draining compost ready - 50/50 compost and perlite. Cut about 7.5 to 13 cms of new growth from a non-flowering part of the plant. Make the cut at an angle just below a node (where a leaf joins the stem).
Remove the lower leaves (if you are taking several cuttings keep them in a plastic bag, mist with water and seal to keep fresh). To help growth you can dip the cut end in a dish of rooting compound. Don’t dip directly into the pot as it could pass on viruses - put a little of the compound on a saucer. This part of the process isn’t essential if you have a healthy plant.
If there are large leaves, remove them from the top of the cutting or cut them in half to prevent added strain on the plant whilst it is busy producing roots. The cuttings should be inserted around the edge of a pot, past the first leaf node. Again, add grit to the top to retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing.
Growing Rosemary Cuttings
Water gently and place inside a propagator, or simply put a plastic bag over the top of the cutting, ensuring it doesn’t touch the herb, and secure with an elastic band. Your new cutting should be kept out of the cold and remain moist (by misting) until cuttings have rooted, usually about three to six weeks.
When the plant looks healthy and strong, pot up into John Innes No. 2 compost in a small pot. It helps to keep it inside for a month or two.
Sage can also be grown from cuttings; however as it can be slow-growing, a little more patience is needed. You can also take the cuttings in a slightly different way, called soft tip cuttings. This is when you remove just the tip of a young shoot rather than the woodier sections - again just below a leaf joint, and pot it on in the same way. This gives the cutting a better chance of forming a root system.
Whichever method of taking cuttings you use, remember not to take too much away from the parent plant, you still want the original healthy plant to use in your cooking.
How to Take Basil Cuttings
Some herb cuttings root easily in water, particularly basil, lemon balm and mint. Simply take a cutting just below a node (as with rosemary), remove the lower leaves, then place in a jar of water (preferably using spring water or leave tap water overnight for any impurities to evaporate).
Left on the kitchen, and being in water, you can watch the root growth. For me, this is one of the easiest ways of producing new plants.
Growing Basil Cuttings
You can either leave the plant in the water to continue growing (this is known as hydroponics) or plant up when the roots look strong and healthy. However, basil just in water won’t be receiving essential nutrients so it won’t grow quite so big and strong. Also, don’t move basil outside until there is no further risk of frost.
There are some other ways to get your herbs for free from existing plants.
One of the easiest ways to propagate is by root division. Thyme, lemon balm, oregano, mint, tarragon, and marjoram are all perfect for this. Some herbs can just be taken out of the pot and the roots teased apart gently.
With a large herb, dig up the entire plant, split the root by inserting your thumbs into the middle, pull apart and replant the divisions. Water each new plant well after transplanting to promote root-soil contact for quick, healthy growth. Herbs propagated by division benefit from being dug up and divided every few years – increasing your stock again.
You can also do this with herbs such as basil and chives, sold in pots in supermarkets for culinary use. Many of them have scores of seeds in one pot that thrive from being divided and potted on, giving you extra plants that will last for several months that will thank you for letting them enjoy fresh air and sunshine following their time fighting each other to get to the sun, nutrients in the soil, or the water.
Look for a mature healthy green plant with no brown or yellow leaves, or rotted soil. Gently prise the plants out of the pot and tear the roots apart as before.
Nature will help you with this and I find that they separate quite easily into several individual plants. Repot each sub-division in the same size pot they were in originally, burying the roots to the same level as before. Water lightly and enjoy your increased herb family.
Layering is another method of propagation, although it can be a little trickier. This is when you need to convince the stem to change its ways and start developing roots. One of the easiest to propagate in this way is mint. You can often see some of the bare stem growing close to the soil. Bend a flexible portion of the stem to ensure contact with the soil and slightly wound where you want the roots to grow by scraping with a fingernail or knife on both sides.
Then cover the wound with enough soil to keep it in place and pin it with a piece of wire or a hairpin (or top with a stone) until rooted, watering if dry. Then cut away and plant the rooted portion. This method encourages healthy growth as the ‘premature’ plant is still attached to the parent; however, unlike cuttings, there is usually a limit to the number of new plants you can produce. People often use the layering technique with strawberries, producing ‘runners’ to make new plants.
Mint also roots quickly in water.
Propagation can also include growing herbs from seed, which I’ve covered in a previous article. And of course, if you require a stopgap, you can always purchase a ready grown plant from a garden centre or supermarket. Although don’t expect the supermarket plant to last for long as they are really designed to cut, use, and discard.
Recipe: Garlic and Chive Herb Butter
This butter is ideal for steak, chops, jacket potatoes, garlic bread with a twist, adding to pasta and the many other occasions when you want to add a little something extra to a dish. This is also an excellent way to preserve your herbs if you have a bumper harvest.
- A handful of chives finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic crushed
- 500g unsalted butter at room temperature (this is important to blend everything together)
- Sea salt flakes and coarse ground black pepper
- Put the butter in a medium-sized bowl and blend with a spoon or fork until smooth.
- Add the garlic and chives and mix well, adding the sea salt and black pepper to taste.
- It is then ready to add to your dish.
Herb butter will melt over cooked meat, pasta, and vegetables to add flavour, or split a baguette, spread on the butter, wrap in cooking foil, and bake in a hot oven for 7 to 10 minutes.
Any surplus can be stored in the fridge for a week or alternatively, you can roll it into a log, freeze and cut off a slice or two when needed. Enjoy!
Although I’ve used garlic and chives, this recipe can be adapted with many other herbs. For example, tarragon or thyme with chicken; marjoram, oregano, or parsley for beef; lemon verbena, parsley, or sage with pork; dill, parsley, or sage with fish. All your favourite herbs can be used with vegetables, so the perfect excuse to make a freezer full of herb butters.
Author: Lynda Warren - Education Consultant, Writer, Researcher and Public Speaker. All my writings and talks are based on personal experience and years of research.
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