Just last week a friend and I visited a large greenhouse to stock up on last-minute herbs for the growing season. As we walked the aisles, I felt more than a little guilty, if not mischievous, about the number of times I whispered to put a plant back since I already had it and would happily give her a cutting. When you're stocking a garden for the growing season, every $3 and $4 savings really adds up quickly!
Plants such as basil, mint, and oregano are incredibly easy to reproduce from cuttings — and a heck of a lot faster than growing from seed. So easy in fact, that it is practically criminal how quickly you can stock your entire garden from one small plant. I save time and money every season multiplying my basil crop in this way.
What You Need
Your choice of herbs
Small cup or jar
Pot or planter
Soil and compost
1. Allow new plants to grow for a few weeks to a month. When they've doubled in size, cut a few stems about 4 or 5 inches long just above or below a node (the juncture on the stem where leaves are attached).
2. Pluck off one or two sets of leaves, and remove any flower or buds that have formed. The goal here is to keep the plant focused on growing roots and leaves; flowers (a different form of reproduction) are a big energy drain.
3. Stick the stems in a small cup or jar of water and place in a sunny but protected spot. Add more water as it evaporates; at least one node should always be submerged in water since this is where the roots will form.
That's it. You should see roots in less than a week. Once healthy roots have formed, pot up or plant the new plants in-ground and you're done. You can add a little vermicompost to the hole if you want and of course water them in well to get things going.
Additional Notes: Plants with woodier stems, including rosemary, scented geraniums (aka pelargoniums), and lemon verbena tend to have a little trouble producing roots in water, but will work just as easily in a soil-like medium. Follow the directions for growing in water, but push the cutting into a small plastic pot or tray filled with well-draining potting soil, coir, or a mix of 1 part vermiculite and 1 part perlite.
Keep the soil moist, but not sopping wet. I have had especially good luck allowing geranium cuttings to scab over for a day or two before potting them up.
Herbs to Start in Water:
- Broadleaf Thyme/Cuban Oregano
Herbs to Start in Soil/Coir:
- Broadleaf Thyme/Cuban Oregano
- Lemon Verbena
- Savory (Summer and Winter)
- Scented Geraniums
Gayla Trail is the creator of the popular gardening project YouGrowGirl.com, a community for laid-back but enthusiastic gardeners where she also shares her personal experiences tending four very urban gardens: a rooftop edible container garden, 2 community garden plots, and a guerrilla garden planted in a once derelict space on the side of her building. Her work as a writer and photographer has appeared in O Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek, ReadyMade, Domino, Budget Living, LA Times, Life Magazine, and more. She is the food gardening columnist for The Globe & Mail and the author of Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces and You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening.
(Originally published 2010-06-24)