How to take herb cuttings

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Hoping to liven up your food with fresh herbs? This is how to properly take cuttings...

Taking cuttings of your herbs is an easy way of getting yourself some new free plants. Besides making great gifts or giving you the option of filling some holes with extra quantities of your favourite varieties, many herbs start to get a bit old and scraggly after several years of service, so it’s worth refreshing your stock with younger, healthier models.

Depending on the type of herb there are several methods of propagation, from dividing (this works for plants that include marjoram, oregano, mint and thyme) to “layering”—which is effectively burying sections of your herbs with just the tops showing so that roots appear on the covered stems—a trick that can work for thyme, sage and lavender among others.

But we’re going to look at taking simple cuttings, which will generate new growth for a wide range of herbs (and more) that includes lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme and bay.

The time to make your cuttings is late summer, when the plants have some established new growth. Select a healthy stem (and not one that’s in flower) and snip off a finger-length piece from the end. This piece should have soft growth at the tip, which will become harder towards the snipped end. It’s always worth taking more cuttings than you actually need—we rarely have a 100 per cent success rate and, even if you do achieve that level of cutting mastery, you’ll be able to choose the healthiest of the plants you have produced.

After severing your stems, you’ll want to get moving as quickly as possible. If for some reason you’re unable to plant up the cutting immediately (for example, if you’re pinching it from someone else’s garden) then seal it in a plastic bag until you’re ready to continue.

The next stage is to remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem and make a clean cut at the base—use a sharp knife and cut immediately below the base (or node) of the now removed bottom leaf. Some people also advise pinching out the soft tip of the cutting, although we get good rooting results despite never remembering to do this.

Fill a pot with compost—you can buy specially packed cutting compost, or use regular compost mixed with 50 per cent sharp sand as good drainage is key for rooting success. Create some holes in the compost (a dibber, a stick or a finger will do this job adequately) as you don’t want to damage the cutting by pushing it through the compost.

Before dropping into the hole you can dip the base in “hormone rooting powder” which will greatly increase your chances of them growing (again this is a stage we have often neglected and still had success).

When in place, firm the compost around the stem so only the leaves are poking out and place somewhere warm. A greenhouse or cold frame is perfect at this late summer time of year but if you don’t own either of these then cover with a clear plastic bag and place on the windowsill. Keep the soil damp—too wet or too dry will result in failure—and, all being well, roots will start to form after just a few weeks with more obvious signs of growth above the surface showing after a month.