Start an Herb Garden for Pennies
I just moved to a new part of the country and had to leave my herb garden behind. It’s not the first time that I’ve been “herbless” and had to start over again. It can get expensive to start again and since I think being herbless is just wrong, I need a way to frugally build up my herb garden again.
I have a great way to remedy my dilemma for only a little bit of money. Follow along as I show you how to propagate herbs from cuttings. It couldn’t be simpler.
While I could go down to the local nursery and purchase all new plants (and I may purchase some of the more unusual ones) the main way I plan on getting my starts is to ask other gardeners. I’ve found that gardeners love to share, and in the fall people will be pruning back their herbs anyway.
The best way to increase your garden holdings is to ask and then learn how to make new plants from cuttings. You can also go to nurseries and look for closeout plants.
You only need a few cuttings from each plant to be successful.
Which Plants Can You Use to Make Cuttings?
This simple technique, once mastered can be used on any perennial plant that has a stalk. With only a few exceptions. You may wonder what perennials may be. Perennials are plants that come back every year. Annuals, on the other hand, bloom during one season and they never come back the next year.
In other words, while a perennial may seem pretty dead in winter, it develops new springs from the same roots next spring. In warmer climates some annuals behave like perennials, but those are an exception.
Herbs are either perennials or annuals. If an herb is annual you’ll need to replant it from seed every year. Lavender, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, chives, and thyme are perennials. Cilantro, basil, dill, and fennel are annuals, but the last two drop seeds from which new plants can appear. This means that dill and fennel come back every year by self seeding but they may not appear in the same location in your garden.
Knowing which herbs are perennials and which herbs are annuals is a must when trying to propagate them from cuttings. You could use this method on annuals too to keep them sheltered indoors during the winter and save on seeds the next year.
Also, knowing the difference between the two types of herbs is great for when planning and starting an outdoor herb garden. But that’s another story.
When looking for a plant to propagate from cuttings, a method also known as “cloning,” bear in mind that taking stem cuttings does not work on plants that come right out of the ground in a big clump, like aloe and hosta, bulbing plants like garlic or chives, and grasses or most annuals. Those are best propagated by division or seed.
That still leaves a lot that it will work with. Propagation by stem cuttings works fantastic on these herbs:
- Winter Savory
- Summer Savory
- Scented Geraniums
- Sweet Woodruff
- Lemon Balm
- Lemon Verbena
- Pineapple Sage
There are three kinds of stem cutting you might take – softwood, semi-hardwood, and hardwood. It will depend on the maturity of the plant which you use. The best time to make softwood cuttings is from the spring to late summer as plants are still growing.
Clip off a stem of rosemary and you can tell a softwood cutting, the end 3 inches is probably very green and pliable.The softwood section will root the quickest, sometimes only requiring water to root.
This way you can propagate many herbs directly on you kitchen counter. You’ll just need a healthy stem and a fresh cut. Remove the leaves at the bottom to get a longer stem and leave the plant in a jar with clean water on the counter.
In 3 to 4 weeks, the plant will have grown fresh roots. It is time to either transplant it in a pot/ garden, or leave it there until your next meal requiring it.
Next on the stalk is the semi-hardwood section. It is still somewhat pliable but is turning brown. You may get this section to root in water but success most likely comes with rooting in soil or sand. This is best done after the active growing season, usually in the summer or early fall.
The hardwood part of the stalk will be last years growth and will resemble a stick. You’ll know it because the stick will not bend, but only break. Rooting this part of a stalk will require rooting hormone and soil or sand.
Of course, not all plants will have this stage of growth. If you look closely at a mint plant you will see that it is only a softwood stem. All plants that winter over above ground will have a hardwood part of the stalk.
How to Propagate Herbs From Cuttings
Take cuttings from several stalks of the plant you want to propagate. I made my cuttings about 10 inches long. You should use sharp garden shears and clean them with rubbing alcohol after each plant. You don’t want to spread disease!
Make new cuts based on the way the stalk looks – separating softwood and semi-hardwood sections.
Cut below a leaf and remove two sections of leaves at the node. The joint on a stem where a leaf starts to grow is a node. The area of stem between joints is the internode. This section is where the roots will begin to emerge.
You should be careful to pinch off the leaf, never tear it away from the stalk. It will ruin the node and may introduce disease. I just pinch these off with my fingernails (clean hands of course.) You could also use a knife or clippers, but I find these cumbersome for the small job.
Now your cuttings should look like this – ready to go into the growing medium. You can use a soil / sand mix in a used 6 cell plant tray or just use fresh water.
The greatest threat to your small cutting is the loss of water through the leaves that remain. To minimize this, you can create a mini greenhouse around the plants. This will provide high humidity while the stalks produce roots.
Place your cuttings into a small jar of water and cover it with a plastic bag. No leaves should be in the water. Your cuttings need to be in a well light area but not in direct sunlight.
Keep an eye on it and change the water once a week or as needed. That’s all there is to it! In 3-4 weeks you will have roots growing from the node areas and you can plant them into potting soil.
Veteran Gardeners’ Well-Kept Secret: Rooting Hormone
Not all herb cuttings grow roots. Some of them will just wilt, droop, and die away. But don’t panic! Seasoned gardeners boost their rate of success when propagating plants through cuttings with a secret ingredient: rooting hormone.
How does rooting hormone work? Rooting hormone contains a growth regulator known as auxin. Plants already produce it, but some of them do not produce enough for a successful cloning.
Rooting hormones boost auxin levels and speed up healthy root formation in all plants. Auxin in large quantities increases the likelihood of root formation. That’s why, applying rooting hormone to plant cuttings helps them develop healthy roots instead of letting them just fight for survival on their own.
Where can I get rooting hormone? You can buy commercial rooting hormone or make your own. The commercial hormones are chemical formulations that you may not want to have in your edible garden.
The good news is that you can make your own rooting hormone from all-natural ingredients. DIY rooting hormone also cost you almost nothing when compared to the commercial formulations.
The most effective natural rooting hormone include (in no particular order):
- Organic Honey
- Willow Water
- Aloe Vera
- Apple Cider Vinegar
You can read more about how to make natural rooting hormone from any of these ingredients in my related article: 7 Ways to Make Natural Rooting Hormone.
How to Propagate Basil
Basil is an annual herb, so it is best grown from seeds. But you can easily propagate it from cuttings as it is one of the easiest plants to clone. Just pick a basil stem that hasn’t developed seeds or blooms yet and looks really healthy.
If the basil has blooms it means that it is an adult plant already. Basil propagation best works from juvenile plants.
Also, basil cuttings should be at least 3-4 inches long. Cut the stems at a 45 degree angle with garden shears after you have properly disinfected them. Remove almost all leaves on the stems leaving just a few at the top. If the leaves at the top are too large you can cat them down to one third.
Place the cuttings in a jar with tap water. Put the jar in a sunny spot but away from direct sunlight. Avoid drafts and cold air but offer plenty of ventilation.
Change the water every other day. If the water in your area is too chlorinated, use purified or mineral water. In 2 to 3 weeks, your basil stems should develop new roots and be ready to be transplanted in a pot.
Propagating annuals like basil is a great way to get their seeds for free.
Stem Propagation: Oregano
Even though oregano is a perennial herb, it doesn’t clone as easily as basil does. But don’t lose hope! If done right, you can have fresh oregano in a pot in as little as 4 weeks. Cut 3″ to 5″ long stems from a juvenile plant with sterilized shears. Make sure that the cuts are made a 45 degree angle to ensure enough surface area for new roots to develop.
Remove all but 3 to 4 sets of leaves at the top. Place the stems in clean water and change the water every other day. Since fresh oregano grows new roots at a slower rate, you can speed up the process by using a natural rooting hormone in water.
Place the plant cuttings in a bright area away from direct sunlight. In about 4 weeks the new plants are ready to transplant in pots.
How to Propagate Thyme
Just like oregano, thyme is a bit too woody and needs more time to propagate from cuttings. Get the stems from mature plants (flowers are ok) but make sure they are new, green growths. Thyme can be cloned in water but it is best to clone it directly in potting soil.
You’ll need the cuttings, one plastic soft drink bottle, and potting soil. Remove the bottom of the plastic bottle. Thyme needs plenty of warmth to propagate and slightly dry soil. The plastic bottle will ensure the right conditions for it to develop new roots.
Also, to boost your chances of success, apply some natural rooting hormone onto the fresh cuttings such as honey or fresh aloe vera juice. Watch the video below for a step-by-step guide.
Learn the art of how to propagate herbs from cuttings. Knowing this one simple trick will save you a ton of money as you plan your new herb garden.
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Debra @ MsMoozys Open House says
This is some great info, thanks for sharing. I will be featuring this post on my blog at Tuesdays with a Twist, make sure you stop by and take a peek.
Thanks Debra! Have a wonderful week.
Hello , I have Grape Iris plant, it didn’t flower well this yea, and it is now down flowering. what is the best time to dig up and replant in another location?
Thanks for your interesting article! I am just wondering – could I buy a package of fresh rosemary stalks in the grocery store and put them in water? Would they root after being removed from the plant for so long? Also, it is going to be winter time here for a long while yet, would rosemary grow well as an indoor pot herb?
Hi Wendy, you certainly can grow a new plant from the stalks in the grocery store. As long as the cutting has remained hydrated (and I’m pretty sure they do that) it will root. I just did it last week with a sprig of mint. Rosemary will make a good indoor potted plant, just make sure you don’t over water it while it’s indoors for the winter.
do u use warm water or cold?
Hi Rosetta, the water temperature doesn’t matter.
ShyAnne Dixon says
I moved away from my parents house after college but I took a few sprigs from my mothers rosemary plant before I left. They grew roots just fine and seemed to flourish for a while. But now, about 2 months later, some of them have not being doing very well. The leaves are turning brown and wilting and I noticed that some of the roots turned a little black. Any advice you can give me would be very much appreciated! I am very new to gardening so I have no idea if they can be saved!
It sounds like you may have overwatered your new rosemary plant. Make sure that the soil dries out between waterings. In the winter it probably only needs to be watered weekly. In the heat of the summer that could be daily. I hope they make it!
Amanda Packard says
You may also attempt to do a new cutting from your plant and re-root them… happy gardening. Love your cite!
Ella Brigham says
Nice post and quite helpful tips! I have a two-year-old plant at home and I was wondering if I could propagate it somehow, because I want to grow few plants in the garden too. The info was quite helpful. Thanks for sharing!
Any plant that grows with s stem can have cutting made for rooting. It’s the clumping ones that need to be divided.
Great article with nice clear photos.
I have found that soaking willow twigs (cut in late winter or early spring before the buds open) in jars of water will produce natural rooting hormones in the water, which I use to help my herb cuttings to root better than they would with plain water. Any kind of willow seems to work. It’s still important to remove the herb leaves below the water line.
I put a link to an article on using willow water, in the ‘website’ bar. It’s not my own website, but I was not sure whether your comment program allowed links.
Hannah, via pinterest
an old idea is that when you are getting ready to plant your cutting, you should add a handful of dirt to the water that it lives in, every day until the baby plant is essentially a potted plant. this allows the roots to adapt to the new environment
I will have to try that Coby!
Edward E Vera says
What is the best time to get cuttings?
Hi Edward, the best time for cuttings are when the plants are actively growing
When no one’s looking.
Mamie Williams says
Thanks so much, I have been trying to find out how to replant some of my rosemary but I just knew it would die. THANKS SO MUCH FOR THE ADVICE! I WILL START TODAY!
Glad to be of help, Mamie!
James J. Decker says
I love to grow herbs in my home garden but didn’t know where to start. Thank for your tips. Very simple and easy to get started, I will follow your advices in my next year’s gardening projects!
Veronica - hyperbrain.me says
Great article and photos showing how this is done! I learned how to do it during a workshop I took but forgot to take photos of the process to show friends and future helpers how it’s done, but now I can just refer to your article. Thank you so much. 🙂 I also heard the tip that Coby posted above about adding soil to get a little nutrients + microorganisms helping the process further.
Kay @ Nested Blissfully says
I’m gonna try this with Lavender, I have one plant, and I love using the few buds I get from it around the house. Hope it works!
It’s pretty easy to get cutting from lavender. They do take longer to root than most herbs, so patience is in order!
I’ve read somewhere that if you cut your rosemary in the hardwood section, new stem will not develop. Is that true? I am worried I have permanently made my rosemary short now :/
Thanks – I tried sprouting 24 different types of herb seeds (annuals, biennials and perennials) with very little success. I confess that over half of the types were 4 to 6 year old seeds. Had almost 100% germination from Thai Basil seeds I collected last year and year before, everything else was 0 to 5% germination including seeds I bought in past 2 years.
I’ll need to try cuttings next time that mine start to decline. Are you sure annuals won’t do OK?
John Smith says
Thanks for sharing these tips, i have purchases new house lat month. You tips help me to grow herbs in my garden.