All the Dirt on Gardening: Herbs from Cuttings

Remove all lower leaves from Rosemary stem cuttings before standing in water to grow roots. Leaves should not touch the water.

Fresh herbs contribute scent, flavor and flowers for our gardens and our kitchens. Whether they are in the ground or in containers, just give them soil that drains well and plenty of sun.

Common herbs can be purchased as small plants in the spring at many vendors, but the plants vary in quality.

With seeds and cuttings, an herb bed can be grown inexpensively. When planting from seed, remember that herbs need room to spread. Rosemary, sage, and oregano need 4 feet; basil and thyme, 2 feet; cilantro, dill, chives and parsley need at least one foot. Mint travels everywhere by rhizomes.

To build your collection, ask fellow gardeners for cuttings so you can collect varieties that do well in your local weather and soil.

These herbs are fairly easy to grow from cuttings: Lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, basil, marjoram, sage, savory, scented Geranium, Monarda (Bergamot for tea and salad), Sweet Woodruff, Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena and Pineapple Sage.

The three types of cuttings are: 1) Softwood, green and pliable, roots in water; 2) Semi-hardwood cuttings, a bit pliable but turning brown, roots in moisture, sand or soil; and, 3) Hardwood from last year’s growth, unbendable, may need rooting hormone, soil or sand.

Example: To take Rosemary stem cuttings — A 10-inch stem will have softwood on the top, semi-hardwood in the middle and hardwood on the bottom. Separate into three sections with clean shears.

Make a cut below a leaf and remove all but the top leaves. Stand the cuttings in a container of water, lightly cover with plastic and keep out of direct sun. Change the water weekly. In 2-4 weeks, rooted stems will be ready to transfer to potting-soil-filled containers and then into the garden when they are strong.

Take more cuttings than you need since some will not root. Grow extras for gift-giving and swapping with other gardeners. You never know what treasures you’ll receive in return.

Molly Day has been gardening for 40 years and garden writing for 15 years. You can search 2,000 entries in her blog at www.allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com.