Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to Root Geraniums & Coleus

I have rooted many of my own plants for years, trying different techniques from soil layering to using rooting hormones.  By far, I have found that the easiest plants to root from cuttings are geraniums and coleus.  It's a quick and easy way to propagate a lot of new plants completely for free!

Several rooted coleus plants.
I plan on propagating a lot of plants this way so I don't have to buy as many.  Traditional varieties of geraniums do well in sunny beds, pots, or hanging pots and don't mind dry conditions.  Martha Washington varieties (aka Regal) are less tolerant of dry, hot conditions; however, they make especially beautiful plants for pots because they will cascade over the sides.  Coleus come in a wide variety of patterns and colors and are excellent for shade or partial shade beds or pots.
Both geraniums and coleus can be overwintered in pots in the house.  If they don't look so great, they can be put in the cellar near a window until spring, as long as they continue to get watered.  (Geraniums don't mind dry soil between watering but coleus will wilt if the soil is dry.)  They will tend to get leggy and overgrown, but that's actually a good thing for taking cuttings!  If you don't already have plants, you can buy a big plant in early spring and take cuttings from that.  From the time you take the cuttings, rooted plants will be ready to plant in about 2-3 weeks.

How to Root Geraniums and Coleus

1.  Using scissors or kitchen shears, take cuttings by snipping off sections of stem right above leaf nodes.  A cutting should include a length of stem with at least two leaves and one additional leaf node.

A leaf node is a bumpy spot along the stem which may or may not have a leaf or stem coming out.  (See the photo below for two leaf nodes along the lower part of the stem.) Cutting off right above a node will encourage the plant to create new stems and leaves from that node, creating a bushy plant.  A node is also the place where new roots can grow from.  Nodes have natural hormones which encourage new growth, whether it's leaves, stems, or roots.

Geranium cuttings from soft, newer growth tend to root the quickest.  You can also try cuttings from older growth, but I have found they take longer.

A geranium cutting showing two leaf nodes along the bottom half of the stem.

2.  On each cutting, trim off any stem slightly below the lowest node, like I did with the geranium above and the coleus below.  Extra stem may rot and cause problems.  Roots will sprout from the node, not the smooth stem.
A coleus cutting showing a leaf node at the bottom.

If you have a really overgrown plant, you can cut a long stem into a few cuttings.  I got two cuttings from this geranium stem.

This was one long stem cut into two cuttings.
3.  Pinch or cut off any leaves from the lowest leaf node, or any part of the stem that will be in the water.  Leaves in the water may rot.

This honey jar from a local farm was the perfect size.
4.  Place the cuttings in jars filled with plain water.  The lowest nodes should be submerged.  Leave the jar in a sunny place.  Add more water as needed and remove any stems that look like they may be rotting.  Cuttings can be planted in 2-3 weeks.

Old-fashioned gardeners in my family swore by using brown-tinted glass jars and bottles for starting cuttings.  Maybe the dark encourages growth?  The next time I come across a brown glass jar, I'm going to try cuttings in both the brown and clear to see which works better.

A baby food jar worked well for some little cuttings.

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