How to Propagate Rosemary From Cuttings in 9 Easy Steps
If you are thinking of propagating rosemary in your garden, propagation via cuttings is the most efficient way to do it. There are a few simple steps you'll need to follow for your best chance at success. In this article, gardening expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey shares each step you'll stick to when propagating rosemary.
From roasts to pizza to meat rubs, rosemary is an essential culinary spice. But this Mediterranean herb is also a valuable asset to the garden. If you’ve been wanting to share your rosemary with a friend or two, this is a great guide for you! Propagating rosemary from cuttings is a simple way to proliferate your herb garden.
Rosemary is drought-tolerant, pest-repellant, and also a deer-resistant herb that makes an excellent companion plant. It is an obvious choice for novice gardeners who want a low-maintenance and hardy herb. Its dazzling blue flowers make it pollinator-friendly, as they are a valuable early nectar source for bees and butterflies.
This fragrant herb is extremely easy to grow from stem cuttings. You can take the trimmings of a mature rosemary plant and start several new plants very quickly.
Compared to seeds, cuttings are a quicker, more reliable method for replicating rosemary plants. Use these nine simple steps to quickly propagate your rosemary plants without spending a dime.
Step 1: Choose Your Season
The best time to propagate rosemary from cuttings is in the late spring to early summer when rosemary is actively putting on new growth. Ideally, you should take your cuttings before the plant starts flowering. But if your plant has already started producing blooms, you can usually still find stems that are flower-free.
Keep in mind this method is for softwood cuttings of rosemary. Softwood means that the cuttings are taken in the spring from the plant’s new growth.
The cuttings come from young sprigs and will not have thick, woody stems. Hardwood cuttings are not recommended for beginners because they take much longer to root and face more risk of rotting.
Step 2: Gather Your Materials
A propagation tool kit is extremely cheap. In fact, you probably already have these materials lying around your house.
The most important thing to remember is sanitation. Fortunately, it’s as easy as dipping your tools in a diluted bleach solution every couple of cuts. Propagation is a bit like lab work; you don’t want to introduce any disease-causing pathogens into your new plants.
You will need the following supplies:
- Sharp pruners or scissors.
- A sharp knife.
- Diluted bleach solution (1 capful of bleach in 1 quart of water).
- Filtered water (room temperature).
- Glass or clear plastic jars.
- A mature, healthy rosemary plant.
- Rooting hormone or solution (optional).
Step 3: Find Pliable New Growth
Strong cuttings start with a healthy mother plant. Cuttings are a form of vegetative propagation or cloning. This means that the species, variety, and health of the mother plant will be directly passed on to the offspring.
Be sure the rosemary mother plant looks healthy and has vibrant green needles. It should not show any signs of disease or rot. The plant should be mature and strongly rooted in its container or garden bed.
Next up, you’re looking for young, green, pliable new growth. This means that the stem tips should be bendy and flexible. They should have a vibrant light green color that indicates they are new. The lower part of the stem may be light brown or tan.
Avoid taking cuttings from stems that are:
- Actively flowering (the flowers will draw energy away from the cutting as it tries to root).
- Super woody or old growth.
- Yellow, droopy, or otherwise unhealthy looking.
- Diseased or infested with pests.
Remember, we want softwood cuttings! Don’t cut from old woody branches.
Step 4: Take Several 4-8″ Cuttings
Finally, you can get chopping! For super clean cuts, check that your scissors or pruners are very sharp. Make cuttings that are 4-8” long and cut just below a node. Nodes occur at every point on the stem where a leaf meets the stem. They look like little bumps or warts in the “elbows” of each leaf intersection.
Nodes are the location of the most meristematic tissue in the plant. This is the type of tissue that has lots of stem cells that are ready to replicate and rapidly develop into roots. All technicalities aside, making your cutting below a node ensures that it can easily develop new roots at the base of the stem.
If you’re having trouble finding a node, strip away a few lower leaves and make your cut just below one of the stem bumps.
The ideal size for a rosemary cutting for propagation is 4-8” long. If your rosemary is smaller, you can get away with cuttings that are a few inches long. Just remember to put less water or soil in your rooting container.
It’s best to take several cuttings at once. Depending on the size of your rosemary plant, you could take a handful or dozens! Spring pruning is a great time to take cuttings because you may already be giving your rosemary a haircut.
Step 5: Strip the Bottom of the Cutting
Now it’s time to strip your cutting’s leaves and shave off any stem bark layers. These two steps make your cuttings much more likely to succeed!
Use your fingers to remove the lower third to half of the leaves from the cutting. Stripping the leaves from the lower 2-3” of the stem ensures that no leaves are submerged under water or soil during the rooting process. Be sure at least 5-6 sets of needles remain on the top of the stems. These are the leaves that will fuel photosynthesis to produce energy for new roots.
Next, use your sharp knife or scissors to lightly scrape off the outer stem layer on the bottom of the cutting. To avoid introducing any contaminants or pathogens, be sure that your knife is sanitized with the bleach solution before attempting this.
Very lightly shave the outer skin so it is easier for the new roots to sprout from the base. Be careful not to cut your finger or slice the stem too thin.
Step 6: Use a Rooting Solution
Rooting hormones are plant supplements that help cuttings develop roots more quickly. They can be purchased at garden nurseries, or there are several DIY options for rooting solutions. Rosemary does not typically need a rooting hormone to form roots, but it can help speed up the process.
Rooting hormone is most helpful for soil-rooted cuttings. You don’t need to use these when you are growing cuttings in water. Rooting solution options include:
Powder Rooting Hormone
This is the most common hormone used in commercial rosemary production because it is cheap and easy. Get your rosemary wet before dipping the end into the powder. Then, place the cutting directly into your soil mixture.
Gel Rooting Hormone
Widely available at garden stores, this is the most common type of rooting hormone used for houseplants. It covers the cutting with a thick layer of root-promoting hormone that helps it clone more quickly. To ensure you don’t contaminate the bottle, be sure to place the gel in a separate cup or bowl before dipping your cutting.
You can dip the end of the stem in honey to nourish the cutting and promote quicker root growth. It also has some antimicrobial properties that protect the cutting from rotting.
If you have any willow plants on your property, the fresh stems of young willow are among the best root-promoters in the plant world. The growing tips of willow trees are high in salicylic acid and indole-butyric acid (IBA), which encourage root growth and protect from pathogens. Soak willow tips in water and then dip the cuttings in the solution before planting in the soil.
Step 7: Root in Water or Soil
Rosemary cuttings can be rooted in water or in soil. Water-rooted cuttings will grow roots faster, but soil-rooted cuttings tend to be more robust. Either way, the lush young stems you cut from the plant need to be submerged in a medium where they can sprout roots.
|Water Propagation||Soil Propagation|
|Most beginner-friendly||More advanced|
|Takes 2-6 weeks||Takes 4-8 weeks|
|Fastest root growth||Strongest root growth|
|Easy to see roots developing||Cannot see roots, but may see new leaves|
|No rooting hormone needed||Rooting hormone is helpful|
|Requires transplanting into soil||Can be rooted in place or up-potted|
Rooting Cuttings in Water
Begin by choosing a clear jar or container that is deep enough to keep the stems upright. Imagine the cuttings are a bouquet of flowers with their bottom stems submerged and their tops splayed out of the top. Anything too big or too small can slow the rooting process or cause your cuttings to fall out. A quart-size mason jar usually works great.
Fill the jar with a few inches of room-temperature water. Depending on the cutting length, you want the lower one-third to one-half of the stems submerged underwater. Only the leafless part of the stems should be submerged. Ensure that your cuttings stay in place with their upper leaves fully exposed to fresh air.
Change the water once or twice per week to keep it aerated and fresh. Avoid disturbing the cuttings when you pour out the water and refill the jar.
Rooting Cuttings in Soil
First, prepare a very well-drained sandy soil mix for cuttings. Some gardeners propagate rosemary in 100% horticultural sand, while others mix in potting soil, perlite, or vermiculite. Drainage is the most important factor here because cuttings can easily rot in overly moist soil.
Fill small containers or 6-pack pots with the soil mix. Avoid tamping down or compressing it. You can also root several cuttings in an open flat. Just be sure the container is deep enough to keep the stems upright.
Use a pencil or dibbler to make a little hole in the middle of each pot. If you’re using a rooting hormone, dip the ends of every stem in the solution before placing each cutting into a prepared hole. Avoid bending the bottom tips by pressing gently, and be sure to keep all leaves above the sand. Only the naked part of the stem should be submerged.
Use the sand or potting mix to lightly press against the cutting so that it is supported and upright. Keep the soil consistently moist, but never soggy. Water once or twice a week as needed.
Step 8: Keep in Indirect Sunlight
Cuttings thrive on a warm windowsill or protected part of a greenhouse. The temperature should be around 70°F with moderate levels of humidity. At least 6-8 hours of bright, indirect light is ideal for cutting growth.
If the sunlight is too intense, the cuttings can get burnt. However, if it is too dark, the cuttings won’t have enough energy to sprout new roots. Find a happy medium and optionally use a heating mat or grow light to speed up growth.
Step 9: Wait 2-8 Weeks for Roots to Form
Rosemary cuttings can root in as little as 2 weeks in water but may take up to 8 weeks to root in soil. The length of time depends on the light, temperature, growth medium, and vigor of your rosemary.
When you start to notice little root hairs forming, it is a good sign. Within a few weeks, there may also be some green new growth on the tips of the stems.
Rooting in Water
Wait until the plant has at least five robust root hairs to transplant. Then, prepare a container with well-drained soil and gently move the cutting into the hole.
Rooting in Soil
You may give the plants a little tug after 4 weeks to make sure they are anchored in place. Wait another week or so before up-potting or transplanting outdoors. Temperatures should be well-settled and consistently above 60°F before moving rosemary cuttings outside.
You will know that a cutting has failed if the needles start to turn yellow or brown. An unrooted cutting may wilt and fall over. Don’t worry! Simply toss it out and take more. Sanitize your containers and throw away the soil to ensure no pathogens are passed onto the next batch. Rosemary is very forgiving and eager to supply new baby stems.
It is recommended to keep your baby rosemary plants protected indoors until they are at least 6” tall. You can then begin hardening them off by gently exposing them to outdoor weather over the course of a week. Once the potted cuttings have acclimated, you can plant them in the ground!
As you can see, sharing your rosemary by propagating through cuttings is an affordable and simple process. Anyone can do it! If you follow the nine steps we outlined here, you’ll have plenty of baby rosemary plants to share in no time. Your friends’ meals are about to get an aromatic upgrade!