CPC Best Plant Conservation Practices

to Support Species Survival in the Wild

US endangered Pilosocereus robinii cuttings hardening before transplant to soil. This technique minimizes transmission of pathogens from soil to open cuts. Photo by Joyce Maschinski.

Vegetative Propagation

Key Messages for Vegetative Propagation
  • Several vegetative propagation strategies provide opportunities for field collection and can help build the number of individuals in a conservation collection.
  • Maintaining labels on cuttings and all plant propagules is necessary to distinguish different maternal lines throughout the propagation process.
  • For a more detailed explanation of best practices, download our Best Plant Conservation Practices guide.

Vegetative Propagation From Cuttings

For long-lived species that produce seeds out of reach in time and space or for vines or herbaceous species, cuttings may be an easy vegetative propagation method that can be used to obtain material.

Plan to collect plant cuttings at a season when tissue is not overly soft or hard.

  • For herbaceous species with fleshy stems, select intermediate aged tissue. Avoid new growth and tissue that is overly lignified or woody.
  • For woody species, such as shrubs or trees, collect shoot cuttings before woodiness develops.

Sterilize tools before and after taking a cutting.
Protect plant cuttings while transporting from field to nursery.

  • Wrap cut stems in moist paper towels and place into sealable plastic bags for transport.
  • Transport in a cooler.
  • Place in a refrigerator until ready to process – no more than 1 day.

Identify the location of buds and nodes so that you can orient your plant cuttings.
Trim cuttings from end distal to shoot tip such that there are 3 to 4 nodes on a cutting.

  • Remove any flowers and up to 50% of leaf material to reduce water stress.

Reduce opportunities for contamination.

  • Sterilize incoming plant tissues in 10% bleach solution for 10 minutes. Note: you may vary these concentrations and timing based on the sensitivity of the species you propagate.
  • Use safety precautions and personal protection equipment (PPE) when working with bleach.
  • After bleaching, place in fresh sterilized water to maximize turgor pressure in cells.

Encourage root growth from stem cuttings.

  • Dip basal clipped end into rooting hormone and place into sterile media such as perlite in container.
  • One example of a sterile media: 70% perlite, 15% vermiculite, 15% peat moss, and 1 Tbs. of oyster shell. Adjust media based upon the growing conditions in your nursery.
  • Using bottom heat may encourage root growth in some species.
  • Some species may root quickly, while others may require months. This can vary across individuals within a species as well!

Seek the Goldilocks condition – not overly wet and not too dry.

  • Maintain under mist in partial shade (10-100 W/m2/ day or ~ 50 – 75% shade) and DO NOT ALLOW TO DRY OUT!
  • Note that some species will not like misting. Their meristems will rot, so it is best to check daily to look for problems.
  • It is best to control moisture delivery by a clock timer or an “electronic leaf.”
  • Check controllers frequently to adjust as needed when weather changes.
  • Optimal temperatures for rooting cuttings are 65-77 ± 3°F.

Maintain labels on cuttings to distinguish different maternal lines throughout the propagation process.

For more information, see Missouri Botanical Garden’s guide to propagation by cuttings.

alcohol for field sterilization
pruning clippers
plastic bags
heating pad
container with depth greater than cutting lengths
sterile potting media such as perlite
rooting hormones (Rootone™, Hormex™, Clonex™,and many other commercially available brands).

Vegetative Propagation From Division

For plants where cutting is not possible, division is a simple vegetative propagation method that can also help with plant conservation.

For plants with specialized storage roots, (rhizomes, tubers or bulbs), or species with adventitious bulbs, pull sections apart and transplant smaller units into individual pots.

For plants with massive root systems (grasses, Carex, Juncus, clonal species), break or pull whole portions of the mat apart. Some are so tough that it is possible to saw them apart.

Maintain labels on propagules to distinguish different maternal lines throughout the propagation process.

pruning saw

Learn More About Plant Conservation

The Center for Plant Conservation has several resources to help you stay educated on the best practices of plant conservation. If you want to learn more about protecting plants, or connecting with plant professionals, we are here to help!