How to Start
In this article I’m going to describe the basic steps necessary for growing rosemary from cuttings. Once established your cuttings will mature into useful shrubs that bear attractive flowers in the spring and have strong sweet-smelling foliage that can be used in lots of different recipes. Rosemary also has medicinal properties when used in drinks and as an essential oil.
To start you’ll need to find some rosemary plants from which you can take your cuttings. Ask neighbors and friends for help with this. Lot’s of established gardens contain a rosemary bush. If none of them have rosemary in their gardens you can start your rosemary growing by buying a small plant from a good garden outlet or craft fair. Avoid trying to grow rosemary from seed – it’s difficult. Many expereinced herb growers have failed to try and propogate rosemary from seed.
There are three main steps needed to propagate rosemary successfully from cuttings.
- Taking and preparing your cuttings
- Planting your cuttings in a suitable compost mix
- Nurturing your cuttings so that they develop strong roots and grow into healthy shrubs
The Materials and Tools You’ll Need
To grow your rosemary you’ll need to buy or borrow a few items. Apart from the secateurs, none of them are expensive:
- Mixture of potting compost and sand (2/3 of compost to 1/3 of sand)
- Some 3 or 5 inch pots (plastic ones are fine)
- Secateurs or a sharp knife
I’ll explain where all these things fit in as we go through the three steps.
Step 1: Taking and Preparing Your Rosemary Cuttings
It goes without saying that you need to have a rosemary plant from which to take your cuttings. If you haven’t got one find a neighbor that’s growing rosemary in his/her garden and ask if you can take a few cuttings.
The three main ways in which you can take these cuttings are:
- From the young tender stems of the rosemary. Do this in the spring, but it’s also possible to take cuttings in the summer after flowering. Choose stems that are 2 to 4 inches long, but avoid the ones that have flower buds on.
- From herb stems that have just started to harden. These can be used as cuttings from the middle of summer until the fall. Take cuttings which are 4 to 6 inches long. As with the previous cuttings, avoid stems with flower buds
- From established herb plant stems that have grown hard (i.e. they are no longer green). These stems can be used for cuttings in the autumn. Choose stems that are 6 to 15 inches long.
In each case make a clean cut with your secateurs or knife just below the leaf nodes (this is the point where the leaves join the stem). On this part of the stem there are more plant cells. They will encourage root growth when the cutting is planted.
Trim your cuttings by removing leaves just above the cut. If you are working with hardwood stems remove the growing tip of the stem before planting.
Step 2: Planting The Cuttings in Compost
Now fill your plant pots 3/4 full with your compost and sand mix and push your stem cuttings firmly (but not too firmly!) into the soil at the edge of the pot.
If you are using a 3 inch pot you should be able to plant three cuttings around the edge. The stems should be buried to a depth of about a 1/4 to 1/3 of their length (except for your cuttings from established plant stems – these should be planted to a depth of 1 to 2 inches).
Once your cuttings have been planted insert three tall sticks (about 12 inches tall) into each pot. Cover the pots with a plastic bag to help retain moisture. The sticks will keep the bag away from the cuttings.
Step 3: Nurturing and Encouraging the Cuttings to Grow
Store your pots in a warm area, but out of direct sunlight. The warmth will encourage the roots of your growing rosemary to develop. Keep the pots watered, but avoid over-watering. Remove the plastic bags from time to time because too much moisture will encourage the growth of mold.
When you are growing rosemary from cuttings your softwood and semi-hardwood stems will form roots within five to six weeks. Your hardwood stem cuttings will take a little longer. When you observe signs of growth you can remove the bags and sticks.
Once your newly propagated herbs are established, you can replant the growing rosemary in pots or in your herb garden.
Here’s a video which will take you through the steps I’ve outlined above:
Ideal Conditions for Growing Rosemary from Cuttings
Rosemary prefers to bask in the sun and to be protected from cold winds. It can survive a mild winter planted outside in the garden, but if you live in an area that has hard winters its best to plant your rosemary outside in a pot so that you can transfer the pot to a greenhouse or sunny interior place during the winter months.
The ideal soil for rosemary is limey rather than acidic. The soil in my herb garden is acidic, so I put eggshells around the base of my rosemary to provide a limey growing environment. You can of course use a little lime instead, but don’t overdo it, a couple of egg-cups full is quite sufficient.
Although its not difficult growing rosemary from cuttings, you may find that some of your cuttings don’t take (i.e don’t develop roots). This isn’t usual, so don’t worry that you’ve done something wrong. Just make sure you have taken more than enough cuttings to meet your requirements.
There are five or six popular varieties of rosemary, some with blue flowers as shown in the photograph at the top of this article, and others with purple or white flowers. You might find it difficult to get hold of cuttings from varieties of rosemary other than the most common variety (with pale blue flowers). If you particularly want to grow other varieties of rosemary you’ll need to grow your rosemary from seed. You can find out about the other varieties of rosemary in our Herb Growing eBook.
Start Earning Money from Your Herbs
We have already mentioned that rosemary doesn’t always survive a cold winter if left outside in the garden, so its a very good idea to master the technique of growing rosemary from cuttings so that you’ll have young, new rosemary plants to replace any that don’t survive the winter.
Also, if you do start growing rosemary from cuttings you’ll soon end up with spare plants that you can give away or sell, and once you have mastered the technique of growing herbs from cuttings there are other herbs that you can also grow from cuttings as well.
Happy herb gardening,