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Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Apartment Garden: How to Take Cuttings to Propagate Mint and Cuban Oregano

Using a bunch of store bought mint and a beat up Cuban Oregano in a cup of water

Ever wondered if you could take cuttings from a bunch of fresh herbs bought at the market, or if you could propagate without any fancy shmancy greenhouse stuff?  I did, so I gave it a shot.

And it worked!  At least with peppermint.  Which practically grows like a weed anyway.  I also decided to take some cuttings from a scraggly Cuban Oregano (a variety of mint also known as Mexican Mint or Oregano) from last summer, and that's worked out nicely too.  

I think this would be a super fun project for kids, too, as they can actually see the roots develop. 

So I'm writing this because spring is here... sort of (it snowed overnight in Madison and although the lake melted last week it looks like it's turned to slush again!) and many of you are preparing your beautiful vegetable gardens.

Lemme tell ya, I covet your gardens.  I live in an apartment with no deck and grew up mostly in a townhouse with a small deck in total shade. Ironically, working in a greenhouse on and off for about 15 years put me through university.  I took home and tried growing almost every bedding plant and herb we had, even trying them in the shade!  I also became intimately familiar with the process of taking cuttings to propagate plants, including herbs. 

Alas, without a garden or even a shady deck, I'm left to grow on my coffee table and living room floor, where I get a lot of sunshine at least! So here's how I grew a couple of pots of mint. 


There are two simple ways to take cuttings and propagate plants.  

    1) The super simple water method, which usually works ok for slightly tougher stems and hardier plants and:

    2)  The method professionals use, which is to use a type of growth stimulator, aka root hormone, to dip the cutting in and then plant in soil and grow on a heated table. 

What I used:

 1 bunch of organic peppermint bought at the local market in the fridge section.  It's important that your herbs be fairly freshly cut, or at least chilled to prevent wilting and drying out.  I actually bought the herbs, then left them in my fridge for almost a week before I got around to doing this!!  It still worked.  

4 cuttings from my own Cuban Oregano plant

 How to take plant cuttings:

(This is going to apply to most plants in general, not just mint)


1a) For cuttings to be grown in water: cut about 2-3" from the tip of a stem of the herb with a sharp, clean knife - (i.e. ideally you do want an intact tip and about 2-3" of stem)

  b) For cuttings to be grown in soil: cut about 1-2" long

2) Strip any large leaves off the bottom (these suck up energy that you want going to your roots), leaving the tip and a few leaves (i.e. I had my tip with a little cluster of leaves and about 4 larger ones underneath)

3) If there are any large leaves just below the tip you can also trim them slightly by pinching them altogether and cutting them all at once (be sure you DON'T cut the tip off the cutting). This reduces the amount of energy spent on the leaves and helps prevent any molding

Pinching the leaves over the tip and trimming them

4a) For water cuttings: cut the stem off about 3/4" below the last leaf nodes you stripped off

  b) For soil cuttings: cut off about 1/2"

Trim stem below the last leaf node

How to Propagate Cuttings in a Cup of Water

Cuban Oregano: I took 3 cuttings and wrapped them in a paper towel, then put that little package into a small jar of water on my coffee table, and changed the water every couple of days.  The paper gives them something to grab on to, and that seems to help.

In about 10 days time I began to see roots.  In about 2 weeks, I had some very decent roots growing.  You can see the roots sticking out of the bottom of the paper towel here. 

I had a couple of stems that actually broke off the plant at the same time and I tried just plunking them in the water without the towel, and they did grow teeny tiny roots, but definitely not as quickly. 

Cuban Oregano roots

Peppermint: Peppermint is pretty hardy.  I just plunked it into a small jar of plain water and let it do its thing.  Within 2 weeks I had roots like this:

To propagate in soil:

Dip the bottom of your freshly cut stem into a root powder or hormone (available at most hardward/garden stores), then press your stem into damp soil, pushing it down only about 1/4 - 1/2".  Any deeper and your stem might get soggy and die.  Water gently and keep soil moist.  Ideally, place your pot on a heating table to keep the plant warm.

Once your cuttings grow roots:

Congratulations!  You can plant them in soil and within no time you can start using them.  The paper towel/Cuban Oregano I plunked in as a whole package.  The towel will break down eventually.  Most mint grows super fast so you'll almost be able to see them growing if you watch them for a couple of minutes... almost...

I had to sterilize a whole bunch of old soil to use, and one of these days I'll try to post about how to do that!

Have you ever taken cuttings or propagated herbs?  What method did you use?

Cuttings grown in water

This post was shared on the following great link parties: Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, Whole Foods Wednesday, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Wildcrafting Wednesdays, Fabulously Frugal Thursdays, Farm Girl Blog Fest,  


  1. I love this idea! I'm going to try it with basil!! Thanks Danielle!

    1. Hi Sandi, plain basil can be a tough one to propagate as the stems are so flimsy, so they are usually just grown from seed. A woodier stemmed basil like spicy globe, Greek, or Thai basil usually do ok with the soil method, but probably not with the water. Basil can be really finicky about how much water and humidity it needs :(

    2. It actually does work with basil. I accidentaly broke off a woddy stem fro my plant and put it in water. The hard stem wilter, so i made it into tea. But the green stem had roots in 2-3 days. Its now in its own little pop happy and growing. Worst that happens is it doesnt work. But it did for me!

    3. I stand corrected!! Thanks for sharing, Angelica!

  2. Found you on Frugal Days and would love to have you join us on Wildcrafting Wednesday today!

    1. Hi Lisa Lynn, I'm already ahead of you, I linked up this morning ;) Thanks for hosting!

  3. Thank you for sharing this excellent tutorial with the Hearth and Soul hop. I always wondered if store bought herbs could be propagated, and I'm glad to know not only that it's possible, but also how to do it :)

  4. I wondered about this. Thanks so much!

  5. I have never tried this before. It does look very easy. Thanks for sharing at Wildcrafting Wednesday.

  6. BTW _ Love the title of your blog.

  7. Thanks for linking up for Fabulously Frugal Thursday. I need to start growing my own herbs this way! Would save quite a bit of money

  8. Brilliant, clear step by step examples. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  10. Was looking for a way to save my cuban oregano plant. It's having a hard time establishing roots from its old stem. I bought it from a shop here in the philippines. It was healthy at first but when i decide to transfer it to a bigger pot i discovered--the original plant doesn't have healthy roots! It's just stuck there! Been reviving it for a month now and still no progress...Thanks for this!

    1. I've found Cuban oregano to be very easy to propagate in water, so I hope you can get some successful cuttings from it! I've done it several times now to give cuttings to friends, as it's not always easy to find in-store. I may even have to do it again for myself this year, the potted plant I keep inside all winter is a few years old now and starting to look a bit tired ;)


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