How to Propagate Houseplants by Stem Section (Cane) Cuttings

Stem section (or cane) cuttings are produced using a section of thick, leafless stem that has buds on it to produce a new plant. New stems and roots emerge from the buds on the thick stem.  This form of propagation is particularly useful in propagating plants with lanky and leafless canes.  Cane cuttings work well for species such as Dracaena and dumb cane.  

Several factors have to be considered to successfully propagate houseplants by cuttings, such as the rooting media, rooting hormones, decreasing water loss, and finding the right environmental conditions (humidity, light, and temperature).

When to Propagate  |  Rooting Media  |  Decreasing Water Loss  |  Rooting Hormones  |  Light & Temperature  |  How to Propagate by Cane Cuttings  |  Houseplant Species Propagated by Cane Cuttings More Information

When to Propagate

Early spring is the ideal time to propagate by cuttings.  Although, most houseplants can be successfully propagated any time of the year.  

Rooting Media for Cuttings

Many different types of media can be used to root cuttings.  The rooting media needs to have a good balance of water and air holding capacity to support the formation of new advantageous roots.

Common Media Types include:

  • Perlite – good drainage holding just enough water for cuttings, excellent aeration, neutral pH, and provides good support to hold cuttings in place
  • Sand – good water drainage and aeration, holds cutting upright well, may need to be sterilized before use
  • Coarse sphagnum moss – high moisture retention; good aeration when not compacted, can be difficult to wet thoroughly if it dries out completely
  • Vermiculite - holds water well and has a neutral pH
  • Peat moss – great moisture holding capacity, can occasionally stay too wet, acidic pH, great to mix with other media types
  • Potting soil – use only if amended to be very well-drained; tends to hold too much water and not enough air

You can also use mixtures of these different media types.  Popular mixtures include sand with peat moss and perlite with peat moss.  

The container used to hold the rooting media needs to be clean and sterile and have good drainage.  Containers or trays should be at least 2 inches deep to allow space for new roots to develop. Moisten or wet the media before sticking the cuttings.

Decreasing Water Loss

Because the cuttings are missing roots, they have a very limited capacity to take up water.  Decreasing the water lost from the cutting is very important. To reduce water loss and have greater success rooting cuttings:

  • Start with fully hydrated cuttings. Water parent plants the day before, so leaves and stems are fully hydrated.  
  • Process or stick cuttings as quickly as possible. 
  • If cuttings need to be stored, store them with the cut ends wrapped in a moist paper towel in a cool location with low light.

High humidity is essential for successful rootingEnclose the pot in a plastic bag or clear plastic dome to help keep humidity levels high.  Use chopsticks, straws, wire loops, or other devices to keep the plastic off the stems and leaves.  Do not seal the bag tightly to allow for some air to be exchanged.

Rooting Hormones

Rooting hormones are often applied to cuttings to promote root formation.  They are typically used as a powder or as a concentrated liquid in which the cuttings are dipped.

The two synthetic auxins most frequently used are IBA (indolebutyric acid) and NAA (naphthaleneacetic acid). Various concentrations are available. Consult the label to determine the appropriate concentration based on the type of cutting you are taking.

When using powder forms, start by placing a small amount of powder in a separate container or on a paper plate or towel.  Never return leftover material to the original container or dip cutting directly into the original container as disease issues can be easily spread this way.  To apply, dust or dip the cutting in the powder. 

When liquid forms are used, submerge the cutting for a few seconds as directed on the label. Do not over-apply. Too much rooting hormone can sometimes slow root development.

Store rooting hormones in their original containers in a cool, dark location.  After approximately two years the efficacy of rooting hormone drops sharply and they should be replaced.

Light and Temperature

Plants need to photosynthesize to produce new roots and shoots, so 4 to 6 hours of bright indirect light is important.  Too much light can burn foliage or elevate temperatures too high, especially under plastic bags or domes. Too little light will slow the root formation process and could allow the cutting to rot or dry out before new roots form.  

Cuttings root faster in warm air and rooting media.  Air temperature between 65°F and 75°F is ideal. For good results, consider using a heat mat to raise the rooting media temperature to between 75°F and 80°F.

How to Propagate by Stem Section Cuttings

  • Cut the cane or stem into 2- to 3-inch long segments with each segment containing at least two nodes
  • If present, remove all leaves, flowers, and fruit
  • Treat the lower side of the stem with rooting hormone, if desired
  • Lay the sections horizontally on top of a rooting medium. Perlite, coarse sand, or vermiculite work well
  • Cover the stem section with additional material. The top of the sections should be just above or just below the surface of the rooting medium
  • Water the rooting medium and allow it to drain for a few minutes
  • Place the stem section cuttings in a warm location with bright indirect light and high humidity
  • Check cuttings frequently
  • The cane or stem section will form new roots and shoots in 8 to 10 weeks
  • When adequate roots and shoots have formed (approximately 1 inch long or more), pot the new plant in regular potting soil
  • Once potted, keep the new plant well-watered and in bright, indirect light.
    • The plant should be well established within a few weeks and it can then be moved to its preferred location indoors
  • Once established, begin regular fertilization

Houseplants Best Propagated by Cane Cuttings

  • Dieffenbachia species (Dumb Cane)
  • Dracaena fragrans (Corn Plant)

A complete list of plants well-suited for propagation by cuttings can be found in this article: Propagating Houseplants

More Information

Last reviewed:
December 2023