Make Your Own Cheap and Easy Plant Propagation Box

by Daisy


When I was going through our local Master Gardener course, we went on a field trip to Memphis Botanic Gardens, where the resident garden manager, Chris Cosby, led a brief course in propagation techniques.

One of the methods he described was using a modified styrofoam cooler to make a propagation box for cuttings. I built a very small one and successfully rooted mulberry and thornless blackberry cuttings in it.

Recently I built another, larger, one for more adventures in propagation, and I took pictures so I could share the method with you.

Here are the supplies I used:


  • 1 styrofoam cooler (found on the curb for me by the curb whisperer*)
  • reclaimed window screening
  • heavy-duty tape (duct type)
  • heavy plastic sheeting
  • disinfectant (1 part bleach to 9 parts water)
  • potting soil

I used these tools:

  • metal cutters for trimming the screen
  • a long, sharp utility blade for cutting the styrofoam (you can also use a hot knife if you have one)

Step 1: After you assemble the materials and tools, poke several drain holes in the bottom of the cooler. I used a piece of metal pipe, a screwdriver would work, too.

IMG_5237_2Step 2: Cut screening to fit inside the bottom of the cooler. The screen will help prevent insects from crawling up the drain holes to interfere with your cuttings.


Step 3: Clean the cooler and screening with disinfectant. I use a bleach solution, but you can use whatever you feel comfortable with.

Step 4: With a sharp blade, cut a large opening in the lid of the cooler. I cut out as much as I could while still leaving the lid with a lot of strength and a wide enough margin to which to attach the plastic sheeting.


Step 5: Cut the plastic sheeting to cover the hole in the lid of the cooler with edge to spare. Tape securely with duct tape. I used white Gorilla tape.



Step 6: Fill with dampened potting soil. A sterilized growing medium is your best bet to minimize the chance of fungal diseases killing your cuttings.

Briefly: To propagate plants from cuttings, cut the tender growth tips of the plant you want to grow, preferably in the morning when they have a high moisture level. Keep protected and moist while you take all the cuttings you need. Work quickly so your cuttings won’t dry out. Strip off most of the leaves except a couple at the tip. Trim those back if they are large to reduce the amount of leaf your cutting will have to hydrate. If you like, use a rooting hormone according to package directions and insert the cutting in the soil in the propagating box, giving them plenty of space for good air circulation. If the cutting is tender, make a planting hole for it with a pencil before you insert it in the soil.

Put the lid on and locate the box in a protected, shady spot. Monitor frequently to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Depending on the plant, it may take from several weeks to months or more for ample rooting to occur to pot the cuttings.

For more detailed instructions, look for propagation requirements for the specific plants you want to propagate.


*the curb whisperer is a neighbor with a preternatural ability to find for free on the curb exactly what you have been looking for



Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.
Judy Stewart September 8, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Will this work for forsythia? Is it not too late in the year to start plants? Thanks for the post.

Daisy September 8, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Judy Stewart–My pleasure. I believe forsythia is propagated by hardwood cuttings in the fall and winter. Since all plants have different ways in which they’re propagated, just check for each one and proceed accordingly. Now is a good time to start propagating semi-hardwood cuttings.

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