I often get asked about growing Kava cuttings. With over 20 years of working with Kava plants, I’ve got a number of techniques that have proven successful to me. Despite that, though, I’m still torn on whether planting cuttings horizontally or vertically produces the most reliable new Kava plants. I’ll explain as we go.
As many of us already know, Kava is a sterile plant. That means that it produces no seeds, although it still produces strange-looking flowers that look like long, skinny bananas, they serve no purpose, other than to perhaps provide a temporary home for a few insects.
Having said that, the topic at the moment is growing Kava from cuttings. That’s the only way Kava is known to propagate. And, it’s important to understand that Kava will only grow from very specific cuttings: They need to be taken from the main stems of the plant.
Many plants can grow from any random cutting taken from anywhere on the plant. One of my favorite plants to propagate is Wild Dagga. Not only does it produce a copious amount of seeds, I can take cuttings from just about anywhere on the plant, stick them in water, and roots will start to appear within just a few days.
Kava, on the other hand, needs to have at least 1 major node in any cutting you take, and preferably 2 nodes. A node is really easy to see. Take a look at the photo to the left. the left-hand stem is the new Kava plant that grew out of the stem on the right-side. The plant on the right side was placed into the soil vertically. It was a cutting that had two nodes to begin with. I’ve planted cuttings vertically in the past, directly into the soil, but I don’t always get the best results. The root bundle tends to be a bit thin, and they don’t usually take very well when transplanted.
On the other hand, when I take a two-node cutting and place it into a cloner, especially one that uses aeroponics instead of hydroponics,
the root bundle flourishes. Take a look at the image to the right. This is from a short two-node cutting of a Hawaiian Nene Kava plant. The root bundle is an explosion of strands, and reacts great to being placed in a rich soil. Some people may not need to grow their plants in this type of soil as if they decide to use hydroponics, the plants are able to grow from the mineral nutrient solutions that can be found in a water solvent. Most gardeners tend to grow their plants in soil though, but hydroponics can be used as an alternative method to help plants grow efficiently.
So this is a check in the “pro vertical cutting” column of Kava plant propagation, but only because of the help of an aeroponics-based cloner. (Speaking of, any aeroponics cloner seems to work just as efficiently as the next. I know I’ll get questions about which cloner is the best cloner, but I just choose the one that seems the most reasonably priced, and with the number of cloning sites that I need, in the space I have.) I have to admit that when space is limited, sprouting new Kava plants from any sized two-node cutting is a joy with the assistance of a cloner.
So, it doesn’t hurt to make a few cuttings and try out a few different methods to see which one works for you. Another very efficient method (and one I’ve had the most luck with outside of aeroponic Kava growing, is horizontal planting). I also like this method because it feels the most natural to me. With just a little effort, and a box full of rich soil, you can get a bunch of Kava shoots in just a few weeks. Take a look at the image to the left. In about 3″ of well-drained, and very rich soil, mixed very well with plenty of Perlite, I placed several single and double node Kava stem cuttings. Both the single and the double node cuttings bore shoots, but the double node plants seemed to produce stronger shoots.
The single node still worked, but the shoots were a little more sickly. If you’ve got a lot of parent plant to choose from, I’d say to try both yourself to see what works best for you. The aeroponic Kava cutting in the thumbnail above had 3 nodes to start with, and consistently, the three node cuttings produced stronger new plants with larger root bundles time and time again. I’m not a botanist, but my guess is that when there are two or more nodes, the core systems of the plant are sealed in between the nodes, perhaps better protecting the plant and any new growth? It also allows the plant to split responsibilities; one node can handle roots, and the other can handle making the new Kava plant. Take a look at the thumbnail to the right; that’s a two node cutting placed directly in the soil. Notice the shoot at the top node. Again, I’m not sure why these produce better results than new Kava plants made from single nodes, but that’s how it’s worked for me time and time again.
As with Kava in general, plants prefer about 30% shade. This seems to be especially true with new Kava cuttings. It’s tempting to give them tons of light, but young Kava plants tend to burn easily. They’re strong plants in general, but they are fussy in a few key areas, and sun is definitely one of them. The good news is that once a plant is mature, you can accelerate the growth by moving them to more sun. I’ve had Kava plants about a year old that were placed into direct sunlight, and they showed accelerated growth over the ones in 30% shade, without any noticeable negative effects. With that in mind, just think about how many Kava plants can be grown in an environment as big as a commercial greenhouse for instance. Growing them in a place similar to this may mean that they will always have access to direct sunlight which can help them to grow at a quicker rate and with the reduced likelihood of any negative effects from the shade. The roots were also slightly larger, which, with Kava, is usually the goal.
When can you actually take new cuttings from a Kava mother plant?
I’ve tried all different time frames to see which one made the best shoots. In my mind, thought that perhaps young plants were more pliable, and that younger Kava plants would make better new Kava plants. I also thought that perhaps mature plants are more established, that they could stand up to being cut and stuck into soil better. After testing out numerous Kava plants at different ages; from 6 months all the way up to about 5 years, I didn’t actually notice much of a difference in success rate. What mattered far more was the method of propagating the new cuttings. And, the downside to using younger Kava plants (6 months or less), is that you have a lot less plant to work with. On a mature plant, you’ve got a number of sections to choose from, and you can cut down an entire stalk, knowing that there are plenty left for the plant to flourish.
On a younger Kava plant, there are fewer sections, and cutting an entire Kava stalk from the plant may have a more detrimental effect on the overall health of the plant. I personally haven’t seen a plant suffer from cutting one of just two stalks, but older plants definitely have many more candidates to pick from, and you’ll have more Kava plant left when you’ve taken a new round of cuttings. The bottom line is growing Kava cuttings is a fun and rewarding experience on many levels. Kava plants aren’t always easy to come by, so having your own collection of Mother Plants to choose from ensures you’ll have plenty of freshly-harvested Kava root to pick from.
To me, there’s nothing better than fresh Kava root. Yes, dried root still has all the pleasurable effects, but it is definitely more permeating and pleasant of an experience with fresh roots. Perhaps the inherent Kavalactone content is greater, but then perhaps something is lost in the drying process. Either way, few things have brought me more joy than my first shell of Kava made from freshly-harvested Kava roots from plants that I tended to myself. I’d love to hear about your Kava growing experiences below, and the best of luck to you if you decide to try.