What About Growing Kava Cuttings?

Growing Kava Cuttings

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.

Wild Dagga Flower

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 Stem Nodes

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,

Aeroponic Kava Cutting

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.

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.

Growing Kava from Cuttings

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.

Two Node Cutting

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. 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.

Mahalo,
Kava.Guru

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8 Comments.
  1. Elijah McDanniel

    Do you use a standard 2″ dia aero cloner with thicker cuttings? I like the idea, I would love to try it with some cuttings as an alternative to traditional cloning methods. Any info or pictures of the cloner would be great. I plan to build my own cloner. Thank you.

    Elijah

    • Kava Guru

      Elijah,

      Great question and the answer is yes, kind of. I use a standard 2″ diameter aero cloner with thicker cuttings, I just adjust the opening in the rubber stopper with scissors. Iv’e attached an image of a typical setup and if you look at the neoprene holders, you’ll se my hack job with the opening size.

      Hope this helps! Please report back with any photos if you happen to get some Kava growing!

      Mahalo,
      Keith

      Kava Cuttings in My EZ-Cloner

  2. emptiem

    I’ve got 6 ‘awa cuttings shipping to me in Southern California (Los Angeles County) and I’m looking for any and all advice on propagating them. I know it’s not quite the right climate here, but I’m hoping that if I’m careful, and learn the do’s-and-don’ts, I can keep some alive.

    I’m looking at this aero-cloner method here and I’ve never seen it before. A quick look on YouTube and I see a container with a sprinkler system inside it and then something that resembles your above photo on top. Is that the same type of thing you are using in the photo ?

    Since I’ll have 6 cuttings to play with, I was wondering if it might be worth it to try more than one propagation method and see what works best.

    • Kava Guru

      Emptiem,

      Honestly, in 20 years of growing Kava cuttings, I found that the best method is dirt that doesn’t dry out and some partial sun. Also, in most places in California it gets too cold for Kava, and in the winter months, 100% of my outdoor Kava plants have died. So be careful if they can’t be moved inside when it gets a little abnormally chilly (in the 30’s).

      I’ve got several articles on growing and propagating Kava plants; this is one of them. There are a few others:

      Growing Kava Cuttings
      How to Grow Kava
      How to Grow and Propagate Kava

      And yes, experimenting might be your best option. In a cloner, I only had 3 out of about 50 cuttings survive. AND, the moment I lowered the pH of the water to accommodate plants that liked a 5.2 pH, they all died almost overnight. From my experience, Kava doesn’t mind tap water, and was happiest with water no less than a 6.2 pH.

      Hope this helps!

      Keith @ Kava.Guru

      • emptiem

        Thanks for the info, I’ll try some in potting soil like I read in your write-up, is there any specific type or ratio mix I should look for. Is this something I can buy at the local Home Depot? I’ve read that it’s good to add volcanic cinders to the mix too.

        I wanna try some with the Sphagnum moss method too, as it appears to be a common cloning method for ‘awa. I don’t know much about it though, other than that it appears to be some kind of shallow try filled with moss and your cuttings get embedded in there somewhere. Have you used this method before?

        Should my 30%-50% shade be provided by one of those mesh coverings stretched out above the cuttings, or should it be placed somewhere where it will be in shadows part of the day and sun at other times ?

        I wonder if there’s some kind of solar powered heating system, that could store energy all day and then slowly release it on the plants at night, if they were to ever get to a size where I couldn’t bring them in and out during the winter…

        • Kava Guru

          Emptiem,

          Good questions!

          SOIL: As far as the soil, think about the volcanic islands that Kava is native to. Rich, volcanic soil with great drainage. So, yes, adding some volcanic cinders to the mix is a great idea. The sphagnum moss method is a great way to provide a wealth of drainage to the roots, and the ability to really smack them with some nutrients, but then perlite or volcanic cinders really do the same thing. I’ve tried using sphagnum, perlite, rock wool, dirt, sand, volcanic cinders, and anything else I thought might help my Kava roots flourish, but I always come back to plain old rich soil, with perlite and/or volcanic cinders. I usually do about 75% soil, 25% perlite or volcanic cinders.

          SHADE: Either 30%-50% provided by one of those mesh coverings stretched out above the cuttings, or placed somewhere where it will be in shadows part of the day and sun at other times are both equally good options. It just depends on what’s easiest for you and makes the most sense for your situation. And know that too much sun doesn’t seem to hurt Kava plants, and they’ll even grow faster in full sun, but they do seem to be happiest and provide the most root material when they’re grown in the shade.

          HEAT: For me, what negatively affects my Kava plants most is getting too cold. It doesn’t even have to go below freezing, but a few really chilly nights can really do some damage to Kava plants less than a year old. If you live somewhere where the nights get into the 30’s, or even the 40’s, you might want to keep your Kava plants inside in pots for their first year. I love your idea of a solar powered heating system; let me know if you figure something out that will keep your Kava plants toasty through chilly nights.

          Hope this helps!

          Keith @ Kava.Guru

  3. Ma'ake Tu'uhoko

    hello,

    I love the work that you have and I, have had some interest in growing it the same way for a long time. How long did it take, to see results provided in the picture with the roots?

    • Kava Guru

      Ma’ake,

      Thanks for the kind words; it’s always appreciated! The roots in the pictures are only from about 3 months of growth, once I transplanted a few very mature nodes from the soil into an aeroponics cloner. Those nodes, before I transplanted them, were rooting for about 1-2 months. Once they get started, though, roots grow like gangbusters! The cloner suspends the plants above sprayers that spray the roots every 3 hours, for 15 minutes at a time, 24 hours a day.

      Hope that helps!

      Keith @ Kava.Guru

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