Propagating Hardwood Cuttings

One of the easiest propagation techniques is propagating using hardwood cuttings. Since these cuttings don’t have leaves, there isn’t the initial requirement to provide a high humidity environment to stop the cuttings drying out before they root.

I’ve discussed the basic theory of how plants can be propagated from cuttings in the article “Propagating Herbaceous Plants from Cuttings”, so I’ll go straight into practical instructions here.

Hardwood cuttings are even simpler to prepare than herbaceous cuttings, as we use cuttings from dormant deciduous trees and woody plants, and this technique is very useful for propagating fruit trees such as figs, pomegranates, mulberries and quince. Some plums can grow well from hardwood cuttings too, while other’s don’t do so well, it depends on the variety.

This technique is also used for propagating vines such as grapes and kiwi fruit, and the currant family – blackcurrants, redcurrants, golden currants and gooseberries.

The steps are as follows:

 

Step 1 – Select suitable cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are taken from deciduous trees and plants (ones that lose their leaves in winter) when they are dormant, i.e. when they have no leaves.

The best time for taking hardwood cuttings is from early  autumn when the leaves drop to late winter.

Take cuttings that are close to pencil-thickness from current season’s growth – it will be mature and woody, not soft and green. Cut off any unripened green growth at the tips.

To increase the chances of rooting cuttings:

  • Try to take cuttings where the current season’s wood (1 year old wood) joins the two year old wood. The base of the stem at this junction has the greatest potential for root development  – it contains a large number of dormant buds that supply hormones required for developing roots.
  • Take cuttings at leaf fall and just before the buds break.

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Step 2 – Trim cuttings to size

Hardwood cuttings are cut  much longer than herbaceous cuttings because they take more time to develop roots and therefore need to use the reserves of food stored in the cutting to keep them alive through winter. A longer cutting stores more food in it.

  1. Make a horizontal cut 6mm (1/4”) below the lowest bud at the base.
  2. Find a bud approximately 15-20cm (6-10”) away from the base to make the tip cut.
  3. Near this tip bud, make a sloping cut away from a bud, 6mm (1/4”) above the bud.

02

Step 3 – “Wounding” the cuttings

Species difficult to root should be “wounded” as this helps encourage rooting. This involves making an additional light cut on either side of the cut stem at the base to expose more of the cambium.

The cambium is the light green layer you see under bark when you scrape it away, before you get to the wood, this is a single layer of meristem tissue. Wounding also helps in some cases to remove a physical barrier which may be getting in the way of roots forming.
You can scrape off the bark or outer layer to expose the cambium using a knife of the sharp edge of your scissors or secateurs.03

Step 4 – Dip the base of the cutting into rooting hormone (optional)

Treating cuttings with rooting hormone can increase the chances of stimulating root growth. This is more critical in plants that are more difficult to root.

Simply dip the base into the rooting hormone, that’s all!

If using root hormone powder, and be sure to tap the cuttings to remove excess powder.

 

Step 5 – Prepare propagating medium and insert cutting

The  cuttings can either be placed in the ground in a ‘slit trench’ outside, or they can be placed in a container of propagating medium.

The cuttings can still lose moisture and dry out, even without leaves, so we try to place as much of the cutting below the surface of the soil, while allowing top 3 buds at the tip to be sitting above the soil level. Leaving 1/4 to 1/3 of the tip of the cutting above the surface achieves this, otherwise just leave three buds unburied.

 

Slit trench method:

  1. Make a ‘slit trench’ by pushing a spade into soil and rocking it back and forth. In clay soil, add some coarse sand for drainage.
  2. Put cuttings in so 2/3 is below the soil, place cuttings 5cm (2”) apart and press the soil down around them.  If using multiple rows of slit trenches, place rows 30cm (12”) apart.
  3. Water in the soil around the cuttings. The soil will remain damp over the winter period. Cuttings will root and be ready to plant next autumn.

04

Container and propagating medium method:

  1. Fill a container (pot) with a suitable propagating medium. Materials commonly used as propagating medium are coarse sand, regular potting mix, coconut coir, or blends such as a mixture of one part peat and one part Perlite (by volume), or one part peat and one part sand (by volume).
  2. Put cuttings in so 2/3 is below the soil, place cuttings 5cm (2”) apart and press the propagating medium down around them.
  3. Water in the soil around the cuttings. Keep the propagating medium slightly damp but do not overwater as this will cause the cuttings to rot. If possible, place the container in a cold frame of greenhouse to speed up the formation of roots. The cuttings will be ready to transplant in spring.
  4.  

 

Propagating Grape Vines

Grape vines have a slightly different technique for hardwood propagation, so I will detail it here.

To propagate grape vines, simply take a cutting with 3-4 buds, and push into the propagating medium so that only two buds are unburied.

You can also take very short cuttings containing only one bud known as “vine eyes”. Make a cut 6mm (1/4”) above a bud, then make another cut 5cm (2”) below it to complete the cutting.

Note: vine eye cuttings with their single bud only do not take root as easily as the larger 3-4 bud cuttings.

05

You can put many vine cuttings into a single container, and then pot them up separately when thy put their leaves out in spring. It is advisable to let them grow in their pots for a year to develop strong roots, then they can be transplanted in the following spring.

 

As you can see, this technique is very simple, and you can use all the cuttings left over from the winter pruning of fruit trees to propagate more trees. Its better than tossing out, mulching or composting the prunings, and if the cuttings fail, then you can do that. At best, you’ll end up with more trees to plant in your garden, or to give away to others.

Happy propagating!

 
 
 
 

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30 Responses to Propagating Hardwood Cuttings

  1. endalkachew says:

    i need to know why hard wood cutting is done during dormant seasom and why other types of cutting done in active growing season

    • Blackthorn says:

      Simply because these cuttings, being of different levels of maturity, taken in different of the seasons, have the greatest potential for root development at these times.

  2. DeepGreen says:

    Very nice instruction. I’ ll be pruning my 2nd year grape vine tomorrow. Will also be propagating a few vines, which i hope does leaf. Thanks for the confidence :-) those illustrations are very nice and helpful.

  3. pondsplum says:

    This is very good information, I wish I had found it 2 weeks ago when I tried some ponds seedling plum cuttings in pots.
    Looks like I have over much cutting left above the soil – about two thirds. Anyone know if it will be helpful at this stage to cut them down? They were 30cm long to start with. I think I can do this without disturbing the bases of the cuttings.
    Also, I have them in an unheated greenhouse but this is unshaded and gets very hot in the sun – would they be better placed in a shadier location under a cold frame or cloche?

    • Blackthorn says:

      You can cut down the cuttings if you want as long as there are a few buds still left above the ground where leaves will emerge. If they are in a greenhouse, the humidity should support the longer cuttings.

      Try cutting some down, and leaving others the same length, you’ll see which works better that way.

      All greenhouses should be shaded on very hot days otherwise you’ll cook everything inside, drape some shadecloth over the roof and sun facing walls!

      A shaded greenhouse is desirable, but failing that you could use a coldframe to speed up the root formation.

      • pondsplum says:

        Thanks for this. I have cut some down. It might not be to late to try some more following all the advice provided. Unfortunately the greenhouse is to big to shade easily so I will have to be on the ball with the ventilation on sunny days. I might transfer them to a cold frame when the weather warms up.

      • pondsplum says:

        No worries about the greenhouse getting overheated in the last few weeks! This is to report that all my greenhouse cuttings have come into bud. I put them low down in a shaded area. The ones that I left ‘long’ came into bud earlier than the ones I cut down to just 3 buds showing. I am very concerned about watering. My 50/50 peat/sand mix seemed to remain damp constantly and I understand that the cuttings should not be in a wet medium. I don’t want to over water, but I feel sure that there must be some drying out on the warm days in the greenhouse. With this in mind I give them the occasional dribble of water. I hope I am doing the right thing.

  4. Fred says:

    If I start a Yuca hardwood cutting in the greenhouse on March 1 what is the earliest date on which I can transplant?

    • Blackthorn says:

      They’re just like any other plant propagated by hardwood cuttings!

      • Fred says:

        Thank you. They are in pots as we speak. I intend to transplant on May 1 into raised beds. That will give me 2 months in the greenhouse and 6 months in the ground. They require 8 months total to produce the big tubers. I will have stem cuttings for sale…

  5. marioproutmarioprout@hotmail.com says:

    how would you do a silver maple or a oak tree

    • Blackthorn says:

      Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) can be propagated from softwood cuttings , but
      Oak trees cannot and are propagated from seed, plant the acorns!

  6. tjoneal says:

    I have a question. if a bud that is below the soil line on a hardwood cutting (buried in the dirt) breaks, will this become a root? thanks. I know that callus is supposed to form in order to get roots, but I have some cuttings that the buds below ground break and they send out a whitish shoot, just wondering if these will become roots?

  7. mohd says:

    Hai,

    Based on your experience,can you list down what plants is difficult to propagate?

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      It’s easier to list the ones that do propagate easier instead! I prefer to do my research first and check whether plants can be propagated, by which methods, and what conditions they require for successful striking. Much easier than spending months waiting or trial and error.

  8. Ed987 says:

    Howdy, Great article. But I have a question can Sugar Maple Trees be propagated by hardwood cuttings? If so what time of year can this be done? Thanks

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      Sugar maples are not that easy to propagate, they take some effort – here’s an extract from the USDA Forestry Service article on Sugar Maples (http://na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/acer/saccharum.htm):

      Cuttings of sugar maple can be rooted but may later fail due to poor overwintering survival. Cuttings can be successfully overwintered by forcing the cutting to break bud and produce a flush of new growth immediately after it roots with the use of gibberellic acid. Rooting response varies greatly between clones-differences range from 0 to 100 percent, and rooting response tends to be consistent from year to year. Timing the collection of cuttings is critical; those taken in mid-June generally give the best results. A rooting medium consisting of a 1 to 1 mixture of perlite and sphagnum moss, with intermittent misting, has worked well with sugar maple cuttings. The reliability of cuttings to propagate trees with figured wood, such as curly grain and bird’s-eye, has not been verified.”

      You might not be able to get hold of a misting propagator or gibberellic acid, but if you keep the humidity up around the cuttings, you won’t need a intermittent misting system. The gibberellic acid is used to force the buds to open and put out new leaves, this forces the cuttings to establish early to prevent them dying over the winter. Worth a try to see what happens!

  9. Attila says:

    I am planning to propagate Barbados cherry and Pomegranates. What is the best time to do it ,since these are evergreens and wont drop their leaves or go dormant?

  10. Justin says:

    I want to propagate a 200 year old black gum tree. Are there any special requirements to propagate it from a cutting? Should this also be done in the fall? I’m going to have to shoot the branches out of the tree to propagate because they are too tall to reach.

  11. Please advise me if I could propagate a Melaleuca Paper-Bark tree from a cutting.
    I’m informed that Australian trees are very difficult to propagate.
    I just love the look of these trees!

  12. Charlotte Got Crops says:

    Are currants a hardwood? They certain ‘feel’ hard but Im unsure – how would the be propagated?

  13. rick permutt says:

    can you use this method on a baobab branch?

  14. ashley says:

    Can a Japanese maple be propagated? Would it be done at the same time as other hardwoods?

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      Most Japanese maples cannot be propagated from cuttings, and if the cuttings do grow roots, they are usually weak and can fail soon afterwards, which is why the primary method of propagating Japanese maples is by grafting seedling plants with scion wood from a known variety. Japanese maples can be grown from seed but the seedlings won’t necessarily be the same as parent plant because Japanese maples are openly pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects, birds or are wind pollinated, which introduces genetic variation in the seedlings.

  15. Daisy Billings says:

    I have a question about rooting Confederate Roses. When I rooted them in water, they produced nice roots; however, when I potted them up, the roots did not survive. What can I do differently to be able to root them in water?

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      If you root cuttings in water and then put them into the ground, the sudden change from lots of water to very little causes the failure. Such cuttings need to be potted up into a small pot that has a fairly moist potting medium, and then you can gradually let the cuttings adapt to a mix that is dryer by gradually watering less often. Eventually, they will be able to survive in a pot or in the ground. It’s important to pot up the cuttings and let them develop a nice strong root ball over several months, don’t be in a hurry to plant them out!

      • Daisy Billings says:

        Thanks Angelo for your advice. I will try this next Spring and I bet I’ll have better results! – Daisy

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