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.
Softwood vs. Hardwood Cuttings
At this point you may be wondering what the difference is between taking hardwood and softwood cuttings.
- Softwood cuttings are taken during the growing season, where the plants have leaves, so an important consideration is to maintain the humidity levels until roots begin to form to prevent the cuttings drying out.
- Hardwood cuttings are taken in winter, during dormancy, when all leaves have fallen.
I’ve discussed the basic theory of how plants can be propagated from cuttings in the article “Propagating Softwood Cuttings”, so I’ll go straight into practical instructions here.
How to Propagate Plants from Dormant Hardwood Cuttings
Hardwood cuttings are even simpler to prepare than softwood or 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:
Slit Trench Method
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Container and Propagating Medium Method
- 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).
- Put cuttings in so 2/3 is below the soil, place cuttings 5cm (2”) apart and press the propagating medium down around them.
- 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.
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.
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.