How to Make More Trees and Shrubs From Cuttings

The cold-weather months are a great time to take hardwood cuttings and propagate trees and shrubs. Here's how to do it.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Winter is a great time to propagate shrubs and trees. Cuttings taken from these types of plants are called hardwood cuttings. It’s challenging but fun to make more shrubs and trees from cuttings.

When to Take Hardwood Cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are typically taken in the fall, after the leaves have dropped at the end of the growing season, but you really can make more shrubs and trees from cuttings at any point during the plant’s winter dormancy.

What Kinds of Plants You Can Propagate by Taking Hardwood Cuttings

There are many different plants you can propagate using this technique. Most evergreens, deciduous trees, roses, fruit trees and flowering shrubs are viable options, though some are easier than others. Among the most successful ways to make more shrubs and trees from cuttings is to start with species that root easily, such as forsythia, spirea, lilacs, hydrangeas, kerria, weigelas and viburnums.

Cases Where You Can’t Make More Trees and Shrubs From Cuttings

For grafted plants, hardwood cuttings will not result in an exact clone of the parent plant. While you can still take cuttings of these plants, the rooted cuttings may not perform the same as the parent plant. For example, if your peach tree was grafted onto the root stock of a different variety of peach to improve its hardiness or disease resistance, the new cutting will not share the same level of hardiness or disease resistance because it will be growing on its own root system, rather than on that of the specialized variety. The same goes for cuttings taken from any other kind of grafted shrubs, roses or trees.

How to Take Hardwood Cuttings

Begin by selecting several woody shoots on the plant. Make sure each one is about as thick as a pencil and comes from the current season’s growth. Each cutting should measure between 6 and 10 inches long. There should be at least two growth nodes per cutting as well. The growth nodes are small bumps along the stem where the new buds will emerge in spring. For needled and broad-leaved evergreens, you’ll have to remove all but the top few needle clusters or leaves from each of the cuttings. The rest of their length should be bare stem.

After collecting the cuttings, sever the lower end of the stem, just beneath the bottom-most node. Cut it on the diagonal or make a straight cut, but you may find it easier to cut the bottom on the diagonal and keep the top cut straight, to help you remember which end is which. Be careful not to plant the cuttings upside down or it won’t develop new roots.

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Next, dip the bottom inch of the cutting in rooting hormone. Then, you can follow one of these two techniques to make more trees and shrubs from cuttings.

  1. Stick the base of the stem into a v-shaped trench in a sunny spot in the garden. Keep 1/3 of the cutting above the soil level. Tamp down the soil around the cutting and water it in well. Over the coming months the cutting will develop roots. It will be ready to dig up and transplant a year later. Don’t choose this technique if the ground is currently frozen where you live. This method is best done in the late autumn.
  2. The second way to make more trees and shrubs from cuttings is to insert the cut end of the cutting into a pot of new potting soil. Put the pot in a garage or shed for the winter (make sure it’s unheated). Water the pot through the winter and in the spring put it in a shady location outdoors. Continue watering the pot regularly throughout the entire growing season. By fall, it will be ready to move out into the garden.

Not all of the hardwood cuttings will be successful, so plan for some margin of error. You can improve your chances of success by placing the pots of cuttings or digging your v-trench in a cold frame or other protected structure.

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