Starting to propagate plants using hardwood cuttings brings the beginning gardener into the realm of “real” gardening. This technique, while extremely effective, is not often used by home gardeners. And I don’t understand why not, because it is relatively simple to succeed if a few simple rules are followed.
You propagate woody plants — trees, shrubs, roses and some vines this way.
When To Take Cuttings
Take the hardwood cuttings from dormant, mature stems in late fall after all the leaves have gone and the nights are very cold, winter or very early spring before any growth has started. Plants have to be fully dormant to for this technique to succeed.
And once you learn how to do this, you can create scenes like this one below yourself. 🙂
What Plants Can I Propagate This Way?
You can increase most
- hardwood plants,
- roses, and
There are a few exceptions and a few plants are trickier than others but generally, if you want more woody plants, this is the easiest system you can use.
I do note that this system is not going to produce another grafted tree. In other words, if you take the cutting from the top of the wisteria tree — you’ll wind up with a wisteria vine rather than a tree (the vine is grafted to a trunk in the case of a wisteria tree).
This is the same for apples or any other rose or tree that is grafted to a rootstock to grow. You’ll get the top part just fine, but the plant will be on its own roots.
When Do I Take Cuttings?
Take hardwood cuttings when the deciduous plant has dropped its leaves or in late fall or early winter for evergreens.
It is generally a good idea to clean the propagation tools thoroughly before and during taking these cuttings. Why? Because the cutting will take a long time to become established, they are susceptible to fungal infections.
The more you can do to prevent these the better so cleanliness is next to success in this case.
How To Take Cuttings?
- Make all cuts just above a leaf node (where the leaf comes out of the stem) so you don’t have a lot of stem dieback.
- Take the hardwood cuttings from upright growing stems at the center of the shrub or evergreen. Or take them from stems that are nearest to the ground rather than higher on the shrub.
- Take long branches (you will divide them later in the process) but no thinner than a pencil and generally, no thicker than a big finger.
- Store the hardwood cuttings in a plastic bag (to hold moisture) and keep cool until you plant them (below)
- Cut the bottom of the hardwood cutting (closest to the bottom or roots in its original position) at a 45-degree angle just below a leaf node.
- The top of the cutting should be cut straight across.
- The bottom cut should be at a 45 degree angle
- So — pointy end down 🙂 Which is why we do it that way.
It is critical not to get the top confused with the bottom — the cutting has to be rooted in its original top-bottom orientation as it was on the plant when you took the cutting.
What To Do With Cuttings?
- Each of the longer branches should be cut into individual bits.
- The trick is to get each branch cut so that it contains at least two leaf nodes but preferably three to four (this will be about six inches long for most plants).
- Make as many smaller 6-inch cuttings as you can from your longer branch (until the cuttings are too short or too thin).
- If you’re cutting evergreens, strip the needles or branches from the bottom half of the cutting.
Planting or Storing
If you take the hardwood cuttings and decide not to plant them right away (see below for conditions these require to survive) then you have to store them for the winter to keep them alive.
Store in bundles (all pointed in same direction for ease next spring) cover with dampish peat moss or sawdust and keep cool.
I note that evergreens such as spruce or broadleaf plants such as Rhododendron may rot if kept damp and covered. These are best handled outdoors or in cold frames.
I’d suggest you label them unless your memory is a lot better than mine.
If you decide to plant them in the fall. Treat with rooting hormone.
This is generally the only time I recommend using rooting hormone and you want to have the higher strength form for shrubs and woody plants.
Remember that commercial rooting hormone only is good for about 6 months after you open the container. Yeah, they don’t tell you that in the ads…
- Follow the directions on the commercial hormone container. Always wear proper hand protection when dipping cuttings in commercial hormones. Your skin absorbs chemicals — the word to the wise.
- Plant in pots or soil in garden so that only one or two leaf nodes are above the soil line.
- Plant the bottom down so the straight cuts are all above the surface.(see why we made those two different styles of cuts?)
- If you’re going to plant them outdoors, you have to protect the cuttings from freezing, wind damage and sunburn.
- Evergreen cuttings have to be kept from losing moisture. I’d recommend spraying with evergreens with an antidesiccant for best results.
- A cold frame is a great idea and these are not hard to make with a few strips of lumber and some plastic. See instructions in other discussion here.
Cool and humid is the key to rooting success.
How Long Do Hardwood Cuttings Take To Root?
In general, the hardwood cuttings will be rooted and fine to transplant to a growing bed in one year from when you take them.
Some may root quicker but generally speaking, if you set them in the ground in the fall, they’ll root in early spring and, develop those roots through the summer and can be transplanted the second fall once they go dormant.