Cherry Tree Propagation: How To Grow Cherries From A Cutting
Probably most people purchase a cherry tree from a nursery, but there are two ways you can propagate a cherry tree – by seed or you can propagate cherry trees from cuttings. While seed propagation is possible, cherry tree propagation is easiest from cuttings. Read on to find out how to grow cherries from a cutting and planting cherry tree cuttings.
About Cherry Tree Propagation via Cuttings
There are two types of cherry tree: tart (Prunus cerasus) and sweet (Prunus avium) cherries, both of which are members of the stone fruit family. While you can propagate a cherry tree using its seeds, the tree is likely a hybrid, meaning the resultant offspring will end up with the characteristics of one of the parent plants.
If you want to get a true “copy” of your tree, you need to propagate the cherry tree from cuttings.
How to Grow Cherries from a Cutting
Both tart and sweet cherries can be propagated by semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings. Semi-hardwood cuttings are taken from the tree in the summer when the wood is still slightly soft and partially mature. Hardwood cuttings are taken during the dormant season when the wood is hard and mature.
First, fill a 6-inch (15 cm.) clay or plastic pot with a mix of half perlite and half sphagnum peat moss. Water the potting mix until it is uniformly moist.
Select a branch on the cherry that has leaves and 2-4 leaf nodes, and preferably one that is under 5 years of age. Cuttings taken from older trees should be taken from the youngest branches. Using sharp, sterile pruning shears cut off a 4- to 8-inch (10-20 cm.) section of the tree at a horizontal angle.
Strip any leaves from the bottom 2/3 of the cutting. Dip the end of the cutting into rooting hormone. Make a hole in the rooting medium with your finger. Insert the cut end of the cutting into the hole and tamp down the rooting medium around it.
Either place a plastic bag over the container or cut the bottom out of a milk jug and place it over the top of the pot. Keep the cutting in a sunny area with a temperature of at least 65 F. (18 C.). Keep the medium moist, misting it twice a day with a spray bottle.
Remove the bag or milk jug from the cutting after 2-3 months, and check the cutting to see if it has rooted. Tug the cutting lightly. If you feel resistance, continue to grow until the roots fill the container. When the roots have encompassed the pot, transfer the cutting to a gallon (3-4 L.) container filled with potting soil.
Gradually acclimate the new cherry tree to outdoor temperatures and sunlight by placing it in the shade during the day for a week or so before transplanting it. Select a site to transplant the cherry in full sun with well-draining soil. Dig the hole twice as wide as the tree but no deeper.
Remove the cherry from the container; support the trunk with one hand. Lift the tree by the root ball and place it into the prepared hole. Fill in the sides with dirt and lightly over the top of the root ball. Water to remove any air pockets and then continue to fill in around the tree until the root ball is covered and the soil level meets ground level.
While saving seeds is a great practice and every budding grower should be starting a personal seed bank, certain plants and trees are better propagated via cuttings. This is particularly the case with many fruit trees because they won’t produce the same quality of fruit as their parent plant.
While it can be a good idea to produce a variety of species and encourage the sowing of wild oats, so to speak, most of the time we want to know the apple trees we are planting are going to supply a tasty treat. Cuttings, but not seeds, provide us with a replication of the apples we got from the parent tree, so in this case especially, it makes sense to use them.
It has become the custom for people to go to a nursery to get young sapling fruit trees, but that can be very costly while propagating from cuttings is inexpensive, exciting, and entirely doable. Plus, if we learn to multiply our own supply, we have the ability to share (or sell) trees, as well as reproduce our favorite trees for larger harvests.
More or less, there are two options for rooting fruit trees from cuttings: softwood and semi-hardwood. The basic technique is the same in that the cuttings should be removed with a very sharp, clean knife from a branch of the tree, and they should be at least 15 centimeters long but no longer than 30.
Any leaves should be removed from the bottom half of the cutting, and any fruit or buds should be taken off as well. The cut end of the cutting should then be dipped in rooting hormone and put in a moist rooting medium (info below). The medium should be kept damp, and the rooting cuttings should be kept at around 21 degrees Celsius.
- Softwood cuttings are generally taken in the spring when new branches are green and no blossoms have appeared. These are generally flexible but will snap when bent enough. They also have the tendency to dry out very quickly, so they should be transferred in moist paper towels until planted. Roots should begin to form at about a month.
- Semi-hardwood cuttings can be harvested in early summer, when the new growth is beginning to harden, the green being overtaken by bark. These should still be a little pliable, and they also dry out quickly. For semi-hardwood cuttings, roots might not take hold until about six weeks has passed.
- Hardwood cuttings are possible, but they can take up to six months to root, and they are the least likely to take. They likely will require a greenhouse and automated misting system. Why bother? But, just for the knowledge, these cuttings should be taken while the tree is dormant from the ends of higher branches, where the growth is new.
Once the cuttings have roots that reach about three centimeters, they can be placed in individual planting pots with sterilized potting soil. They should be planted at the same depth at which they were rooted, and they should be grown protected from weather extremes for at least a year.
Rooting Hormones and Rooting Medium
There are many options for natural rooting hormones. Human spit is said to work. Diluted organic apple cider vinegar (consider about a shallow teaspoon for every liter of water) has lots of trace elements helpful to plant growth and with protecting from bacterial issues. Cinnamon is also good at protecting the cuttings from fungal and bacterial problems, and it’s often used in conjunction with willow water, which encourages root growth.
As for rooting mediums, these should be light and absorbent, likely not involving soil at all. We want young, new roots to have enough water and plenty of open loose pathways to move through. An easy recipe would be equal parts coarse sand, perlite and/or vermiculite, and Sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir, depending on what’s more sustainably available.
Air Layering (Courtesy of Velacreations)
Root without Cuttings
Another option is to root new trees without cuttings. Instead of removing a portion of branch, this method leaves the “cutting” on the tree. This is called “air layering”. Air layering is particularly good for trees that are proving difficult to root.
This accomplished in the spring by selecting a section of branch just below a leaf nodule and roughly the diameter of a writing pen. Using a very sharp knife, shallowly slice the branch just half a centimeter below the leaf nodule and then again three centimeters below that. The goal is to remove just a strip of bark without cutting into the wood.
Rooting hormone—the same as above—should be applied to the stripped portion of branch. Then, the prepared area should be encased in either moist Sphagnum moss or coconut coir, and that should be wrapped in plastic, fastened in place with tape, twine, or cut rubber bands. The area should be kept moist through the growing season. Some people like to then cover this in foil to prevent the sunlight from causing issues.
Once the roots have formed, the branch can be cut beneath them, and the rooted cutting transferred to a pot.
- An important consideration when using this method is whether or not the host tree was grafted. Some say grafted trees aren’t good candidates for this because rooted cutting won’t have the same qualities as the root stock. However, one would have to debate that normal cuttings would have the same issue, wouldn’t they?
Grafting is a really common method, especially in larger commercial outfits, for creating new fruit trees that are true to their name. These often begin with plants that are grown from seed or to take advantage of the rootstock of more stable and vigorous native varieties. A scion of the desired plant is fused with the host plant, providing developed roots, and a new tree is grown.
Grafting is not the same as growing from cuttings. With cuttings, the roots will form from the actual piece of wood we take from a mother plant. Using cuttings is also much faster as there are no seeds to propagate.