Growing trees from cuttings

How To Root Cuttings From Various Shrubs, Bushes And Trees

Many people say that shrubs, bushes and trees are the backbone of garden design. Many times, these plants provide structure and architecture around which the rest of the garden is created. Unfortunately, shrubs, bushes and trees tend to be the most expensive plants to purchase for your garden.

There is one way to save money though on these higher ticket items. This is to start your own from cuttings.

There are two types of cuttings to start shrubs, bushes and trees — hardwood cuttings and softwood cuttings. These phrases refer to the state the wood of the plant is in. New growth that is still pliable and has not yet developed a bark exterior is called softwood. Older growth, which has developed a bark exterior, is called hardwood.

How to Root Hardwood Cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are typically taken in early spring or early winter when the plant is not actively growing. But, in a pinch, hardwood cuttings can be taken anytime of the year. The point of taking hardwood cuttings in non-growth periods is more to do with doing as little harm to the parent plant as possible.

Hardwood cuttings are also only taken from shrubs, bushes and trees that lose their leaves every year. This method will not work with evergreen plants.

  1. Cut off a hardwood cutting that is 12 to 48 inches long.
  2. Trim the end of the cutting to be planted just below where a leafbud grows on the branch.
  3. Cut off the top of the branch so that there are at least two additional leafbuds above the bottom leafbud. Also, make sure that the area left is at least 6 inches long. Additional buds can be left on the branch if necessary to make sure the branch is 6 inches.
  4. Strip the bottom most leafbuds and the topmost layer of bark 2 inches above this. Do not cut too deeply into the branch. You only need to take off the top layer and you do not need to be thorough about it.
  5. Place the stripped area in rooting hormone, then put the stripped end into a small pot of damp soilless mix.
  6. Wrap the whole pot and cutting in a plastic bag. Tie off the top but make sure the plastic is not touching the cutting at all.
  7. Place the pot in a warm spot that gets indirect light. Do not put in full sunlight.
  8. Check the plant every two weeks or so to see if roots have developed.
  9. Once roots have developed, remove the plastic covering. The plant will be ready to grow outdoors when the weather is suitable.

How to Root Softwood Cuttings

Softwood cuttings are normally taken when the plant is in active growth, which is normally in the spring. This will be the only time you will be able to find softwood on a shrub, bush or tree. This method can be used with all types of shrubs, bushes and trees.

  1. Cut a piece of softwood off the plant that is at least 6″ long, but no longer than 12 inches. Make sure that there is at least three leaves on the cutting.
  2. Remove any flowers or fruit on the cutting.
  3. Trim the stem to just below where the bottom most leaf meets the stem.
  4. On each of the leaves on the stem, cut off half of the leaf.
  5. Dip the end of the cutting to be rooted in rooting hormone
  6. Put the end to be rooted into a small pot of damp soiless mix.
  7. Wrap the whole pot and cutting in a plastic bag. Tie off the top but make sure the plastic is not touching the cutting at all.
  8. Place the pot in a warm spot that gets indirect light. Do not put in full sunlight.
  9. Check the plant every two weeks or so to see if roots have developed.
  10. Once roots have developed, remove the plastic covering. The plant will be ready to grow outdoors when the weather is suitable.

We have several of willows and would like to know if you can cut a branch and use that branch to start a new tree?

Willow trees are some of the easiest plants to root. In fact, you can actually grow a new tree by simply taking a stem and sticking it in moist soil. It’s the hormones in willows that cause such rapid rooting. So rapid in fact, that a rooting solution for other plants can be made by boiling willow stems in water. Our ancestors called it willow water.

To mix up a batch of willow water simply cut a few willow branches that are green and supple and about the size of pencil. Then cut the branches into 1-inch pieces and smash them with a hammer. Next, bring a pot of water to a boil, drop the willow stems into the water and remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to steep, stirring occasionally. Once cooled, it is ready to use.

In addition to using willow water for rooting cuttings, you can also pour it around young transplants to help accelerate their root development.

You can propagate willows by cutting branches any time of the year. Spring may be the best season because of the ample rain and the new tree will have the entire summer to become established before winter.

Take a cutting that is about 10-inches long and the diameter of a pencil. Next place the cutting in water. In time roots will begin to form and you can plant your new tree outdoors.

In areas where the soil stays moist such as beside a pond or river bank, you can just stick the cutting in the ground. Push it down fairly deep so that about 2-inches rises above the soil surface.

When planting your new willow tree it is important to choose a location that is about 100 feet away from buildings and underground pipes. Willow roots are notorious for wandering in search of water and will often cause damage to water or sewer lines and house foundations.

Also, willows must have copious amounts of water. Heat and drought stressed trees are susceptible to a number of diseases. So be sure to plant your willow where it will receive plenty of water.


Differences between tree and bush

The differences between tree and bush can be confusing, particularly when you are facing a bush that looks a lot like a tree or vice versa. However, there is a definite difference between trees and shrubs and, although some plants blur the boundaries, in most cases it is easy determine the shape of a particular plant.

Tree definition

The primary characteristic that defines a plant as a tree is its size. The generally accepted tree definition, as established by the American Forests organization, is that plant that has a single vertical woody trunk, with a minimum diameter of 3 inches (7.5 cm) and 4 feet (1.2 m) High. The trunk must be perennial; that is, it can not die every winter and grow back every spring. The tree should also be at least 13 feet (4 m) tall and have a markedly extended crown.

Definition of bush

Any perennial woody plant that does not meet the minimum size requirements to be considered as a tree can be classified as a shrub. Shrubs usually have more than one vertical woody trunk, with several rising from the base. Some definitions indicate that, to be considered shrubs, they must have a height greater than 1.5 feet (45 cm) or run the risk of being considered a simple plant or creeper.

How to Propagate Fruit Trees from Cuttings

from Darren Murphy, Club President


Propagation by taking branch cuttings is a method of cloning a mature tree to produce additional specimens. Fruit trees cuttings are required when the fruit is a seedless variety or you need a fast propagation method. Propagate fruit trees by taking softwood cuttings in late spring through early summer or semi-hardwood cuttings in mid summer to late summer. Softwood cuttings are fragile and dry out quickly, but produce roots quickly when placed in the proper environment.
Step 1
Cut a six-inch softwood or hardwood branch section of the fruit tree with a sharp knife. Take softwood cuttings from the end portion of the branch where the stem is beginning to mature and snaps in half when bent. Take semi-hardwood cuttings from the end portion of the branch where the stem is becoming woody and beginning to harden.
Step 2
Purchase rooting medium or create your own by mixing equal amounts of course sand, sterile peat moss and perlite. Add water to the medium to moisten. Fill a rooting tray with the moist medium.
Step 3
Cut off all leaves from the lower half of the fruit tree cutting with a sharp knife. Pour a small amount of powdered rooting hormone onto a piece of waxed paper. Dip the cut end of the branch cutting into the hormone and gently tap to remove excess.
Step 4
Stick the fruit tree cutting into a rooting tray filled with moist rooting medium to a depth of two to three inches. Tamp the medium around the cutting to hold it in place. Place the cuttings in the tray so the leaves are not touching.
Step 5
Mist the cuttings with water and place a clear plastic bag over top of the tray. Secure the covering closed with a rubber band. Set the rooting tray in an area that has indirect, bright sunlight and maintains a temperature of approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 6
Pull on the softwood tree cuttings after three weeks of growth to see if there is resistance from root formation. Pull on semi-hardwood cuttings after six weeks of growth. Continue to grow the fruit tree cuttings until the roots reach a length of one inch. Gently remove the soil around the stem cutting to observe root formation and length.
Step 7
Transplant all cuttings with one inch or longer roots into individual growing pots. Fill the pots with a sterile potting soil moistened with water. Gently remove the rooting cuttings from the tray and plant one in each growing pot at the same depth it was previously growing.
Step 8
Grow the transplanted fruit tree cuttings indoors for a minimum of one year. Transplant the cuttings outdoors the following spring season.

Things You’ll Need

  • Sharp knife
  • Rooting medium
  • Course sand
  • Sterile peat moss
  • Perlite
  • Water
  • Rooting tray
  • Rooting hormone
  • Waxed paper
  • Water mister
  • Plastic bag
  • Rubber band
  • 4-inch growing pots
  • Sterile potting soil

North Caroline State University: Plant Propagation with Stem Cuttings
Washington State University: Propagating Deciduous and Evergreen Shrubs, Tree and Vines

Propagation of Shrubs from Softwood Cuttings

Many ornamental shrubs in the home landscape may be propagated by softwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings are taken in late May through early July from the current season s growth. Cutting material should be flexible but mature enough to snap when sharply bent. Lilac, forsythia, weigela, barberry, potentilla, and viburnum are some of the shrubs that may be propagated from softwood cuttings.

A proper rooting medium is needed to successfully root softwood cuttings. The rooting medium must not only retain moisture but also drain well and provide physical support. Coarse sand, perlite, and vermiculite are good rooting materials.

The container that holds the rooting medium must have holes in the bottom for drainage. If only a few cuttings are desired, a large clay or plastic pot should be adequate. A wooden or plastic flat may be used if larger quantities are rooted. Once the container has been filled, the medium should be watered and allowed to drain before the cuttings are inserted.

Water is critical to the survival of the cuttings. A cutting has no root system to absorb water, yet continues to lose water through its foliage. The cutting wilts and dies if it loses a large quantity of water. Water loss can be reduced by placing a glass jar over the cuttings or by inserting several stakes just inside the wall of the container and then placing a clear plastic bag over the cuttings and container.

Although cuttings from some shrubs root easily, others are more difficult. Materials can be applied to promote rooting. Root-promoting substances increase the percentage of cuttings which root, shorten the period needed for rooting, and increase the number of roots per cutting. Root-promoting materials, such as Rootone, are often available in garden centers. Most products are in powder form.

When taking cuttings, remove plant material with a sharp knife. Softwood cuttings should be approximately 4 to 6 inches long. Pinch off the leaves on the lower half of the cutting. Also remove any flowers. Make a fresh cut just below the point where one or two leaves are attached to the stem (node) and then dip the base (cut end) of the cutting in the root-promoting compound. Tap off any surplus material. To avoid brushing off the powder when the cutting is inserted, make a hole in the rooting medium with your finger or a pencil. Insert the cutting approximately 2 inches deep into the rooting medium. Firm the material around the base of each cutting. After all the cuttings are inserted, water the cuttings and medium and let it drain. Cover the cuttings to reduce water loss and then place the cuttings in bright light, but not direct sunlight. Inspect the cuttings daily. Remoisten the rooting medium if it begin to dry. Rooting of most deciduous shrub species should occur in 6 to 8 weeks.

Examine a few cuttings after 3 or 4 weeks. Carefully dig up the cuttings to check on root development. If rooting is poor, simply place the cuttings back in the medium for additional rooting. When the cuttings have a well developed root system, they should be hardened off in preparation for transplanting. Remove the covering, but don t allow the cuttings to wilt. Keep the rooting medium moist. After a few days, carefully remove the cuttings and transplant into individual pots using a well-drained potting mix. The young plants can be planted into the ground in a few weeks. Gardeners may want to grow them in the garden for 1 or 2 years before moving the small shrubs to their permanent site in the landscape.

It will take several years for a rooted cutting to become a nice size plant. However, many gardeners find rooting cuttings and growing the young plants to be fun and rewarding.

This article originally appeared in the 6/6/2003 issue.

Reproducing the handsome flowering weigelas, viburnums and other shrubs is a fascinating and thrifty do-it-yourself project sure to inflate the green- thumb ego.

By following a few basic steps, you can ”create” new plants of favorite shrubs from hardwood cuttings snipped from those already established in the garden or (with permission, of course) from plants you admire in a neighbor`s yard. In other words, you become a home propagator.

Be warned, however, before you envision filling all the bare spots on the premises with cost-free, home-grown shrubs: The project is a long-term one. Plants from cuttings will have to be nurtured for several seasons before they attain landscape stature.

Nevertheless, patience is well rewarded not only in savings but in the personal satisfaction that goes with being able to boast that you grew the plants from the start.

Rooting cuttings always has been a classic way of multiplying plants. What gardener hasn`t at some time or other started a new geranium, begonia or violet by casually sticking stems into a rooting medium? Yet some people hesitate trying to do this with woody plants in the belief they require more expertise.

Professional propagators do employ special techniques to meet commercial plant-production goals, but these can be modified into a few basic principles that will ensure success for the novice. The pros, for example, work with both green and softwood cuttings, taken from stems of shrubs that are in leaf, and the hardwood cuttings, which are recommended for the beginner`s effort.

Hardwood cuttings are taken from stems of shrubs after they become leafless and dormant, as they are now. These are easier to manage and promise a higher rate of success. Stems for such cuttings can be collected any time from now through February, whenever weather is mild enough to work outdoors.

Some gardeners gather stems during routine winter pruning jobs, setting aside the choicest wood for cuttings. If many stems from different shrubs are collected, bundle and tag them with an identifying label. Not all need to be turned into finished cuttings at once. Stems can be stored in moist peat moss in a dark, cool place until you are ready to work with them.

Conveniently propagated shrubs can be found in most yards. They include forsythia, deutzia, quince, flowering almond, currant, mock orange, red-twigged dogwood, honeysuckle, spirea, privet, some euonymus varieties, as well as weigela and viburnum.

Stems from which cuttings will be made should be of the current season`s growth, either from long canes emerging from the base of the parent plant or from new wood at the tip ends. Several finished cuttings can be made from long stems.

Make each cutting 5 or 6 inches long from stem portions that are about the thickness of a pencil. The upper cut should be an inch or so above a dormant bud, from which first new growth will emerge, and the basal cut just below a bud. Then follow these steps:

– Tie all cuttings of one variety together with the basal cuts at one end and label them with the variety name.

– Place the finished cuttings in a plastic bag or container of moist sand, peat moss or vermiculite and store them where temperatures will remain cool but above freezing. A refrigerator (not a freezer) is an ideal storage place.

– Leave cuttings in cold storage at least six to eight weeks to allow the basal cuts to form calluses, which are necessary for later root development. They can remain in storage longer if necessary.

Plant the cuttings as soon as soil can be worked in spring, spacing them about 10 inches apart, preferably in nursery rows a foot apart, where it will be convenient to water and tend them regularly until they make sufficient growth to be transplanted.

When setting out the cuttings, it is essential that each be inserted into the soil with the basal (callused) end deep enough to allow only the top bud to be just above ground level. It is from this bud that the first new growth will occur.

Cuttings of some shrub varieties such as privet, forsythia and honeysuckle will begin growth quickly. Others such as weigela and viburnum are slow starters and may take several weeks longer. If you succeed in growing more than half of the cuttings you planted, consider this a formidable percentage for an amateur.

Meanwhile, the young plants will have to be watered, fertilized and otherwise carefully tended for perhaps several years in the nursery rows before becoming large enough to be transplanted to permanent places in the landscape.

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