How to Take Hardwood Cuttings
So you don’t think that you have green fingers [thumbs if you’re American]?
Can’t root cuttings eh?
Well, I bet you can propagate plants by hardwood cuttings!
It really couldn’t be easier and the bit that we all tend to fall down on -that intensive aftercare- is almost non existent!
Hardwood cuttings are just that…stems that are mature and can look after themselves. Early November is the best time to propagate plants using this method but you can try throughout winter.
But before we all get carried away and think that we can get roots on everything in the garden it works, and works well, only for a select group of plants!
These, and I’m stating the obvious, are hardwood plants….so some trees, shrubs, fruit plants and climbers.
Many of these can also be rooted by other means such as soft or semi-ripe cutting.
However the beauty of hardwood cuttings is that you spend a bit of time in winter preparing the cuttings, stick ’em in and then forget them until they have rooted!
Interested? I thought you would be! So, what roots this way?
Plants that will propagate this wayShrubs – Abelia, Buddleja, Cornus [not all], Deutzia, Forsythia, Flowering Currant [Ribes], Mock Orange [Philadelphus], Poplars, Roses, Sambucus, Symphoricarpus and Willows [Salix].
Trees – Willows [Salix] Planes and Poplars.
Fruit Plants – Black currants, gooseberries, mulberry, grapevines and figs.
Climbing plants – Jasmine, honeysuckle, Virginia Creeper [Parthenocissus] and Vitis [vines]
Naturally there are others but I reckon that this is a pretty good list to get started with!
So how do we do it?
Well above all select healthy, strong growing, woody shoots from the current year’s growth.
Freedom from disease and particularly virus is especially important with fruit plants and this is why we have the Food and Environment Research Agency [FERA] Plant Health Propagation Scheme in place to ensure that new plants that you buy are healthy.
Naturally, freedom from pests is important too but many of these will have fallen off with the leaves.
If the plant that you want to propagate still has leaves hanging on, it is better to wait a while. Wait until they have fallen off since hormones that cause leaves to fall are not the ones that create new roots.
Nevertheless, the sooner you get started, the sooner that cuttings can form new roots.
It is important that roots are growing well before spring. In spring the new leaves and shoots appear and quickly use up any remaining stored food in the as yet un-rooted cuttings.
How to do it
So with clean sharp secateurs cut those new healthy shoots to aim at cuttings that are around the same length as the secateurs [20cms or 8″].
Make a cut just below a bud at the base of the cutting and a slanting one just above the nearest bud to this length at the top. The slanted cut at the top will remind you which is the top and which the bottom.
I use the superb widely available Felco Secateurs.Since elder [Sambucus] has a pithy stem it is best to take only one cutting per stem.
Make the bottom cut through the joint that it has with the main trunk or branch. This should ensure that there is solid wood at the cutting base.
There is also a natural build up of root promoting hormones in a plant at this point.
Although these cuttings have no leaves, it is still important to store cutting material in cool conditions. Perhaps wrapped in polythene too.
If you aren’t ready to insert your cuttings then storage in a domestic refrigerator for a few days will be fine! Just don’t leave them drying out on the windowsill!
Where to root them
Now you won’t need a greenhouse or even a propagator to root these but if you have a cold frame, so much the better.
However, don’t give up now if you haven’t got one since hardwood cuttings will root perfectly in well prepared and well drained garden soil. Perhaps you have some space on your vegetable patch or at the back of a flower border for this?
Heavy clay or silty soils are not good for this since they are slow to warm up and are often poorly drained.
Unless you already have a very sandy soil add horticultural grit to the area where you are inserting the cuttings. This could be just to the slot in which the cuttings are inserted.
So take a spade and insert it into the ground to full depth, wriggle it back and forth a bit to create a slot. Then drop the grit into the slot to fill it and then you are ready to insert the cuttings!
Inserting the cuttings
The hardwood cuttings should be pushed in [check that they are not upside down!] so that no more than the top third is left exposed.
Gently firm the soil and sand back around the cuttings. This ensures good contact and no air voids left.
Pushing cuttings in this deep allows enough buds above ground to produce the new leaves and shoots. Those buried under ground will produce new roots.
The exception to this may be for gooseberries. It is traditional, but not essential, to grow gooseberries with a short trunk to assist weeding under a prickly canopy. So in this case carefully rub off all but the top few buds. This prevents any shoots from emerging from underground later.
Many of the plants on my list [above] will root without adding hormone rooting powder but all will root quicker if you do!
By autumn your cuttings should be well rooted and have become nice little plants ready to plant out.
And that is it! Easy isn’t it?
What success have you had with rooting hardwood cuttings?
Are you going to try hardwood cuttings this winter on your plot?
Enjoyed this? Then you might like to read about late summer rooting of cuttings here.