Cuttings from hardwood plants, an easy way to start new trees

It is late in the outdoor gardening season, but there is still time to take cuttings from hardwood trees and start new shoots. Late fall through early winter is a perfect time.

This may sound like you need master gardener level skills; not true – anyone can do it.

First, identify the plant you would like to propagate. This time of year, you want to pick hardwoods. That means mature branches and a plant that has gone dormant or is not in an active growth period.

Plants that are easy to root from cuttings include Forsythia, Red Twig Dogwood, Euonymus, Butterfly Bush, Viburnum, and Willow.

With sharp pruning shears in hand, look for stems that are not the newest or oldest, maybe two-years-old stems. Try for lateral, not terminal shoots. This is just what it sounds like. Lateral grow out to the side, terminal grow straight up from the core of the plant.

Aim to cut a stem six to eight inches long. Look for a node, or bump in the stem, then make the cut straight across the bottom of the stem right above the node. Once you have gathered your cuttings, remove any remaining leaves. You want the plant to use its energy to produce roots, not leaves or buds.

I got lucky last year and rooted cuttings that had been pruned days before. I simply trimmed the bottom and stuck them in a container. A fresher cut and a few extra steps will increase your odds of success.

Dip the freshly trimmed bottoms in a rooting hormone powder. Shake off any excess and place the stems into your container. At this point, you can probably get 5 or 6 in an eight-inch pot. This will be plenty of room for them to root. 

Water the soil when planting, but too dry is better than too much wet. Remember, these cuttings do not have roots to absorb water or fertilizer. A good spritz every few days will help with the lack of humidity and be enough water to keep them going for the first weeks.

These cuttings are dormant, so do not expect immediate results. When you begin to see signs of life the shoots are still very tender and not ready to be moved. I would give them a few more weeks then start to check for roots. Do this gently, very gently, lifting the plant from the soil. Is it resistant? That means roots are forming. 

If you have roots, this might be a good time to transplant them into individual containers. Don’t go crazy and put them in a gallon pot; use something small that will be their home until summer.

As they root, the cutting will not need direct sunlight; indirect sunlight will work. A table in your garage or out of the way room would work. Yes, they are tender but not delicate. Heck, I left mine outside in an area protected from heavy winds and they survived.

When starting plants from hardwood cuttings, you need to be patient. My red twig dogwood took off this year and looks good. I was given a butterfly bush started two years ago in water and although I have transferred it to a small pot, I am not ready to put it out in the wild world of the little house on the big hill garden – maybe next year.

Starting cutting is an easy way to expand your garden and what fun to know you propagated new shrubs. If nothing else, it is a good experiment for winter, and a way to save money in the spring. With patience and a little luck, you may have several new trees and shrubs to plant next summer.