The Secret of Rooting Cuttings
by Michael J. McGroarty -
The secret of rooting cuttings can be summed
up in two words.
“Timing and technique”.
do your cuttings is every bit as important as how you do
them. So if you do the right thing, at the right time of the
year, your efforts are sure to bring success. Through this
article you will learn both.
"Rooting Hardwood Cuttings of Deciduous Plants"
cuttings are much more durable than softwood cuttings which
is why hardwoods are the best technique for the home
gardener. A deciduous plant is a plant that loses it’s
leaves during the winter. All plants go dormant during the
winter, but evergreens keep their foliage. Many people don’t
consider Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and and Mountain Laurel
evergreens, but they are. They are known as broad leaf
evergreens. Any plant that completely loses it’s leaves is a
three different techniques for rooting cuttings of deciduous
plants. Two methods for hardwood cuttings, and one for
softwood cuttings. In this article we are only going to
discuss rooting cuttings using the hardwood methods. If you
are interested in softwood cuttings, you'll find a very
informative article at
Of the two
hardwood techniques is one better than the other? It depends
on exactly what you are rooting, what the soil conditions
are at your house, and what Mother Nature has up her sleeve
for the coming winter. I have experienced both success and
failure using each method. Only experimentation will
determine what works best for you. Try some cuttings using
hardwood cuttings of deciduous plants, you should wait until
the parent plants are completely dormant. This does not
happen until you’ve experienced a good hard freeze where the
temperature dips down below 32 degrees F. for a period of
several hours. Here in northeastern Ohio this usually occurs
around mid November.
softwood cuttings of deciduous plants, where you only take
tip cuttings from the ends of the branches, that rule does
not apply to hardwood cuttings of deciduous plants. For
instance, a plant such as Forsythia can grow as much as four
feet in one season. In that case, you can use all of the
current years growth to make hardwood cuttings.
be able to get six or eight cuttings from one branch. Grapes
are extremely vigorous. A grape vine can grow up to ten feet
or more in one season. That entire vine can be used for
hardwood cuttings. Of course with grape vines, there is
considerable space between the buds, so the cuttings have to
be much longer than most other deciduous plants. The average
length of a hardwood grape vine cutting is about 12” and
still only has 3 or 4 buds. The bud spacing on most other
deciduous plants is much closer, so the cuttings only need
to be about 6- 8” in length.
deciduous hardwood cutting is quite easy. Just collect some
branches (known as canes) from the parent plants. Clip these
canes into cuttings about 6” long. Of course these canes
will not have any leaves on them because the plant is
dormant, but if you examine the canes closely you will see
little bumps along the cane. These bumps are bud unions.
They are next year’s leaf buds or nodes, as they are often
making a hardwood cutting of a deciduous plant it is best to
make the cut at the bottom, or the butt end of the cutting
just below a node, and make the cut at the top of the
cutting about 3/4” above a node. This technique serves two
purposes. One, it makes it easier for you to distinguish the
top of the cutting from the bottom of the cutting as you
handle them. It also aids the cutting in two different ways.
Any time you cut a plant above a node, the section of stem
left above that node will die back to the top node. So if
you were to leave 1/2” of stem below the bottom node, it
would just die back anyway. Having that section of dead wood
underground is not a good idea. It is only a place for
insects and disease to hide.
It is also
helpful to actually injure a plant slightly when trying to
force it to develop roots. When a plant is injured, it
develops a callous over the wound as protection. This
callous build up is necessary before roots will develop.
Cutting just below a node on the bottom of a cutting causes
the plant to develop callous and eventually, roots. Making
the cut on the top of the cutting 3/4” above the node is
done so that the 3/4” section of stem above the node will
provide protection for the top node. This keeps the buds
from being damaged or knocked off during handling and
planting. You can press down on the cutting without harming
rooting cuttings this way it helps to make the cut at the
top of the cutting at an angle. This sheds water away from
the cut end of the cutting and helps to reduce the chance of
disease. Once you have all of your cuttings made, dip the
bottom of the cutting in a rooting compound. Make sure you
have the right strength rooting compound (available at most
garden stores) for hardwood cuttings. Line them up so the
butt ends are even and tie them into bundles.
spot in your garden that is in full sun. Dig a hole about
12” deep and large enough to hold all of the bundles of
cuttings. Place the bundles of cuttings in the hole upside
down. The butt ends of the cuttings should be up. The butt
ends of the cuttings should be about 6” below the surface.
Cover the cuttings completely with soil and mark the
location with a stake, so you can find them again in the
this sounds crazy, but rooting cuttings this way does work.
To increase your chances of success you can cover the butt
ends of the cuttings with moist peat moss before filling in
the hole. Make sure you wet the peat moss thoroughly, then
just pack it on the butt ends of the cuttings.
winter the cuttings will develop callous and possibly some
roots. Placing them in the hole upside down puts the butt
ends closest to the surface, so they can be warmed by the
sun, creating favorable conditions for root development.
Being upside down also discourages top growth. Leave them
alone until about mid spring after the danger of frost has
passed. Over the winter the buds will begin to develop and
will be quite tender when you dig them up. Frost could do
considerable damage if you dig them and plant them out too
early. That’s why it is best to leave them buried until the
danger of frost has passed.
up very carefully, so as not to damage them. Cut open the
bundles and examine the butt ends. Hopefully, you will see
some callous build up. Even if there is no callous, plant
them out anyway. You don’t need a bed of sand or anything
special when you plant the cuttings out. Just put them in a
sunny location in your garden. Of course the area you chose
should be well drained, with good rich topsoil.
the cuttings, just dig a very narrow trench, or using a
spade, make a slice by prying open the ground. Place the
cuttings in the trench with the butt ends down. Bury about
one half of the cutting leaving a few buds above ground.
Back fill around the cuttings with loose soil making sure
there are no air pockets. Tamp them in lightly, then water
thoroughly to eliminate any air pockets.
them on a regular basis, but don’t make the soil so wet that
they rot. Within a few weeks the cuttings will start to leaf
out. Some will more than likely collapse because there are
not enough roots to support the plant. The others will
develop roots as they leaf out. By fall, the cuttings that
survived should be pretty well rooted. You can transplant
them once they are dormant, or you can wait until spring. If
you wait until spring, make sure you transplant them before
they break dormancy.
really is no exact science when it comes to rooting
cuttings, so now I am going to present you with a variation
of the above method.
method still applies to hardwood cuttings of deciduous
plants. With this variation you do everything exactly the
same as you do with the method you just learned, up to the
point where you bury them for the winter.
method number two you don’t bury them at all. Instead, you
plant the cuttings out as soon as you make them in the late
fall, or anytime during the winter when the ground is not
frozen. In other words, you just completely skip the step
where you bury the cuttings underground for the winter.
Plant them exactly the same way as described for method
number one. As with all cuttings, treating them with a
rooting compound prior to planting will help induce root
cuttings work fairly well for most of the deciduous shrubs.
However, they are not likely to work for some of the more
refined varieties of deciduous ornamentals like Weeping
Cherries or other ornamental trees. Rooting cuttings of
ornamental trees is possible, but only using softwood
discuss rooting cuttings of evergreens, using hardwood
cuttings of evergreens are usually done after you have
experienced two heavy frosts in the late fall, around mid
November or so. However, I have obtained good results with
some plants doing them as early as mid September, taking
advantage of the warmth of the fall sun. When doing them is
early, they need to be watered everyday.
cuttings early and if they do poorly, just do some more in
November. Hardwood cuttings of many evergreens can be done
at home in a simple frame filled with coarse sand. To make
such a frame, just make a square or rectangular frame using
2” by 6” boards. Nail the four corners together as if to
make a large picture frame. This frame should sit on top of
the ground in an area that is well drained. An area of
partial shade is preferred.
have the frame constructed remove any weeds or grass inside
the frame so this vegetation does not grow up through your
propagation bed. Fill this frame with a very coarse grade of
sand. The sand used in swimming pool filters usually
works. Mason's sand is a little too fine. If you have a
sand and gravel yard in your area visit the site and inspect
the sand piles. Find a grade that is a little more coarse
than masons sand. But keep in mind that most any sand will
work, so just pick one that you think is coarse enough. If
water runs through it easily, it's coarse enough.
you place your frame in area where the water can drain
through the sand, and out of the frame. In other words,
don't select a soggy area for your cutting bed. Standing
water is sure to seriously hamper your results.
evergreen cuttings is easy. Just clip a cutting 4-5 inches
in length from the parent plant. Make tip cuttings only.
(Only one cutting from each branch.) Strip the needles or
leaves from the bottom one half to two thirds of the
cutting. Wounding evergreen cuttings isn’t usually necessary
because removing the leaves or needles causes enough injury
for callous build up and root development.
butt ends of the cuttings in a powder or liquid rooting
compound and stick them in the sand about 3/4” to 1” apart.
Keep them watered throughout the fall until cool
temperatures set in. If you have some warm dry days over the
winter, make sure you water your cuttings. Keep in mind
that sand in a raised bed will dry out very quickly. Don't
worry about snow. Snow covering your cuttings is just fine,
it will actually keep them moist, and protect them from
harsh winter winds.
watering again in the spring and throughout the summer. They
don’t need a lot of water, but be careful not to let them
dry out, and at the same time making sure they are not
method of rooting cuttings of evergreens actually works very
well, but it does take some time. You should leave them in
the frame for a period of twelve months. You can leave them
longer if you like. Leaving them until the following spring
would be just fine. They should develop more roots over the
cuttings of the following plants is very easy using this
method. variegated Euonymus varieties, Taxus, Juniper,
Arborvitae, Japanese Holly, Boxwood, and English Holly.
Rhododendrons and Azaleas prefer to have their bottoms
warmed before they root
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit
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