Hardwood cuttings are much more durable than softwood
cuttings which is why hardwoods are the best technique for the
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 deciduous plant.
There are two different ways to do hardwood cuttings of
deciduous plants. 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 each method.
When doing 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.
Method Number One
Unlike 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. You
might 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.
Making a 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
When 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
the buds. Although not necessary, 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
Once you have all of your cuttings made, dip them in a
rooting compound. Make sure you have the right strength
rooting compound (available at most garden stores) for hardwood
Line them up so the butt ends are even and tie them
into bundles. Select a 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
spring. It is beneficial to cover the butt ends with moist
peat moss before filling in the hole.
Over the 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.
Dig them 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.
To plant 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. Water 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
Method Number Two
When using the second method for rooting hardwood
cuttings of deciduous plants you do everything exactly the same
as you do with method number one, up to the point where you
bury them for the winter.
With 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 growth.
Hardwood 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.
Hardwood Cuttings of Evergreens
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. Try some 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 course 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
Once you 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. This frame must be well drained, and
coarse sand drains very well. Fine sands do not drain well at
all. Standing water is sure to seriously hamper your results.
Making the 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.
Dip the 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. Start 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 soaking wet.
Hardwood cuttings of many evergreens will root this
way, 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 winter.
This method of rooting hardwood cuttings can and will
work well for variegated Euonymus varieties, Taxus, Juniper,
Arborvitae, Japanese Holly, Boxwood, and English Holly.
Rhododendrons and Azaleas prefer to have their bottoms warmed
before they root.
About The Author
If you have questions for Mike McGroarty visit his website,
http://www.freeplants.com and post them on the message board
where you can learn lots of gardening tips and communicate with
other gardeners. While at his website you can learn how to
start your own profitable backyard nursery. If you would like
a copy of Mike's booklet, "The Secret of Growing Landscape
Plants from Scratch", send .00 to: Garden Secrets, P.O. Box
338, Perry, Ohio 44081
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