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Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

There never seems to be enough time during the summer months to do everything that needs doing, and that includes sticking some cuttings to make more plants. The best time for taking hardwood cuttings is during the winter dormancy of trees and shrubs, January to March, anytime after dormancy but before the buds start to grow in the spring. If you want to propagate evergreens, use the deciduous trees as a barometer for dormancy.

Assemble what you will need to stick your cuttings. You can use small pots that fit the size of the cuttings or you can also put several into a large diameter pot. Leave space between the cuttings so that they don’t grow together. It is easier to cover small pots with plastic bags or glass jars, which you should also have ready. I like to use soilless mix made for seed starting. You can also use vermiculite or sand, but I have not had great luck with those mediums. Whatever you use, make sure the medium is wet clear through.

In the case of soilless mix, you might have to soak the pots of mix in buckets of water to get it wet. The peat in the mix repels water once it dries out. If you wet the mix in the pot until the top looks very wet, mix it up with to make sure it is wet clear through. You might be amazed to find that it is bone dry just a couple inches below the surface. The mix has to be fully moistened and then kept moist while the cuttings take root.

The cuttings should be strong, straight, and thick with healthy looking buds. Take cuttings, with 3-4 leaf nodes, in early morning after a rain or watering. Later in the day, they won’t be as fresh or as likely to root. Keep the cuttings moist by wrapping the ends in wet paper towels and carry them in a plastic bag. Take cuttings from growth that matured during this past growing season. Look for new brown bark or stiff green bark turning brown. Take the cutting just below a bud where last year's growth meets the growth from the year before. Remove any leaves that are hangers-on. Each cutting can be up to 9 inches long with no branching. If the tip is floppy, pinch it out. Bundle your cuttings so that you know which end is “up”.

Dip the bottom end of the cuttings into rooting hormone, which you can find as a powder or liquid at garden centers or on the internet. Follow directions, making sure, if you use powder, to tap off any excess before you plant. Only the lower section of the cutting will root so make sure you are not planting tiptop down. Use a pencil to make the holes deep enough so that 2 nodes are below the surface of the planting mix.

Misting daily will help to keep your cuttings moist since they are open to the air. This helps prevent mildew, which can kill the cuttings. The next best way to keep them hydrated is to cover them with plastic bags or glass jars. If you need to cover a large pot, use plastic wrap and stakes to keep the plastic off the cuttings. If water droplets form on the plastic or glass, uncover and let the cuttings air out. They can mildew in a hurry if they stay too wet. It is not necessary, but if you put them on a heat mat (I use one for starting seeds) the rooting process will speed up.

Be sure to put a label in each pot with the name of the plant and the date you stuck it. You would not believe how easy it is to forget what’s in that pot.

See you back here next week, when I will talk about some easy plants to clip from your yard. After the fuss of the holidays, get ready to relax with a new hobby. Take cuttings and raise up your own shrubs or trees.

Happy Holidays to all.

Posted December 21, 2012

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