Growing shrubs from hardwood cuttings is one of the simplest and most inexpensive ways to propagate shrubs.
Most people call them sticks. But to us growers they are much more magical. These “sticks” are hardwood cuttings and it is one of the most inexpensive, and simplest ways to grow shrubs.
The concept is simple… when a shrub is dormant, prune off a branch (known as a cutting) from a shrub in your landscape, and get that cutting to root. When it roots, you will have a baby shrub that is a genetic clone of the shrub it came from.
It’s amazing that you can grow a shrub that would normally cost you $45 at a nursery, for free, at home, with not much more than a stick!
Growing shrubs from hardwood cuttings boils down to 6 simple steps.
Step 1 Get Your Hardwood Cuttings
Getting cuttings from your own landscape is a great place to start. Also, don’t be afraid to ask a neighbor if you can take some cuttings from a few shrubs. You want to wait until the winter months when the plant you are taking cuttings from is dormant. This is when the soft, green growth that grew this past spring has become a hard, woody stem.
Some plants are easy to grow from hardwood cuttings, and some are not.
Some of my favorite shrubs to take cuttings from are Forsythia, Red Twig Dogwood, Yellow Twig Dogwood, Most Hydrangeas especially Annabelle, Ninebark, Purple Sandcherry, Willows, Spirea, Rose of Sharon, Blueberries, and Grapes. Don’t be afraid to experiment, its not really costing you anything.
Take a look at the picture below. This is me taking hardwood cuttings from a row of Red Twig Dogwood shrubs I have along my driveway.
I am pruning long stems off and will sort them out and prune them correctly in a bit. But for now, I am just going around pruning and gathering stems.
I’m not just taking the top part which is this past years growth, I am going deeper into the shrub so I have some stems that were produced two or more years ago as well. I actually prefer these thicker cuttings.
After I gather a bunch of cuttings, I take them into my garage where I will be pruning them the correct way, and preparing them to be stuck in a good hardwood cutting mix.
Step 2 Pruning
Ok, you’ve got a bunch of “sticks”. Now what?
You want to sort through each one and make some pretty specific cuts with your pruners. A good pair of bypass pruners is strongly recommended.
First off, make sure you have the cuttings right side up.
This is important because you are going to prune the bottom portion of the cutting and the top part differently.
For the bottom portion you want to cut right below the node, but not cutting the actual node itself. Take a look below.
The future roots of this cutting will grow from either this bottom node or from the very bottom of the cutting, or both (depending on the shrub).
Next, you want to cut the top part of the cutting. Make sure the whole cutting is at least 5’’ in length, but as a rule you at least have to go to above the next node.
The cutting will die back to the nearest node, but on the top portion of the cutting it’s good to leave an extra inch or two.
Even though this top portion will eventually die back to the nearest node, it’s good to leave it longer because it helps protect the node from frost. It also helps to identify the top of the cutting from the bottom when sticking the cuttings.
Step 3 Dip In Rooting Hormone
You’ve got your perfectly pruned cutting, Now what?
Before you stick your cuttings, it’s a good idea to dip the bottom couple inches into rooting hormone.
I use this liquid hormone and leave the bottom couple inches of the cuttings in for about 5 seconds as seen below.
Step 4 Stick Your Hardwood Cuttings
You’ve got your hardwood cuttings all pruned and dipped in rooting hormone. It’s time to stick your cuttings!
What Media Should You Stick Your Cuttings In?
There are some different options here, but personally, I like to use a mixture of coarse sand and perlite.
Coarse sand has small stones and pebbles in it. It is not washed sand that masons use in their mortar mix.
The key here is drainage. Your cuttings are going to be kept outside in the snow and rain so you want to make sure you have good drainage.
I like to take about 75% coarse sand and 25% perlite for added drainage and mix it together.
What Do You Put the Coarse Sand/Perlite Mixture In?
Pretty much anything that is lightweight, can support the mixture, and has drainage holes at the bottom.
I use a mixture of wooden boxes that I’ve made, plastic containers, and even nursery containers.
The trick is to use a layer or two of newspaper at the bottom of your container to keep the sand/perlite mixture from leaking out the bottom.
Don’t worry about the newspaper eventually deteriorating. By that time your cuttings should have plenty of roots to keep the sand and perlite from leaking out.
The next step is to fill the container with your coarse sand/perlite mix.
Once you have your mix in your containers, simply stick in your cuttings. Make sure the bottom node is completely in the mix.
After you’re done sticking your cuttings you want to give them a light watering. The cuttings don’t really need water at this time, it’s just to get the sand/perlite compacted around the cuttings.
After the cuttings get watered your final step for now is to put them outside! It really is that simple.
I leave my cuttings outside so the winter snow can dump on them. If anything, I try and protect them from the wind, but that’s about it.
Remember, these hardwood cuttings are all dormant, so don’t expect anything to happen until the spring. All that’s happening at this point is the buried cut end will callus over for the next several weeks.
Now is a good time to get into your head that you will have plenty of losses.
A 50% success rate is considered good for hardwood cuttings. Don’t worry about the losses, this is an inexpensive method for growing shrubs and with that comes losses.
Step 5 Remove Cuttings from Growing Media
With a little bit of luck, most of the hardwood cuttings will start to leaf out in the spring and eventually roots will form out the bottom where you made your cut, and in some cases, roots will grow where the bottom node is.
It is important in the spring to be patient!
Give the hardwood cuttings plenty of time to get a decent root structure. Just because a plant is putting on new growth doesn’t mean that it has good roots. Sometimes a cutting can leaf out without any roots at all!
A good test to see if a cutting is rooted enough to be potted up is to simply give it the pull test. Take a couple of cuttings and gently try to pull them out of the sand mix. If there are roots then it will be difficult to remove the cutting.
When Will Cuttings Be Ready to Be Potted Up?
Some cuttings, such as Annabelle Hydrangea will be ready to be potted up in as soon as 5 weeks when the weather breaks in the spring. Most other cuttings will take longer and won’t be ready to pot up until late summer.
If removing cuttings from the sand at this time just remember that you need to be very gentle. This plant is actively growing so ripping the roots apart will likely kill it.
I find the best way to remove the cuttings from the sand is to gently dump out the container it is in and finger through the cuttings to separate them. You can also try using a big spatula to try and scoop underneath the roots and lift the cuttings out.
Step 6 Potting Up Hardwood Cuttings
Correctly potting up a bare root hardwood cutting is a little different than potting up a plug or liner that has potting mix still attached to its roots. Incorrect potting methods will likely cause massive losses.
Growing plants from hardwood cuttings is a simple and extremely affordable way to grow a ton of shrubs. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shrub species and different rooting medias.
If you’re starting a backyard nursery and are having trouble getting your hands on hardwood cuttings, don’t worry, there are plenty other ways to build your plant inventory. My favorite and most used is the buy and grow method.
For perennials I highly recommend starting seeds indoors. Not only is this a cheap way to grow tons of plants, but it also allows you to garden during the winter!
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