Secret of Rooting Cuttings

“Rooting Hardwood Cuttings of Deciduous Plants”

Hardwood 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 its leaves during the winter. All plants go dormant during the winter, but evergreens keep their foliage. Many people don’t consider Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and Mountain Laurel evergreens, but they are. They are known as broad leaf evergreens. Any plant that completely loses its leaves is a deciduous plant.

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 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.

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 called.

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.