How to take cuttings from plants and trees

How to take cuttings from plants and trees

A guide to taking cuttings from plants and trees, so as to replant them and grow another plant identical to the first.

Photo Credit: Fred Dimmick
By John Casteele

Have you ever had a plant that was so good that you wished that you had two of them? Or maybe you’ve seen one that you wanted one that was exactly the same. Perhaps it’s a fruit tree that grows exceptional apples, or maybe it’s a rose bush at your mother’s house that reminds you of your childhood. Either way, you know what you want and simply wish you had a way to get it.

Luckily, there is a way to make what is more or less a duplicate of a plant that you desire… taking a cutting. The process of taking a cutting differs depending upon the type of plant, but the end result is the same; you have a portion of the plant that will (hopefully) take root and begin growing, possessing the same genes as the plant that the cutting was taken from. And on top of that, taking a cutting is usually relatively simple and often is free!

There are two primary methods of taking cuttings, dependant upon the makeup of the plant. Hardwood cuttings are taken from more rigid plants, such as gooseberries, roses, currants, and others. Softwood cuttings are taken from softer plants, including many flowering plants and bushes, such as carnations, delphiniums, chrysanthemums, geraniums, and the like. Should you have any questions about the type of plant that you’re going to be taking a cutting from, ask a nursery or florist to help you.

For hardwood cuttings, it’s best to do the cutting in early autumn. The plant is preparing for its dormant state, and it less likely to suffer damage from the cutting. Don’t wait too late in the season, though, or else frost might damage the plant where it’s vulnerable.

You should take your cutting from a mature shoot, which is at least a foot long and is relatively low on the plant. Pull it from the main stem of the plant, leaving the “heel” of the shoot intact… this is the widened area where the shoot connects to the main stem. Remove all leaves and buds from the lower portion of the shoot (about 4 or 5 inches should do it.) Dip the heel in hormone powder (which you should be able to get from your local nursery), and plant the cutting firmly in a pot or in trenched soil. Keep the plant well watered, and protect from frost or sudden temperature changes.

Should you be doing a softwood cutting, the procedure is somewhat different. Take the cutting during the summer, and choose a young shoot higher on the plant that’s around 5 or 6 inches long. Cut the shoot off below a leaf joint, leaving the heel attached to the plant.

Trim off the lower leaves on the cutting, leaving around 4 or 5 pairs of leaves at the very top. As with the hardwood cuttings, you should dip the end of the shoot in hormone powder. Plant the new cutting in a pot or other container designed for the growth of cuttings… softwood cuttings need to be closed in somewhat in a damp environment. Water regularly, and keep a check on wilting.

Within a season, either type of cutting should have roots beginning to develop and should show signs of new growth. Once roots are growing, the cutting can be transferred to a new container or planted in loosened soil. As with many plants, plant food or fertilizer is recommended when you transfer it.

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