The late fall is the best time to take cuttings from your dormant deciduous trees and plants. Why? Since these trees tend to go dormant during the winter, it becomes less damaging to take cuttings from them. The best part is, cuttings are a cost-effective way to increase the number of plants in your garden. You can use them to propagate a number of new trees, crops, and flowers, including forsythia, figs, mulberries, pomegranates, grapes, kiwis, roses, and clematis. Whether you’re propagating cuttings to create a garden oasis on your own property or doing so for neighbors, friends, and family, it's important to know how to take cuttings from your trees and plants.
Before You Take Cuttings
You'll only want to take cuttings from trees and plants that are vigorous and healthy. The healthier your trees are, the better they’ll be able to handle your taking cuttings from them and the stronger the cuttings will be. Also, make sure the trees have gone dormant — that is, make sure you're doing this between early autumn and late winter and that all of the leaves have fallen from them.
Choosing Your Cuttings
To increase their chances of thriving, you'll want to select cuttings from the past season's growth that are straight, healthy, and as thick as a pencil. Keep the woody growth and remove any green growth from their tips.
Next, cut them down to an appropriate size using sharp secateurs, which make it easier to cut and reduce potential damage to the tree. Many people wonder how long each cutting should be. Remember that the longer the cutting, the more food it’ll be able to store. Aim for one that’s between 12 and 48 inches long.
Remove any side shoots on the cutting. You'll also want to make a cut near the base, about a quarter of an inch below the lowest bud you can see. From there, measure about ten inches away from the base and make another sloping cut above the topmost bud.
To prompt the cuttings to begin rooting, you'll need to make several small cuts at their bases and remove some of the bark from them. Exposing the layers beneath the bark will help the cuttings take root. You can also apply a rooting hormone to the bases to help encourage growth. If you’re using a liquid rooting hormone, simply dip each base in it. If you’re using a powder, just make sure to remove any excess from your cuttings.
Storing Cuttings in Colder Areas
If you live in an area that experiences freezing temperatures, bundle your cuttings together with rubber bands and place them in a box filled with sawdust, sand, or vermiculite, and store it in an unheated garage or shed over the winter. The cuttings aren’t likely to begin rooting in freezing temperatures, so you’ll have to pull them out of storage when it starts to warm up again in the spring.
On the other hand, if you live in an area where the ground doesn’t freeze, you can either create a slit trench or place the cuttings in a container until they’re ready to plant outside. To create a trench, the first thing you'll have to do is find a suitable spot in your garden or yard and remove the weeds from it. Use a spade to create a slit in the soil and drop the cuttings in base-side down, with about two-thirds of each one resting below the soil. Space the cuttings about two inches apart from one another. To prevent them from drying out, keep the soil watered and check it often. During the spring and summer months, continue to keep the area free of weeds. You’ll likely be able to plant your cuttings as soon as next fall.
If you’re going to be planting your cuttings in a container, fill the pots with coarse sand, compost, potting mix, etc. and place the cuttings deep enough in them that they're about two-thirds below the surface. Keep your pots in a greenhouse or cold frame to help them take root. Since the pots can easily dry out during the winter months, you'll want to continue watering your cuttings. You can also maintain humidity by covering each pot with a clear plastic bag. Again, you'll most likely be able to plant the cuttings next fall. If you've housed them in a cold frame, be sure to acclimate them to the outdoors before planting them outside.
Another option is to place all your cuttings in a pot of soilless planting mix and place that in a clear plastic bag. Store it in an area that is warm and gets some indirect light. Eventually, the cuttings will begin to form roots. Once the roots have developed, remove the pot from the bag and plant the cuttings outside.
When You’re Ready to Plant
In the spring, you'll want to continue watering the soil and protecting your cuttings from too much direct sunlight. In most cases, you can plant your cuttings in the fall — but don’t push them out too soon. Check their roots, and when they’re ready (whether it’s in the fall or the following spring), you'll finally be able to add them to your garden.