Propagating Hardwood Cuttings: A Fun Gardening Activity For Winter Months

Many gardeners find themselves in a state of limbo when the winter months roll in. With the lack of sunshine and the cold temperatures, it’s easy to put your green thumb on the shelf until the springtime comes. But here is a fun idea for earthy folks who want to not only stay active throughout the colder months, but who also want to expand the number of plants they have in their yard in the years to come.

Have you found yourself walking through a park or a friend’s yard and thought to yourself ‘I would LOVE to have that plant growing in my yard!’? It’s easier than you think! When done sparingly and respectfully, taking a twig or two off a shrub and planting them as “starts” at home will do no harm to the parent plant and will give you that same plant at your own home. This technique is called “propagation from cuttings” and basically means you’re taking a start from a parent plant, giving it the ingredients it needs, and eventually that cutting will send down roots and be ready to plant in your garden, flowerbed, or yard.

There are many benefits to expanding your stock with this method. Firstly, the new plants are going to be exact replicas of the parent plant, so if you have a plant that is doing exceptionally well and you’re happy with the appearance and growth, the new plants will have those same characteristics. Secondly, this method is a very cost effective (free!) way to quickly expand how many plants you have in your yard. Lastly, you get the joy and satisfaction of turning a snippet of a plant into a full grown plant (with a little patience and attention) - a lot more satisfaction than simply going to a nursery and picking up the plant ready to go to the soil.

Here are a few simple tips to expanding your plant repertoire by planting “starts”:

Not all plants respond well to this ‘cutting’ method
Some plants work better than others when it comes to making starts from cuttings. For example, many herbs (sage, lavender, basil, rosemary), indoor plants (philodendrons, jade), holly, roses, grapes, geraniums, etc. are excellent contenders, whereas hybrid fruit trees would be nearly impossible to stat via this method. However, it can’t hurt to try a new plant you’re interested in growing, with the knowledge that it may or may not work when springtime comes. Experimenting is half the fun!

Be respectful when collecting cuttings
Although it doesn’t cause extensive damage to the parent plant, taking a cutting from a plant is something that should be done respectfully. Asking permission from the owner of the parent plant is a good idea. If you’re in a public place (park, wildlife refuge, etc.), know when it’s ok to collect a few cuttings.

Follow these simple step-by-step instructions for propagating hardwood plants from cuttings:

Cutting from hardwood plants (dormant deciduous trees and woody plants) are the easiest to prepare, so we will outline the steps below.

Ideal time for taking cuttings from parent hardwood plants is fall through late winter. This is because the plant is in a dormant state and it causes less shock to the plant.
Cut a piece of the parent plant that is about pencil thickness and about 6-10 inches long. It is helpful to cut the bud off of the tip of the plant at a slight angle.
Using a sharp knife, “wounding” the cutting promotes rooting. This is done by scraping away the outer layer of bark at the base of the cutting.
Dip your wounded end of your cutting in a rotting powder or solution. This is especially important in plants that are difficult to propagate from cuttings. These rooting solutions and powders can be purchased at gardening stores or places like Home Depot or Lowes for reasonably cheap.
Plant your cuttings in either pots or an outdoor plot. In either case, soil with sand tends to work best. Watering or misting your cuttings over the winter is important to keep them from drying out. During very frosty weather, it can be helpful to build a “tent” with wire mesh and a clear plastic to help keep in warmth and prevent the plants from drying out. Contrary to popular belief, it’s ok if the cuttings get some snow piled on them! The main goal is to prevent them from drying out, but a little snow is ok.
When springtime comes, carefully dig up your starts and check to see if they’ve sent out roots. If so, they’re ready to plant in your flower bed, garden, or yard! Hooray for free plants!

Here’s a picture of a few cuttings that I have planted in pots right outside my backdoor:

I am experimenting with a combination of red currant, Oregon grape, thimbleberry, and salmonberry, knowing that maybe some of these will not give me my desired result, but it’s exciting to know that these little friends may turn into plants that I’ll be able to enjoy in my yard year after year. Happy propagating!