How I Take Hardwood Cuttings in My Garden

The ideal time is now—just after plants have dropped their leaves in autumn.

cuttings being propagated

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Taking hardwood cuttings in my garden is one of the ways I increase my plant stocks and grow new trees and shrubs to populate different parts of my property. Hardwood cuttings will be slower to root than softwood or semi-ripe cuttings taken earlier in the year, though they can often have good success rates, and are a good option for those who have less time available for plant propagation during the main growing season. 

When to Take Hardwood Cuttings

Hardwood cuttings can be taken from most deciduous shrubs, certain trees, and a range of climbers. These cuttings can be done any time during the dormant period, but the best times are usually just after the plants have dropped their leaves in autumn, or just before leaf burst in the spring. I generally prefer to take my hardwood cuttings in autumn, just after leaf fall. 

I use a simple trench system, placing the cuttings in the ground and leaving them to callus over the winter and develop strong roots from spring, before I transplant them to their final growing positions the following autumn. 

Hardwood Cuttings I Will Be Taking This Year

This year I plan to take hardwood cuttings from a range of the fruit-producing shrubs in my forest garden. I will be taking cuttings of this season's growth from:

  • Blackcurrants
  • Redcurrants
  • Gooseberries
  • Elder

Some of these I wish to propagate to expand my own plant stock; the elder I am growing for another gardener. I do not grow these commercially, but plan to expand my garden a little this year. I plan on taking at least five to ten cuttings of each of the above. I have a number of mature plants which are now producing well, and I want to establish some of these plants in another part of my property.

I may also (if I have the time) take cuttings from some roses and other flowering deciduous shrubs that are growing well in my garden. I have had success before with rooting hardwood cuttings from red-flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum), forsythia, viburnums, and some dogwoods (Cornus ssp).

How I Will Take Hardwood Cuttings

First of all, I will select healthy shoots which have grown during the current year. I will remove any soft growth from the tip and will cut sections of around 12 inches (30 centimeters), with a sloping cut across the top to shed water and a straight cut across the base.

With the elder, as with other plants with pithy stems, I need to make sure that I cut through the heel where the shoot joins to a branch. The others should be cut just below a bud or pair of buds.

I will insert the cuttings into the soil in a prepared trench, in a fertile soil amended with plenty of organic matter. I will make sure that around two-thirds of each cutting is below the soil surface. I will place the cuttings around 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) apart.

I can leave the cuttings alone over the winter months, then keep them watered during dry spells the following summer before I transplant them to their new growing positions the following autumn.

rose cuttings in a trench

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While I use the trench method, you can also simply place a few cuttings into containers, filled with a free-draining growing medium, then keep them in a cold frame, polytunnel, or unheated greenhouse until the following autumn. You just need to take extra care to make sure that the cuttings do not dry out.

It really is as simple as that. While you can dip the ends of the cuttings in a rooting hormone, I have found that results are good in my garden without this step. I find that a good proportion of the cuttings I take will root successfully in the spring. 

In the past when I have propagated using hardwood cuttings with fruiting shrubs, I have actually found that every single one (bar one blackcurrant) rooted successfully; however, I only propagate on a small scale, so it may be beneficial to use a willow rooting compound or similar in your own garden to improve the likelihood of good results.

The leaves are still on the trees and shrubs right now. But it will not be long before I turn my attention to taking these cuttings and expanding the stock of fruiting shrubs in my garden—and you might consider doing the same.