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How to Root a Tree Cutting

By M.H. Dyer ; Updated September 21, 2017

Trees can be a major expense for homeowners, but if you have a bit of time and some patience, you can save a considerable amount of money by rooting trees from existing trees. Many deciduous and evergreen trees can be successfully propagated by hardwood cuttings. Take cuttings from healthy dormant trees in late fall or winter. To increase the chance of success, start with clean, sharp tools.

Use a sharp knife or pruners to cut a long piece from a healthy branch. Cut just above a leaf node, which is where a leaf grows from the stem. Each cutting should have three to five leaf nodes, and to accomplish this, will need to be at least 6 inches long. Put the cuttings in a picnic cooler and keep them in the shade until you're ready to root them.

Cut the long piece of branch into smaller pieces, each with at least three or four leave nodes. Cut the bottom of each piece, which is the part that was nearest the tree's roots, at a 45-degree angle. The top of the cutting should be cut straight across. This is an important step, because it will tell you which end of the cutting should be planted in the soil. Cuttings planted upside down won't root.

Fill a planting container with commercial potting mixture. Any container with good drainage holes in the bottom will work. Set the container in a pie plate filled with water and allow the soil to wick up the moisture. Remove the pot from the water when the soil is wet clear through.

Remove any leaves or needles, because they will divert energy from the production of new roots. Use the tip of a knife to peel about an inch of outer bark from the bottom of the cutting.

Dip the angled end of the cutting in liquid rooting hormone and plant the cuttings in the potting mixture, with at least one leaf node above the soil. The cuttings should be planted close together so they can all benefit from the production of hormones, and will root faster.

Put the pot in a clear plastic bag and seal the bag. If necessary, put some small stakes or a bent wire in the soil so the bag won't touch the cuttings.

Put the pot in a warm room where it will be in indirect light. Don't put the pot in bright light or on a windowsill, which will be too hot and can burn the cuttings and prevent rooting.

Open the bag and spray the inside lightly if the soil dries out. This may not be necessary, because the plastic will act as a miniature greenhouse, and will maintain humidity.

Check every two weeks to see if the cuttings have rooted. Tug gently on the cutting, and if you feel resistance, you can assume that rooting has taken place.

Remove the plastic, and plant each rooted cutting in its own 4-inch pot. Keep the soil just moist, because too much water will cause the cutting to rot. Plant the cuttings outdoors the following spring.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Sharp knife or pruners
  • Picnic cooler
  • Planting container with drainage hole
  • Commercial potting soil
  • Pie plate
  • Liquid rooting hormone
  • Plastic bag
  • Small stakes
  • Spray bottle
  • 4-inch container

Tip

  • Take several more cuttings than you think you'll need, because it's normal for a percentage of cuttings to fail.

About the Author

 

M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.