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Hardwood cuttings
Taking hardwood cuttings and watching these twigs turn into new plants is one of the many wondrous activities in gardening.

Lots of plants can be propagated from hardwood cuttings. Deciduous trees, climbers and shrubs will take well from this process helping provide new plants to re-invigorate your garden. Deciduous trees are those that shed leaves seasonally.

There is something magical about this process as it shows that life can continue and renew from difficult circumstances. Gardens provide mirrors to us, reflecting life processes and in these times it is comforting to know that life will renew.

  • Like all propagation activities it provides hope and anticipation for the future
  • The activity will provide some exercise and practice our fine motor skills
  • It provides some added purpose to get outside and check on and cuttings left in pots or containers
  • You could produce an abundance of new plants to share and connect with friends, family and neighbours
  • Children will be able to do lots of the processes, maybe needing some support and guidance to cut in the right place and in the right way
  • You could experiment by doing this task for all of the deciduous plants in your garden as a great exploration activity

There are some good secateurs available, anvil types that will hold onto the cutting once you have made it so you don’t have to pick it from the floor, or awkwardly bend and reach to hold the stem whilst cutting.

Ratchet secateurs reduce the strength needed when making the cutting. See more information on our Carry on Gardening website.

Plane, poplar and willow trees all grow well from hardwood cuttings, taking stems from this year’s growth they can be replanted direct into the place you want them to grow or kept in large pots until they root.

Willow is particularly successful and in many therapeutic gardens willow is taken as hardwood cutting to create tunnels, arbours, arches and sculptures. Once established it will produce lots of new wood that can then be used in many craft activities. Some trees can form hedging as well such as hawthorn.

Lots of climbers also take well, including honeysuckle, jasmine and Virginia creeper. They can be used to add extra structure and screening to your garden.

Deciduous shrubs are great to propagate from as well. Rose, buddleia, dogwoods and hydrangea are quite reliable and will provide extra plants to fill the garden or to pass on to others.

For us at Thrive, soft fruit is one of our favourites to propagate as hardwood cuttings. Gooseberry, red, white and blackcurrant alongside raspberries and their cousins. Nothing beats harvesting a glut of berries to be turned into jams and crumbles.

The best time to take hardwood cuttings is just after the leaves have fallen from the plant or just before buds start to burst out in early spring. If you are a bit late or a little early, then most will work fine although taking cuttings during the coldest spells, and in particular during frosty periods, will reduce the chances of success.

1. Identify the plants that will take from hardwood cuttings and identify healthy, upright stems where you can gain a cutting of at least 15cm long from this year’s growth. With long lengths of healthy stem, you can take multiple cuttings, so from a 1m long dogwood stem for example you can often take 4 or 5 good sized cuttings. Each cutting needs some buds on it and it is the position of these buds that can determine how many cuttings can be taken from longer stems.

2. Cut the suitable stem to remove from the host plant, where you take this cut will determine how the host plant regrows from that cut. Wherever this cut is made the host plant will produce new growth. It will likely grow several new stems from that point so will affect how the plant looks or how well fruit or flower will form in subsequent years. More often than not, the best place to take the cutting from is the base of that stem.

3. Remove any soft tips, this will be the most recent growth and will not have formed a woody dermal layer (plants have skin as well).

4. Identify a bud at the top of the stem (buds angle upwards so we can see which way up to plant the cutting) and cut cleanly at an angle just above a bud. The angle will support water to run off the stem.

5. Identify a bud or even better a pair of buds around 15-30cm below the top of the cutting and cut just below the bud. It is from these buds that new growth will emerge. Roots from below, new leaf and stem from above.

Hardwood cuttings 2

6. Continue the cutting of these stems until you have enough of each plant. If cutting to produce new hedging, then you are likely to need a lot, but if cutting for a single new plant then 4-6 cuttings will likely guarantee success.

7. As with other cuttings, root hormone powder could support regrowth and protect from fungal pests. Do note that it will lose its value once opened so if you are only taking a few cuttings, it may not be worth the cost. If you cut in the right places and particularly with the reliable plants we have listed then you should be successful.

8. Prepare a soil media. Multipurpose or cuttings compost is usually fine. Some will mix in some horticultural sand to have a lighter texture for delicate root growth.

9. Fill a good sized container, anything between a 3ltr and 7ltr is suitable for between 4 and 8 cuttings. Often it is good to have pots which are deeper, at least 15cm but preferably 20-30cm deep. Dib the right number of holes for the cuttings you are placing into the pot.

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10. Place the cuttings, right way up, into the dibbed holes and then firm gently in. Water well.

11. Most cuttings can be left in a sheltered place outside, some will benefit from protection inside polytunnels or under cloches and will start to regrow across spring.

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It is possible to plant hardwood cuttings directly into their growing place rather than into pots. This is most likely done with hedging where a slit trench can be dug and the cuttings then positioned. You would then need to refill with the original soil or a new soil media.

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