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Plants from cuttings or layering

Screaming Eagle

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I just want to encourage some of you that are 'really' interested in plants to start some cuttings this year just to get used to the process. I took about 60 cuttings from some grape vines (2 different varieties) that I had to trim back in February. Out of those 60 or so, probably over 40 have either popped their first or second set of leaves or have buds swelling which is a good indicator of potentially viable plants down the road. If even 1/3 of those make it to thriving plants, I've got a good start on several grape orchards in the making.

Most of us will probably want to start cuttings from fruiting trees simply because they're the most practical potential harvest but the truth is that cuttings can be started from almost any woody plant. Annuals won't work. There has to be a woody cambium that is alive for cuttings to take.

The process is actually very simple. Take cuttings from the viable tips of woody plants with at least 3 nodes. Take the cuttings when you start seeing some 'life' sap flowing. Make your cuts at a 45 degree angle to increase the amount of cambium exposed. The best indicator is buds swelling but if you know when certain trees start pushing growth in your area you can take the cuttings then, put them in the greenhouse and let Daddy God do the rest.

Buy a bottle of 'rooting hormone' from almost any garden source. It'll last a long time and is well worth the $3 or so you'll spend for it. Just try to keep it dry for future use. Take the cutting from the 'growing' tip of the plant if possible with 3 close internodes (places where the buds were). Use a sharp instrument (not garden loppers that will crush the cambium)just below the bottom node. Cuttings 3-4" long seem to work best for water and energy transport reasons. You can soak the cuttings in water for a couple of hours while you're doing this just to let them soak up as much as they can handle. These are basically just the tips of the branches that you want to propagate.

Pop the bottom bud off the node which will expose more cambium for potential roots to pop from. Use some well draining soil mix to facilitate good drainage. Constantly wet or heavy soil medium tends to propagate fungus which will kill cuttings quickly and spread in the soil. Don't let them get completely dry but don't overwater the cuttings either. They'll get there. Remember that they don't have roots yet so they're not using much water at all until leaves pop. I use the rectangular plant boxes rather than round hanging pots. For some reason those seem to be more productive. The soil seems to pack around the roots better or something.

Dip the cutting in the rooting hormone, place it in the soil 1 1/2" or so deep to cover the bottom node and make the cutting secure in the soil. I put a bit of the powdered hormone in the cap of the bottle of powder and throw the remaining unused bit away just to avoid transmitting anything from one cutting to the next. With the cuttings damp from the water, the powder sticks to the cutting nicely and facilitates the rooting process. Be careful not to knock the powder off as you poke the cutting down into the soil.

Wait. And wait expectantly. In 10-14 days you should start to see some buds swelling and maybe even early leaves. Don't give up on the cutting until you see it completely dry up and wither. Root buds grow slowly, so give them a chance. When the cutting has two leaves it's a good indication that some early root formation is feeding the leaves (which send food back into the roots which the roots send back up) and water transport is taking place. Some folks like to cover the cuttings just to keep moisture in the planter early on. Not a bad idea but it does increase the potential for fungus especially in a humid atmosphere so just beware. And pray. Roots pop from exposed cambium (see anatomy article) which is the green layer just below the bark covering. Voila. God does His work when we do ours.

Allow the cuttings to grow through the first year without disturbing the magical root systems if possible. You can transplant them into individual pots during a false dormant season if you have one (when soil temps get very warm) or in fall as dormancy sets in. That way you can water and tend to each plant individually especially if you use a greenhouse in winter.

Early next spring, plant your cuttings out in the native soil, tend them as you would any other new plant and you're on the way. Pay special attention to good watering and fertile soil to increase the chances of successful plants.

Layering works by the same principle except that you use a low branch as a 'large' cutting. Low branches usually get shaded out and die anyhow so this takes advantage of that principle prior to having to prune the branch anyhow. Simply put some sort of weight on the lower branch (bricks, maybe even a piece of wire staking the branch to the ground)and pile some soil over the bottom of the branch. You can score the bottom of the bark to expose some cambium (especially around an internodal space) which will increase the chances of roots popping. We've got huge Live Oaks that spread their branches. As the branches get longer, they sag to the ground and can layer themselves to produce new 'trees' from old branches on a tree that might be 200 years old. God's layering process in effect. I've got a crabapple and some pomegranates in my yard that have done the same thing.

Cut the branches off from the main tree when you know that roots have popped from the branch into the soil following the same process as above. Might be wise to cut the tip of the branch way back to decrease the load on the new roots in the spring. And you can take cuttings from the tips of the branches when you trim them if it's a tree you really like.

One of the remarkable assets of knowing how to do this is that the cuttings and layerings propagated will be true to the tree they're taken from. Beware that layerings or cuttings propagated below a 'graft' will be true to the graft and not the upper branches. Cuttings and layers taken from hybrids will be true to the hybrid as well. Air layering is another possibility but it's kinda tricky (not to say impossible) and would require some more detailed instruction. Lemme know if you're interested and I'll describe that process (essentially a large cutting from an upper branch that roots while the tree is growing) in more detail.

Plants are good. They're your friends and part of God's great gift that He has given us to tend and 'husband'. Let's have fun out there, eh?

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One more thing to keep in mind. Trees or plants from cuttings or layerings won't have a tap root. Tap roots are basically anchors (don't provide much nutrition to the plant) that provide stability. Unless they're planted deeper, they're likely to have shallower root systems that spread out rather than a deep anchor so they can be blown over easier than trees started from seed.

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I counted my cuttings again today. 50 of them from vines that had been pruned anyhow and would have gone on the compost pile otherwise. I can't wait to see how the Lord wants me to bless other people with these things.

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To make rooting hormone soak the yellow-tipped shoots of a weeping willow tree in water. A tea made from the bark of a willow tree is also effective. When using the shoots or bark soak them for 24 hours prior to using.



The willow plant is a natural source of auxin. Therefore, it can be very easy to make up a fresh batch of homemade rooting compound whenever you need to plant some new cuttings.

Also, don't get rid of the willow water when you're done with your cuttings. Save it to water your plants!


If you don't have access to willow, dissolve a few aspirins in a jar of water. Aspirin is made from willow bark, so it can have the same effect as the willow water.


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  • 7 months later...
Take the cuttings when you start seeing some 'life' sap flowing.

Only in spring ?

Please tell me if what I have done will work.

I have a navajo globe willow tree. It gets a lot of shoots around the trunk/base. This fall I broke off 5 shoots the evening before the first heavy frost. I cut the ends at an angle and stuck them in a vase of water. The leaves dried up and fell off. Then roots began to form, and now new leaves are coming out. My question is, since I did this in the fall, will it work? or will they go dormant next spring when I want to plant them outside?
This is our only tree, and we would sure like to have more for shade.

Any advice is appreciated bouquet
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Honey is also a good rooting hormone for bushing plants, like rose cuttings or climbing bushes or even lilacs.


Rezgirl, I've done cuttings and wintered them over. As long as you are seeing the roots form, you are doing good.


I don't think it has to be in spring, since I do cuttings and transplants during all seasons except winter (sometimes I do it in late winter if the plant is showing signs of life).


I think the main thing is that the plant is not in a dormant phase.


You also have to consider when you will plant the thing, so if you are doing clematis, say, and you do it late in the summer and the things are ready to go in December, you certainly aren't going to plant them outside then. You'll need to baby them along till spring.


But for a tree, I'm sure you are doing just fine.

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Thank You Shandy

I'm really excited to see the changes in these cuttings and the posibility of having more trees.


I'm also thinking ahead that if this works, this would make great gifts Christmas 2009 if I do more cuttings next spring.


(time and effort, no $$ = nice gift)

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