When propagating hardwood cuttings of deciduous plants, you should wait until the parent plants are completely dormant. This does not happen until you have had a good hard freeze where the temperature dips down below 32 degrees F. for a period of several hours. Here in northeastern Ohio this usually occurs around mid November.
When taking softwood cuttings of deciduous plants you take tip cuttings from the ends of the branches only. That rule does not apply to hardwood cuttings of deciduous plants.
For instance, a plant such as Forsythia can grow as much as four feet in one season. In that case, you can use all of the current years growth to make hardwood cuttings. You might be able to get six or eight cuttings from one branch.
Grapes are extremely vigorous. A grape vine can grow up to ten feet or more in one season. That entire vine can be used for hardwood cuttings. Of course with grape vines, there is considerable space between the buds, so the cuttings have to be much longer than most other deciduous plants. The average length of a hardwood grape vine cutting is about 12" and still only has 3 or 4 buds.
The bud spacing on most other deciduous plants is much closer, so the cuttings only need to be about 6-8" in length.
Since hardwood cuttings must be done during the winter months, you probably will want to work in your garage or basement where it is not quite so cold. Of course there are still some nice days after the first freeze when working outside is possible.
Making a deciduous hardwood cutting is quite easy. Just collect some branches (known as canes) from the parent plants. Clip these canes into cuttings about 6" long. Of course these canes will not have any leaves on them because the plant is dormant, but if you examine the canes closely you will see little bumps along the cane. These bumps are bud unions. They are next years leaf buds or nodes, as they are often called. When making a hardwood cutting of a deciduous plant, it is best to make the cut at the bottom, or the butt end of the cutting just below a node, and make the cut at the top of the cutting about 3/4" above a node.
This technique serves two purposes. One, it makes it easier for you to distinguish the top of the cutting from the bottom of the cutting as you handle them. It also aids the cutting in two different ways. Any time you cut a plant above a node, the section of stem left above that node will die back to the top node. So if you were to leave 1/2" of stem below the bottom node, it would just die back anyway. Having that section of dead wood underground is not a good idea. It is only a place for insects and disease to hide.
The above photo is a collection of hardwood cuttings ready to be planted out. The bottom of the cuttings are to the right. Notice how I made my cuts just below the nodes, but not into them. In this photo you are looking at is actually Weeping Pussy Willow. Really I took these cuttings too late, as you can see the buds are already starting to swell. But I was doing some pruning, so I thought I'd bundle up the cuttings so I could add a photo to this page.
It is also helpful to actually injure a plant slightly when trying to force it to develop roots. When a plant is injured, it develops a callous over the wound as protection. This callous build up is necessary before roots will develop. Cutting just below a node on the bottom of a cutting causes the plant to develop callous and eventually, roots.
Making the cut on the top of the cutting 3/4" above the node is done so that the 3/4" section of stem above the node will provide protection for the top node. This keeps the buds from being damaged or knocked off during handling and planting. You can press down on the cutting without harming the buds. Although not necessary, it helps to make the cut at the top of the cutting at an angle. This sheds water away from the cut end of the cutting and helps to keep disease and insects away from the cuttings.
Once you have all of your cuttings made, dip them in a rooting compound. Make sure you have the right strength rooting compound for hardwood cuttings. You can use either liquid or powder rooting compounds, they both work equally as well. I like liquid because you dilute it to the strength you need, and the directions are right on the bottle. But with powder rooting compounds you have to buy different strengths depending on whether you are doing hardwood cuttings or softwood cuttings. Brand name really doesn't matter, they are all very similar.
Once you have your cuttings made and dipped in the rooting compound just stick them in your Homemade Plant Propagation System, click here for details on how to build your own system.
You should leave your Homemade Plant Propagation System outside over the winter. You can mound some soil up around the base to keep the wind from drying things out. Or bury the base of your propagation system in the soil a few inches. The freezing whether will not hurt your hardwood cuttings. For the most part they'll remain dormant until spring comes, and then they'll develop roots at the same time they produce leaves.
You can propagate hardwood cuttings of deciduous plants throughout most of the winter. Starting in late spring or early summer you can use your homemade plant propagation system to do softwood cuttings of both deciduous plants as well as evergreens.
Hardwood cuttings work fairly well for most of the deciduous shrubs. However, they are not likely to work for some of the more refined varieties of deciduous ornamentals. If your curious about how to propagate a particular plant, just click on "How to Find the Propagation Technique that is Right for Your Plant" in the table of contents.
by Michael J. McGroarty