It's Easy to Propagate Trees Using Cuttings
There are over 60,000 different species of trees in the world, many of which can be propagated (cloned) from cuttings. For the purpose of this article, however, we’re going to focus on only a few of them—namely maple, dogwood, and birch trees. There are several steps that are common to all of these trees in regard to propagating them from cuttings.
The following instructions pertain to all of the trees mentioned in this article.
- Choose your donor tree from ones that are healthy and mature (at least 3–5 years old), and disease/pest free.
- Use clean pruning shears or a sharp, clean knife for cutting.
- Purchase a good rooting hormone (I use Garden Safe Brand TakeRoot Rooting Hormone or Bonide BND925 - Bontone II Rooting Powder, Hormone Root Fertilizer).
- Fill a container with a rooting medium (sand, vermiculite, perlite, or a combination). You can use soil, of course, but it isn't as clean as the other choices I have mentioned.
- You will need to create a humid environment so that the cutting can properly establish roots. You can use a plastic bag or a clear two-liter soft drink bottle.
Maple Tree Propagation From Cuttings
Before you begin, make sure to follow the instructions at the beginning of this article.
- Cut a shoot (about 6–8 inches) from the donor tree, making the cut just below a leaf node (a bump on the stem where leaves or buds grow). Remove all leaves from the bottom half of the cutting.
- Dip the bottom half of the cutting in water, then into rooting hormone to help stimulate root growth. The rooting hormone you choose will have complete instructions on the package showing the correct amount to use.
- Poke a hole in the center of your rooting medium with your finger and plant the cutting there, making sure to expose the top half of the cutting above the surface of the medium. Press the medium around the cutting to ensure there is sufficient contact between the cutting and the rooting medium.
- To create a humid environment, cover the container with a plastic bag or clear plastic container, making sure the plastic does not touch any of the leaves remaining on the top part of the cutting.
- Keep the rooting medium moist (not waterlogged). Occasionally mist the cutting to maintain humidity. Place the container in a location with indirect sunlight and maintain a temperature of around 70°F–75°F. Do not place it in direct sunlight.
It can take several weeks or months for the cutting to root and establish itself. Be patient and continue to care for the cutting until it is well established. Once the cutting has rooted and begins to grow, you can transplant it into a larger pot or into the ground.
If you allow your cuttings to dry out before they are planted into the ground, you are setting yourself up for failure. Keep the potting medium moist but not waterlogged.
Successfully Propagating a Dogwood Tree
You can successfully propagate dogwood trees using either softwood or hardwood cuttings, although the time of year you take those cuttings makes a big difference in your level of success.
Softwood cuttings should be taken during the summer months from branches that are firm enough to snap when bent while still being flexible. Hardwood cuttings, on the other hand, should be taken from branches that are hard (with no flexibility to them) while the tree is dormant (usually late winter or very early spring). The ideal cuttings would be terminal shoot tips about 4–6 inches long with at least two sets of leaves.
- Choose non-flowering, healthy stems (about 4–6 inches long) from the current year's growth. The stems should have at least two leaf nodes.
- Make a clean, 45-degree angle cut on the stem just below a leaf node.
- Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting, which will reduce moisture loss and encourage rooting.
- Dip your cutting in rooting hormone, carefully following the instructions on the container.
- Fill a small pot with moistened potting soil, and poke a hole in the center of the soil with your finger.
- Insert the cutting into the hole. Make sure that at least one leaf node is below the soil line, and press the soil firmly around the cutting to hold it in place.
- Place the pot in a plastic bag or clear plastic container and seal it, which will create a greenhouse effect. You could also simply cover the pot with a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap, but be sure to twist tie the bag shut.
- Do not place the pot in direct sunlight! Place it in a well-lit, warm location and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged; don't water until the soil feels dry to the touch.
- Be patient. After approximately 4–6 weeks, the cutting should have developed a good root system, at which time you can transplant it into a larger pot or plant it into the ground.
Propagating a Birch Tree
Propagating birch trees from cuttings is a pretty simple process. If you have access to a beautiful, stately birch tree, consider yourself lucky and already ahead of the game, as the cuttings will produce a tree with all of the characteristics of the parent tree.
The age of a tree determines the type of stem cuttings you will be collecting. The youngest stems will produce softwood cuttings, while semi-hardwood and hardwood come from the older parts of a birch tree.
These are the steps involved in the propagation:
- The cuttings you can take from a birch tree can be slightly longer than those for other trees; 6–8 inches is ideal. After you have selected a tree from which to take the cuttings, the time to collect them is in late summer or early fall when the tree is actively growing. Your choice of stems should be from ones that are healthy and have recently grown. Cut them just below a leaf node.
- Remove the lower leaves from the cuttings, leaving just a few top leaves intact, which will prevent moisture loss while your cuttings are rooting.
- Dip the cut end into a rooting hormone powder, which will help encourage root development. Always follow the instructions on the container for the appropriate amount to use.
- Fill a small pot or container with a mixture of equal parts sand, peat moss, or perlite. Water the mixture well and allow it to drain. Poke a hole in the center of the mixture with your finger, and place the cutting in the hole so that the bottom remaining leaf node is just above the surface of the soil. Press the mixture firmly around the cutting to secure it in place.
- Cover the pot or container with a plastic bag to create a humid environment. The humidity should prevent the cutting from drying out while it is rooting.
- Do not place the pot in direct sunlight. Instead, choose a location that offers bright but indirect light. You should keep the soil mixture moist but not waterlogged, only watering when the soil feels dry to the touch.
- Be patient, as it can take several weeks before the cuttings start to form roots. After several weeks, you can gently tug on the cutting. If you are met with resistance, it more than likely has rooted. Allow it another week or so to become well rooted; then, you can transplant your stems into larger pots or directly into the ground.
You will not always be successful, so be prepared to begin again.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2023 Mike and Dorothy McKenney