Cuttings: hardwood

Hardwood cuttings provide an easy and reliable method of propagating a range of deciduous climbers, trees and shrubs, and as bonus, they are taken from mid-autumn until late winter when more time is usually available to the gardener.

Tim Sandall/RHS The Garden

Quick facts

Suitable for Many climbers, shrubs and trees, including fruit
Timing Mid-autumn until late winter
Difficulty Easy

Suitable for...

Most deciduous shrubs including: Abelia, Deutzia, Buddleja (butterfly bush), Cornus (dogwood), Forsythia, Philadelphus (mock orange) Ribes (flowering currant), Rosa (rose), and Symphoricarpos and viburnums.

Many climbers can be propagated by hardwood cuttings: Vitis (vines), Lonicera (honeysuckle), Jasminum, and Parthenocissus.

Fruit, including: gooseberries, black, red and white currants, fig, mulberry.

Trees, including: Platanus (plane), Populus (poplars) and Salix (willow)

Although usually restricted to deciduous plants, some evergreen cuttings are taken at this time including Cotoneaster, Ilex (holly), Ligustrum (privet), Skimmia. However these are treated in the same way as semi-ripe cuttings.

When to take hardwood cuttings

Hardwood cutting are taken in the dormant season (mid-autumn until late winter) after leaf fall, avoiding periods of severe frost. The ideal time is just after leaf fall or just before bud-burst in spring.

Although this type of cutting may be slow to develop roots and shoots, it is usually successful.

The cuttings can generally be forgotten about until the following year, as the cut surface undergoes a period of callusing over the winter from which roots will develop in the spring.

How to take hardwood cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are often grown on outdoors in the ground in a prepared trench. However, if you are only taking a small number, you can grow them on in containers too.  Some, dogwoods for example, benefit from protection with cloches or coldframe.

Hardwood cuttings grown on outdoors

  • Select vigorous healthy shoots that have grown in the current year
  • Remove the soft tip growth
  • Cut into sections 15-30cm (6in-1ft) long, cutting cleanly above a bud at the top, with a sloping cut to shed water and as a reminder which end is the top
  • Cut straight across at the base below a bud or pair of buds and dip the lower cut end in a hormone rooting powder (this promotes root formation, it also contains a fungicide, protects against rotting). Cut though the ‘heel’ where the shoot joins a branch for shrubs with pithy stems such as Sambucus (elder)
  • Prepare a trench outdoors in a sheltered site with well-drained soil. Dig in a bucketful of garden compost or other organic matter every square metre or yard
  • Insert the cuttings into the ground or pot with two-thirds of the cutting below the surface, with a layer of sand in the base. The roots will form along the stem. A few buds remain above the ground to allow the plant to grow away in spring. Where a single stemmed plant is aimed for, such as Populus or gooseberry, either leave only one bud above ground or rub off surplus buds
  • Allow 10-15cm (4-6in) between cuttings and 40cm (16in) between trenches
  • Check the trench after frosts and firm back if required
  • Cuttings should be left in place until the following autumn ensuring that they do not dry out in dry periods in summer

Hardwood cuttings of slow rooting plants

If outdoor conditions are unsuitable, or for slow rooting plants, bundles of 10 to 12 cuttings can be temporarily planted in a frame or pot filled with moist sand until the spring. Cornus and Laburnum are examples of hardwood cuttings which may take longer to root.

In early spring, before the buds break, make a trench 12.5cm (5in) deep and set the cuttings out as described above. 

If you need more than one row, space them 30-40cm (1ft-16in) apart. Firm the soil around the cuttings.

The following autumn the cuttings should have rooted and can be planted out or potted on as required.

Hardwood cuttings in containers

If you are only taking a few cuttings, there is no need to dig a trench as outlined above, simply insert cuttings into deep containers of gritty potting medium such as 50:50 coarse grit and multi-purpose compost. Keep the pots in a sheltered cold frame or unheated greenhouse until the following autumn, ensuring that they do not dry out.

Problems

In cold winters or regions hardwood cuttings may root better with protection from a coldframe, cloches or inside a frost free building.

Cuttings will need to be protected from rabbits and deer if they are a local problem. Mouse and rat control may also be needed.

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  • katie d avatar

    By katie d on 03/06/2014

    My handkerchief tree cutting from November has suddenly sprung into life. It has shoots coming from the base. Should I pinch them out to encourage shoots further up or should I just leave it alone?

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