The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
Back to the
Journal Index

Hardwood Cuttings

By Debbie Hebbard

As you are pruning and tidying up your deciduous plants, why not try some hardwood cuttings? Taken in autumn / early winter, they are left to strike roots and be potted for spring. I have had good success with currants, grapes, kiwi fruit, some woody herbs, roses and a few fruit trees.

Why not experiment? The raw materials are only prunings which are probably going to be burned or composted anyway! The materials needed are simple : a polystyrene box, permanent marking pen, labels (cut up milk bottles), ties (stocking strips), damp, (not wet) sawdust to fill to box, a sharp knife and some hormone powder/liquid.

The key to hardwood cuttings is to remember which way is up? As most will have lost their leaves, take care when cutting material, to note the base. Most books recommend you cut straight across the base and at an angle at the top of the cutting. I prefer to do the opposite, cut the base at an angle, to expose more of the cambium layer. This is the area where all root growth will emerge. It really does not matter, so long as you know which way is UP.

Treating the top with hormones, instead of the bottom, will ‘confuse’ the cutting and you will probably get no root formation. 15 - 20 cm cuttings are taken, include 4 to 5 nodes per cutting and make the cuts directly above/below nodes. Try to choose cuttings as thick as a pencil, or even a little thicker. Remove any remaining leaves and dip the base in a hormone powder or liquid. I have been told natural honey can be used to promote root development on cuttings, I shall try it this season!. Bundle the cuttings together, label clearly and tie loosely. The old polystyrene box filled with damp sawdust, (sand or copra peat) is ideal for these cuttings. They are placed in layers and surrounded completely, with the damp sawdust. This box is then stored in a cool dark place, the garage or shed.

After six to eight weeks, gently uncover the cuttings. Any that have visible roots should be potted up. Others may show a callous, or thickened ring around the base, this is the place where the roots will emerge. These cuttings can be potted on, or left covered for a few more weeks, until roots are seen. Pot struck cuttings deeply, leaving one third showing. Slow growing plants should be kept in a pot for a season, while fast growing plants can be planted straight out.(I have had red currants fruit in the first season!).

This method of striking hardwood cuttings is good because you don’t need to tend a nursery bed. Even left unchecked until spring, they will be okay (so long as the sawdust stayed damp). Depending on the material, You may get a 50 to 100% strike rate. So go to it!