Starting new plants from hardwood cuttings is a slow but reliable way to grow free plants for your garden. This method is done in fall or early spring, and works with many deciduous shrubs and vines. I will walk you through a basic step-by-step overview that works for the shrubs and vines listed below. Once you see how simple it is, you will be a propagating fanatic. This is an excellent skill to have if you are a frugal gardener or want to produce plants for friends or plant sales.
How to Start New Plants from Hardwood Cuttings
With each plant species, there are usually several ways to grow new plants from existing ones, and each method depends on the season and characteristics of the species.
For this tutorial, we are using hardwood cuttings from (many) deciduous shrubs. These are shrubs and vines that drop their mature leaves and go dormant for the winter.
Hardwood is the fully mature section of plant shoots—the parts that will not bend in your hands—as opposed to the younger, pliable softwood growth that you can bend and twist.
We take hardwood cuttings for rooting in late autumn when the plant is going dormant for the winter, or in early spring before buds form and open. The example shown here is for late fall.
Overall, each cane provides several cuttings and for every 10 cuttings, I get about 6-7 new plants, but this can really vary, so do more than you need.
I say be patient because it does take about a year, and sometimes longer, for good, strong roots to form. But, the advantage is that the cuttings are hardy and can be kept outdoors all year-round. If you have room to stash a container outside or can spare part of a garden bed, it’s really very little effort for a lot of plants. Besides keeping them watered when actively growing, there is nothing to do but cheer them on.
Plants to Propagate from Hardwood Cuttings
These suggestions come from my own experiments and those of other gardeners. If you have success rooting hardwood cuttings other plants not listed here, please let me know.
Abelia Abelia spp.
Bittersweet Celastrus spp.*
Blueberry Vaccinium spp.
Broom Cytisus spp.
Butterfly bush Buddeja spp.
Dogwood Cornus spp.
Deutzia Deutzia spp.
Elder Sambucus spp.
Euonymus Euonymus spp.*
Fig Ficus spp.
Forsythia Forsythia spp.
Gooseberries Ribes spp.
Grape Vitis spp.
Honey locust Gleditsia triacanthos
Honeysuckle Lonicera spp.*
*beware of invasive species including L. japonica
Ivy, Boston Parthenocussus tricuspidata
Jasmine Jasminum spp.
Laburnum Laburnum spp.
Mock orange Philadelphus spp.
Mulberry Morus spp.*
Ninebark Physocarpus spp.
Plane Platanus spp.
Poplars Populus spp.
Privet Ligustrum spp.
Pussywillow Salix spp.
Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus
Rose Rosa spp.
Russian olive Elaeagnus angustifolia unless invasive
Sand cherry Prunus spp.
Spiraea Spiraea spp
Snowberry bush Symphoricarpos spp.
Trumpet creeper Campsis spp.
Virburnum Virburnum spp.
Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Weigela Weigela spp.
Willow Salix spp.
*Watch for invasive species including Celastrus orbiculatus and Euonymus alatus and White Mulberry (Morus alba).
These are some of my favorite books on plant propagation. They have photo tutorials for growing plants from a variety of methods. Once you know the basics, it’s super fun and addictive.
Grow Your Own Garden by Carol Klein was the first one I bought and still the one I refer to most.
How to Take Hardwood Cuttings
This video shows the process:
Please keep in mind that these instructions provide a general overview and results will vary depending on the plant, its preferences for propagation, and growing conditions. Once you see the process, you can look up tips for specific plant types as needed.
The example here takes the cutting in fall, starts the rooting process, and stores the cuttings over winter in a sheltered outdoor location.
Take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs and vines (see the suggested plant list) in the fall, after ‘leaf drop’, and before the ground is frozen.
First, always clean your pruners or knife with rubbing alcohol, or, 1-part bleach and 9-parts water to prevent the spread of disease.
Selecting Hardwood Canes/Stems from Mother Plant
Choose new, straight, hardwood canes (from the past year) that are approximately 1/2″ thick.
Early morning is the best time to take cuttings when plants have their best moisture levels.
The cuts will be made above and below the leaf nodes.
These are the little nubs on the canes where leaves grow from.
Removing Hardwood Canes/Stems from Mother Plant
- When removing the cane from the mother plant, make a straight cut near the base of the plant, directly below a leaf node. This should be hardwood, not softwood.
- Be careful never to damage the nodes when cutting.
- Place the base of the cutting in warm water or damp paper towel.
Next, you will prepare the cuttings for rooting.
2Prepare For Rooting
Preparing Cuttings from the Canes/Stems
- On your cane/stem, count 4 leaf nodes from the base cut.
- Just above the top/4th leaf node, make an angled cut. Check the video to see how I’ve angled mine away from the leaf node.
- Remove any leaves and buds from the bottom 3 nodes. Any growth can remain on the top/4th node.
Base versus Top
- We can always tell the base from the top because the base has a straight cut and the top has an angled cut.
Preparing More Cuttings from the Leftover Cane/Stem
- If there is more hardwood on the rest of the cane, you can prepare more cuttings from it. To check, make sure it’s 1/2″ thick and hardwood (not bendable).
3Plant in Potting Mix
If you are new to this, see Rooting Hormone Tips for Plant Propagation.
- Use rooting hormone and follow the instructions on the product label.
- Dispense some rooting hormone powder in a separate dish.
- Dry off the base of the cane and dip it in the powder.
- Tap of the excess and place the cane in growing medium.
- Growing medium options include coarse builder’s sand (not fine sand), coarse grit (I use bags of coarse poultry grit from the farm supply store), or a mixture of peat, perlite, and compost. If you have a friendly local grower, ask them what they like best.
- Plant the cutting so that two nodes are in the growing medium and the top two are above the soil.
Containers or in a Garden Bed
- For containers, you can use winter-proof pots, plastic bins with drainage holes, or plant directly in a garden bed with the right growing medium.
Planting the Cutting
- Before inserting the cuttings, make a hole (using a pencil or dibber) or trough in the growing medium. This will prevent the medium from rubbing off the rooting hormone.
- Plant each cutting so that the two bottom nodes are buried in the growing medium, and the top two are above the soil. The roots are going to grow from the bottom nodes.
- Use plant tags to keep track of everything.
4Water & Grow Cutting
Watering & Overwintering
This method is used in zones 4-8. The cuttings can sit outside in a sheltered location all winter and will resume growing in spring.
- After planting, give everything a nice, deep watering, firm down the growing medium, and stash the container in the garden. A sheltered but sunny location is usually the best.
- If high winds and icy conditions are likely, mulch your cuttings with straw or leaves.
Watch for Animals
- If you have rabbits, deer, or vermin, you may need to add a barrier to keep them from snacking on your cuttings when food is scare during the winter.
- The cuttings will be dormant over the winter.
- In spring, you should resume watering. New growth should appear on the top two nodes. This is a sign that new roots are forming.
- During the spring and summer, you should see continuous growth.
- By fall, most types of plants are ready for proper planting in your garden.
- Growth will vary by species (of course). Some will be vigorous; others will be slow growers. Just like us.
Year-Round Plant Cuttings Calendar
I hope you will give this a try. And happy growing.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
How to Root Hardwood Cuttings
Supplies & Materials
- 1 Shrub with hardwood stems
- Clean snippers with rubbing alcohol.
- Choose straight, hardwood canes (from the past year) that are approximately 1/2″ thick.
- Remove stem at base of stem below a leaf node and immediately place cut end in warm water or damp paper towel.
Prepare For Rooting
- Cut stem on an angle above every 4th leaf node, working from base up.
- Pinch off lower leaves from lower 3 leaf nodes, leaving one set at top.
Plant in Potting Mix
- Dip lower 2-inches of stem in rooting hormone powder and tap off excess.
- Place stem in potting mix, coarse sand, or other growing medium, burying lower 2-inches and secure in place.
Water & Grow Cutting
- Water thoroughly and continue watering as needed never allowing potting mix to dry out.
- Place in warm spot outdoors with indirect sun. Can be left outdoors over winter.
- When roots are 1-3 inches long, transplant to garden.