Can you take cuttings from trees? Best methods to use – choose ‘vigorous healthy shoots’

Gardeners' World: Monty Don on taking cuttings from plants

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Trees are a long-term investment for your garden, and they are incredibly easy to grow if you’re willing to be patient. While large oak and willow trees take decades to mature, there are plenty of fast-growing species that will grow more rapidly throughout the year. Planting new trees is usually done using seeds or a plug plant, but it is possible to grow one from a cutting too. Here’s how.

How to take cuttings from a tree

Trees, shrubs and bushes are a great way to add structure to a plain garden, but they can be a costly addition to your outdoor space.

Taking cuttings from established plants is the best way to cut costs, but how exactly should you do it?

While stem cuttings taken from plants are easy to do, propagating trees is a little trickier – not least because there is more than one type you can take.

There are two types of cuttings which can be taken to start shrubs, bushes and trees; hardwood cuttings, and softwood cuttings.

These phrases refer to the state the wood of the tree is in and depends on the age of the ‘parent’ plant.

Hardwood cuttings

Hardwood refers to older growth which has developed a bark exterior and is commonly found on apple, pear, willow and oak trees

These cuttings are typically taken in early spring or summer when the plant is not actively growing, though they can be successfully propagated at any time of the year.

To successfully grow a duplicate plant from a hardwood cutting, you must propagate from the branch.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the key is to select “vigorous healthy shoots” that have grown in the current year.

Here’s how to take the cutting.

Start by removing the soft tip growth and cut into sections 15-30cm long, cutting cleanly above a bud at the top.

Use a sloping cut to shed water and as a reminder which end is the top.

The RHS said: “Cut straight across at the base below a bud or pair of buds and dip the lower cut end in a hormone rooting compound such as Clonex if available.

“Cut through the ‘heel’ where the shoot joins a branch for shrubs with pithy stems such as Sambucus (elder).”

Once the cutting has been taken, it’s time to prepare a trench outdoors in a sheltered site with well-drained soil.

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Softwood cuttings

Unlike hardwood cuttings, softwood cuttings are taken when the plant is in active growth.

This is usually in the spring, which is the “only time” you’ll find softwood on a shrub, bush or tree, according to Gardening Knowhow.

For your softwood cutting to be successful, the piece removed should be at least 15cm long, but no longer than 30cm.

Choose a section with at least three leaves on the cutting, taking care to remove any flowers.

Gardening Knowhow recommended trimming the stem just below where the bottom most leaf meets the stem before cutting off half of the leaf.

Once your cutting has been taken, dip the end of it in a rooting hormone ready to be rooted into a small pot of damp, soilless mix.

Wrap the whole pot and cut it in a plastic bag with the top tied off, making sure the plastic doesn’t touch the cutting at all.

Position the pot in a warm spot that gets indirect light and check every two weeks for root development.

Once roots have developed, remove the plastic covering and grow the plant outdoors once the risk of frost has passed.

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