Propagating Birch Trees Through Cuttings

One of my favorite trees is the river birch (Betula nigra). You can say what you want about it ~ it’s short lived ~ bug prone ~ disease prone ~ but it has a soft, nearly feathery quality to its canopy that when combined with it’s beautiful bark make it well worth growing. We have three of these trees in our landscape with soon to be more thanks to plant propagation!

The river birch is definitely worth trying to propagate for your garden for many reasons.

  • First of all it can be done! While I’ve tried propagating several kinds trees unsuccessfully (like maples ~ seeds: no problem ~ cuttings: not so good ) this is one that can be done fairly easily.
  • Secondly they are fast growing trees and you will end up with a sizable tree in just a few short years.
  • They also are worthy plants in the landscape for use as privacy screens, in rain gardens, and to create dappled shade.
  • They are trees that offer 4 seasons of interest, 3 with nice foliage and 1 with awesome bark!

How to Propagate Birch Trees:

What should you looking for when taking a cutting? Two things: the nodes and the bark. I’ve read where you can take greenwood cuttings early in the springtime where the greenwood joins the old wood but I did my cutting a little differently. I took a 4 node cutting from semi-ripe wood in the late summer. The only problem I can see with this method is encouraging the root system to completely develop before cold temperatures set in for the winter.  Fortunately I can nurture this cutting inside the house until its roots are sufficient to move into the garage and then maybe, if I’m daring, I can acclimate it to the great outdoors.

Originally I took about five cuttings from two of my birch trees. Each of the cuttings varied in size and thickness but only one developed a good root system. The one that survived was the largest of the group with a diameter about halfway between a toothpick and a pencil. How’s that for a technical measurement? I took the various sized cuttings on purpose to find out what worked, if anything, and then to see what worked best.

Here’s what I did:

  • I took a 4 node semi-ripe cutting which I cut just below the bottom node.
  • I left one leaf on the cutting and removed all others. 
  • I treated the cut end of the cutting with rooting hormone.
  • I buried the cutting with two of the nodes in the sand inside of a thoroughly cleaned out yogurt cup. Recycled plastic containers are great for plant propagators! 
  • Then I waited while the cuttings rooted. I kept the rooting mix wet since birch trees like the moisture.
  • I watched for new leaves to form which can be an indicator of good rooting.

Today I was pretty happy to pot up my new birch tree. Now I’m curious if hardwood cuttings will work over the winter. It’s worth a shot!

What have you propagated this year that was really interesting?

14 thoughts on “Propagating Birch Trees Through Cuttings

  1. Dwayne

    Nice job! I recently planted a River Birch myself.

    Some things I have successfully propagated from cuttings:

    Butterfly Bush, McKay's White and Gold Drop Potentilla, American Cranberry Viburnum, Arrowwood Viburnum,Purple Smokebush,Many types of Spirea, Nikko Blue and PeeGee Hydrangea,many varieties of Weigela, and a few others.

    Isn't propagation great?

  2. Dave


    I love those viburnums! Of course all the other plants you mention are good ones too. I'll be doing some spirea hardwood cuttings fairly soon.
    Propagation is very cool, it's saved me more than a few dollars too!


    I mostly use plain sand for propagation but 50-50 sand and peat should work too.


    I haven't done much layering since I can make more through cuttings but that's a good way to go!

  3. tina

    It seems almost too easy to make more of these. I have one and love it but those sawflies are a problem for it. I think the neatest thing I've propagated are Angel trumpets. I had too many.

  4. Dave


    That doesn't sound like a bad problem to have too many Angel trumpets!


    I would love to have a 'Heritage' river birch but ours are just the species.


    I haven't tried Sycamore, mainly because I don't need anymore here we have several. But I was thinking of experimenting with them this winter. They are said to do best from hardwood cuttings taken after leaf fall.

  5. Dwayne

    I root in 50/50 peat and perlite. Because I have to move the flats, I use the 50/50. I started by using sand, but it gets heavy pretty quick. Nothing wrong with it, just too heavy for my back.

    I have not tries Sycamore. I am not sure it would survive here; zone 4.

    1. DaveTownsend Post author


      They may not do well from hardwood cuttings but I think it's worth a try. Find nearly pencil thickness first year growth and keep them moist in a sand/peat mixture covered until spring. Rooting hormone will help too. Also you could try layering any low hanging branches.

  6. Patrick Hansen

    I just set up about 7 River Birch cuttings following your recommendations, but I am not sure where I should place them our house, near a window or in a darker/cooler area? Also, I understand I should tranfer them to larger pot once I see some new leaves (meaning they are rooting), but when do I transfer them to the ground, a certain height or just next spring? Thanks Dave!

    Patrick in Wisconsin

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