Propagation with Hardwood Cuttings

I thought I would take a moment to talk about hardwood cuttings. It is the beginning of winter and which is also a great time to go out and try to reproduce many of your favorite woody trees and shrubs in the garden. Many plants will easily propagate through hardwood cuttings and I’ve included a short list below that you might like to try. Hardwood cuttings root easier than softwood cuttings (at least in my experience!)

So what is a hardwood cutting? It’s a cutting taken from a mature branch of a woody plant usually during the late fall, winter, or early spring while the plant is dormant.

How do you take a hardwood cuttings? With a sharp pair of clean pruners cut a mature section of your specimen with at least 3 nodes. That is a general guideline I use and it seems to work pretty well. The best way to root a specific plant may vary depending upon the variety of plant so you may want to try a few kinds of cuttings out and see what works best.

Good Plants for Hardwood Cuttings:

  • Hydrangea – these shrubs are easy rooting plants in almost any state whether hardwood, softwood or anywhere in between!
  • Rose – my experience with roses has been limited but hardwood cuttings work as do semi-ripe. I have two in my house that need planted very soon!
  • Viburnum – I recently took six hardwood viburnum cuttings and placed them in sand. So far so good! Semi-ripe cuttings of viburnums also root easily.
  • Arborvitae – I’m still waiting for some to root…
  • Japanese Dappled Willows – OK any willow will root easily anytime (softwood, semi-ripe, hardwood) but I really like the dappled foliage on Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ so I’ll take an opportunity to talk about it.  In the spring the foliage emerges with tints of red that gradually change as they mature into its spring through fall dappled foliage. Propagating a dappled willow couldn’t be easier, just stick the hardwood cutting in the ground where you want it to grow. You can wound the bark around the base if you want to help it along a little but usually you can just stick them in the ground and they will grow.
  • Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus) – I’ve had a lot of success with purple leaf plum hardwood cuttings. These are beautiful trees in the spring with their white flowers and have nice purple foliage throughout the year. In our yard these were the second to last of the trees to lose their leaves.  Other members of the prunus genus may also be worth trying some hardwood cuttings. I managed one Yoshino cherry from a hardwood cutting last year.
  • Red Twig Dogwood/Red Osier Dogwood – I love red twig dogwoods! I’ll be taking some more cuttings from several of our red twig dogwoods very soon. They look fantastic planted enmass or with an evergreen backdrop. I have two varieties of redtwig dogwood that I’ll treat the same way – stick them in dirt! (Cornus alba and Cornus sericea) A little rooting hormone won’t hurt but isn’t needed.
  • Rhododendron – I just recently took a few cuttings from my wife’s aunt’s rhododendron. It blooms with purple flowers and I can’t wait to see it planted in our garden. I’ve had good success with rooting azaleas and I’m expecting good results with the rhododendrons. 
  • Forsythia – Perhaps the easiest plant to propagate! Or at least a close second to willows (see above). Just stick the hardwood cuttings in soil and let them root. Softwood and semi-ripe cuttings do well also.
  • Honeysuckle – I wouldn’t recommend going into the woods to take cuttings of the honeysuckles growing in the wild. Most of these are invasive and really don’t need out help to multiply but where I would recommend propagating honeysuckle is on the native Coral Honeysuckles or Lonicera sempervirens. Native honeysuckle is usually a red hue and isn’t very fragrant but is still very popular among the hummingbirds. It’s also not aggressive which is why it is being overtaken in the wild buy non-native varieties.
  • Russian Sage – While technically a perennial Russian sage will propagate easily from hardwood cuttings. A few weeks before spring weather (I did this in February of last year) prune off a few branches and either stick them in the soil where you want them or treat them with rooting hormone and put them in a pot in a sheltered location.
  • Spirea – This fun shrub is another easy one to propagate. Since the nodes are fairly close together I tend to take cuttings about 5-6 inches long rather than just 3 nodes. 
  • Butterfly BushButterfly bushes root very easily from cuttings. Softwood will work too but hardwood cuttings require less maintenance!

There are all kinds of plants that will root easily through hardwood cuttings. If a plant you are interested in taking hardwood cuttings from does not appear on the list above just do what I do…experiment!

10 thoughts on “Propagation with Hardwood Cuttings”

  1. Great post. Have you ever tried taking cuttings of Hibiscus or Bouganvillia? I was just wondering if it would work with these? I took a couple of cuttings of Bouganvillia the other day, but they don't look too good. Not sure I did it right.
    Thanks, Kay

  2. Kay,

    Hibiscus might actually prefer greenwood/softwood cuttings but that doesn't mean it's not possible. I've not tried bougainvillea as it dies back here and I don't have much room inside to overwinter it. Being a vine I'm sure it will root easily from softwood and might do fine with hardwood like honeysuckle.

  3. I've propagated several of these plants myself. I have the best luck taking cuttings of last years growth although that could be just random chance. During the growing season I prefer layer propagation. I'm planning to try using layer propagation with rooting stakes this year. I just came across this idea ( ). A friend of mine had great luck using these with euonymus.

  4. Natasha,

    The previous years growth does seem to be the best for rooting. I tend to do more greenwood or stem tip cuttings than anything else. I've done layering with viburnum but I find I can make many more through cuttings. The clips you mention look like they work well, kind of a variation on the clothes hanger idea. I've not met a euonymous that couldn't be rooted!

  5. Very efficiently written information. It will be valuable to anybody who usess it, including me. Keep doing what you are doing – for sure i will check out more posts.

  6. I have a Japanese willow and some other shrubs and would like to propogate more of them. How long should each cutting be? Do I leave the leaves on it that aren't in the water? Once it roots, I'll pot it up. Do I then have to prune it so it will bush out? Sorry for so many questions, I just really want to be successful 🙂 Thanks!

  7. Heather,

    Take a cutting about 6-8 inches in length and leave a few leaves at the top of the cutting. Once it is rooted plant it and let it grow. Trimming it periodically will encourage branching and will help it to bush out. good luck with it! Willows are easy plants to start with for making cuttings.

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