How to Take Hardwood Cuttings

Published on September 29th 2019
Some hardwood cuttings
After last week's advice on what to prune, I suddenly realised I should have also explained what to do with all the trimmings! If you haven't already cut back and composted everything listed last week, I suggest hanging onto some of the stems and having a go at some propagation.
Looking up at this years growth of a Cornus (Dogwood) shrub in front of a partially cloudy sky.
It's a little early to take hardwood cuttings from *Cornus* (Dogwood). But it's overgrowing the path and needed a cut back so we could walk past without getting soaked by dew-covered stems.
I wrote a story back in July on how to take semi-ripe cuttings, and most of the stems taken now should be treated in the same way.
That includes any cuttings you may be planning to take from evergreen plants such as:
My neighbours Laurel nobilis (Bay) needs a trim, and although cuttings from this plant are typically done in May or June, you can take cuttings until early Autumn.

When to take hardwood cuttings

Hardwood cuttings are traditionally taken anywhere between mid-autumn until late winter, ideally once a plant's leaves have fallen but before their buds burst open in spring.
For some of us, we're already seeing our shrubs and trees begin to go dormant, with leaves starting to accumulate on the grass. Others plants still have another month or more before you'll notice a real change.


Although propagating this way is a slow process, it is generally very successful and a relatively easy way to produce plants.
A close up of prepared Bay tree stems with their lower leaves removed ready to be planted.
For semi-ripe cuttings of evergreen plants, cut away the bottom leaves and the very tip of each stem, just below and just above leaf joints.

How to take and prepare hardwood cuttings

  • Look for vigorous, healthy stems from this year's growth that are roughly pencil-sized in thickness. Remove them from the plant by cutting just above a bud.
  • Cut off the soft tip that hasn't hardened, again just above a bud and diagonally across the stem. The slope allows any moisture to run off the stem away from the developing bud.
  • Cut the bottom of the stem just below a bud and straight across. It will help you to remember which way round to plant them. The resulting stems should be between 15 to 30 cm (6"-1') long.
  • Dipping the bottom ends into rooting hormone powder is optional, I don't, but many others swear by them.
A close up of equal piles of sieved 2 year old leaf mould and horticultural sharp sand.
I use leafmould mixed in equal measures with sharp sand as a potting compost for hardwood cuttings.

Planting Hardwood cuttings outdoors

The beauty of hardwood cuttings is that once planted you can pretty much leave them be until next Autumn. Just make sure they don't dry out in prolonged dry spells.
  • Choose a sheltered location with well-drained soil that you won't need for the next year.
  • Improve the soil conditions to ensure the cuttings aren't waterlogged by adding in horticultural grit and well-rotted compost or organic matter. The RHS recommend a bucket of each for every square meter.
  • Dig a trench between 15 to 25 cm deep, depending on the length of your cuttings, and line the bottom with a layer of sand roughly 5cm deep. The sand helps excess moisture to drain away from the cuttings. Backfill with the improved soil but don't firm.
  • The cuttings should be gently pushed into the prepared trench 10 to 15 cm apart with two-thirds of the stem below the surface. If a second row is needed, this needs to be 40 cm away to leave enough growing room.
And that's it! Over the winter the cutting will callus over. In spring, the roots will develop from the buds beneath the soil, and the buds above ground will burst open and grow.
If you're aiming to grow a single-stemmed plant, remember to rub off all but one of the buds above ground.
A blue long tom plant pot almost filled with potting compost sat next to a pile of compost mix.
Once you've filled your pots, tamp them down by gently tapping them on a hard surface a couple of times. The compost will settle down and the pot can be filled a little more.

Hardwood cuttings in containers

If your soil is wet, your site exposed or you only want a few cuttings, it is also possible to grow hardwood cuttings in containers.
I use "long toms" for my hardwood cuttings, in this case, I'm re-using pots from climbers I've planted for clients.
Mix equal quantities of sharp sand and well-rotted organic matter or multi-purpose compost as a growing medium. Insert stems around the edge of the pot to the same depth as if you were planting outside.
A close up of a hardwood cutting of Cornus showing the sloping cut at the tip to shed any moisture.
*Cornus* can be stored in pots of moist sand until the Spring as long as they are planted out before the buds burst (open). These pruning's are a little on the thin side, but I've potted them up to show the process.

Possible problems

Check your plants after frosts, as stems may need to be firmed back in if there's been a soil heave.
For colder areas of the country, or if we get a prolonged cold spell, be prepared to protect with a cloche. If you have space and haven't already filled it, then planting within a cold frame is ideal.
If you know rabbits or deer are a local problem, you may need to provide some protection with a wire net cover.
3 Long tom pots filled with hardwood cuttings being stored in a greenhouse.
Store you pots in an unheated greenhouse or sheltered cold frame to make sure they don't dry out.
This time next year your cuttings should be ready to plant out, give to friends or trade on our marketplace, what will you grow?
What about some of these?
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