Propagating Woody Plants in the Spring

There are several ways to propagate woody plants using stem cuttings:

Herbaceous: Cuttings come from non-woody herbaceous plants;
Softwood: Cuttings come from new growth of woody plants just after leafing out in the spring;
Semi-hardwood: Cuttings from partially mature wood, usually July to fall;
Hardwood: Cuttings taken from dormant (before budding) mature woody stems in late fall winter or early spring.

Hardwood cuttings are fun to try if you want to propagate woody shrubs like willows, dogwoods, and currents. Early spring cuttings may be more fun for the family since the weather is warmer and it is before yard or garden work. Stems should be cut before the buds break and leaves form. One easy method to try is using a propagating box.

Step 1: Build a propagating box

The planting area can be a homemade box, 3 feet by 4 feet made with 2 X 6 boards.

line drawing of a 3 x 4' propagating box made using 2x6 boards
3 x 4′ propagating box made using 2×6 boards.

Make a lid for the box or cold frame using similar size boards with plastic sheeting stretched across the top and stapled. Make sure there is enough clearance beneath the lid to allow the plants to grow 6 or more inches tall before touching the plastic cover.

Line drawing of propagation box lid.
Build a lid using the same general design and dimensions, adding a cross board to hold the plastic sheeting across the top. Secure plastic sheeting across the top using staples around the perimeter.

This box should be placed in a shady or partially shaded area. Place a tarp in the box and fill the tarp with sand or propagation mix.

Step 2: Cutting stems and planting in box

Using stems about ¼ to 1 inch in diameter, cut stems in 6 to 10 inch lengths. Keep stems in water until you’re ready to plant.

Plant stems in the propagating box. They can be very close to each other, about 1 or 2 inches apart. Remember when planting sticks there is a top and bottom–buds are pointing to the top.

A root hormone can be used, but isn’t necessary. If you chose to use one, you can find them in your local garden center in either powder or liquid form; be sure to follow label directions. If a rooting hormone is used, after application of product, use a pencil or stick to make the hole in the sand or soil medium to plant the stem without stripping the hormone from the base.

Water the new plantings and put the lid on the propagating box. Monitor daily and keep plant medium from drying out–water may need to be added daily.

Watch the video below on how to propagate woody plants using the method described above.

This is only one of many methods that you can use to propagate willows. To learn more about propagating woody plants, look at the following web sites:

Iowa State University – Propagating Woody Deciduous Plants by Hardwood Stem Cuttings
USDA – Techniques of Tree and Shrub Propagation by Hardwood Stem Cuttings
NC State Extension – Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings
Peep Green Permaculture – Propagating Hardwood Cuttings

Gary Wyatt
Gary Wyatt is an Extension educator with a focus on agroforestry and bio-energy. Gary works with federal and state agency partners in promoting conservation and agroforestry practices in rural landscapes. Other topics of expertise include invasive species, tree selection, living snow fences, nontimber forest products, riparian buffers, windbreaks and ecosystem services. Gary is based at the Mankato Regional Office.

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