Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
December, 2006
Regional Report

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Dormant season is the time to take hardwood cuttings from favorite shrubs, such as the lovely maple leaf viburnum.

Making More of Your Favorite Shrubs

You say your bulbs are planted, trees are mulched, and leaves are raked, yet you still need an excuse to take refuge in your gardens to balance the frenetic pace of the holidays? Here's an idea that will keep you communing with your plants on invitingly sunny days: take cuttings from favorite shrubs for your garden or to give to friends.

Once woody plants have gone dormant (most have by now), you can take hardwood cuttings from deciduous plants like boxwood, cotoneaster, deutzia, euonymus, forsythia, holly, mock orange, rhododendron, rose, spirea, viburnum, and willow. It's an inexpensive way to start a new hedge or extend one, or obtain more of a favorite shrub whose name is elusive.

The Basics
Choose a healthy stem that formed last summer (no weak or spindly growth) and using a small, sharp knife, cut off a length of about 1 or 2 feet. Remove any leaves or fruits that may be hanging on. Then section this into cuttings 4 to 6 inches long that include at least two buds by making slanting cuts slightly below a node. As you're cutting, take note of which end of the cutting is the top -- closest to the tip of the original branch. You'll want to root the bottom end.

Rub off buds at the base of the cuttings so they won't try to grow too soon. Since the wood is dormant, it will take a while to root -- a few weeks to a few months -- so to encourage roots to form it helps to wound the stems. This step is optional so it's up to you. Cut a 1-inch-long slice from each side of a cutting, extending the slice to the base of the cutting. Cut slightly deeper than the bark but take care not to cut the stem in half.

Highly concentrated rooting hormone is essential for hardwood cuttings; whether you use liquid or powder doesn't matter, just mix at the highest concentration. Mix only what you'll need right away into a separate container -- don't use it straight from the bottle. Dip the cuttings into the hormone so the bottom inch is coated. Then stick the bottom 2 inches of the cuttings into pots of a mixture of one-half vermiculite and one-half perlite. This combination allows good air circulation and drainage. Stick two or three cuttings per pot, depending on the pot size.

The rooting mix needs to be about 65 to 75 degrees F to promote root growth, although the top of the cuttings can handle freezing temperatures. So if you have a heat mat or another way to keep the roots warm, you can keep cuttings in a garage or shed. Otherwise wrap the pots in plastic to hold in humidity and keep them in a bright (not direct sun) place in the house. Indoors the buds will start to grow so keeping humidity high is very important. In either situation, keep the soil moist but not soggy.

Now comes the hard part -- waiting. With any luck some of the cuttings will root instead of rot and you'll have some new plants come spring. They will need TLC for at least a year until they are well developed, so they won't be ready for the border until a year from next spring. But anticipation is part of the makeup of a doting gardener.

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