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Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
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/1 Circular 415
For Commercial Use Only
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?ROPAGATION OF WOODY ORNAMENTALS BY CUTTINGS
David F. Hamilton and James T. Midcap*
Cuttings are probably the most important method for starting
new plants. A cutting is any detached plant part which, under
favorable conditions for regeneration,-will produce a new plant
identical to the parent plant.
Several types of cuttings can be made and are classified as
follows: Stem cuttings (softwood, semi-hardwood, and hard-
wood) ; leaf-bud cuttings; and root cuttings.
Many plants can be propagated with good results by several
cutting types. The type selected depends upon the propagator's
circumstances, the time of year, and the plant to be propagated.
Stem cuttings are the most important type. They are classified
into several groups according to maturity or age of wood. To
propagate by stem cuttings, segments of shoots containing buds
are taken and used to produce new and independent plants.
Softwood stem cuttings are taken from woody plants when
growth is still relatively soft and succulent before tissues have
matured and lignified, or become woody, usually 3 to 4 weeks
after a new flush of growth. Many ornamental plants can be
started by softwood cuttings. Among them are crape myrtle,
magnolia, pyracantha, oleander, azalea, jasmine and boxwood.
Softwood cuttings usually root easier and faster, than other
types of stem cuttings taking 5 to 8 weeks. An important factor
in making this type cuttings is obtaining wood of the proper age.
Extremely fast growing, soft and tender shoots are not desir-
able, because they often will deteriorate before rooting. On the
other hand, old woody stems are very slow to root. The best cut-
ting material is flexible, but mature enough to break when bent
sharply. The snap or turgidity test is a quick way to determine
if the material possesses proper maturity for successful rooting.
Bend the stem between thumb and forefinger; if it snaps, tissues
are in prime condition for rooting. However, the break must be
clean, and not merely a bending of the stem.
* Extension Rural Development Specialist and Extension Woody Ornamentals Specialist,
A semi-hardwood cutting differs from a softwood cutting only
in maturity of the wood. This type cutting generally is collected
from deciduous plants later in the growing season when the lower
portion of the cutting has become lignified or partially matured.
Semi-hardwood cuttings of evergreen species generally are taken
from new shoots 6 to 9 weeks after a flush of growth when the
wood is partially matured. This can be any time from mid-spring
months to the end of the growing season, which may be mid-fall
in Florida. Many ornamental plants, such as camellia, pittos-
porum, some hollies and junipers are commonly propagated by
this type of cutting.
Narrow-Leaved Evergreens.-Not all narrow-leaved evergreens
root at the same rate, nor do all propagate readily from cuttings.
In general, a low-growing Juniperus species root easily, while up-
right junipers are more difficult to root. Narrow-leaved evergreen
cuttings can be taken successfully throughout much of the year
but are best taken between late summer and late winter.
Mature terminal shoots of the current season's growth are
usually used. Easier rooting has also been associated with cut-
tings taken from the lower halves of mature plants. In some in-
stances, such as with Juniperus chinensis pfitzeriana older and
heavier wood can also be used, resulting in a larger plant when
it is rooted.
Deciduous.-Deciduous hardwood cuttings are taken in the
dormant season when tissues are fully matured or lignified
through their entire length and when leaves have dropped. Com-
mon ornamental shrubs in Florida started by hardwood cuttings
are wisteria, spirea, calliandra, crape myrtle and multiflora rose.
In Florida these cuttings can be planted in the propagating
medium immediately after harvesting. They should be planted
upright with the top 2 to 3 buds above the medium. Cuttings
of some plants can be taken during the dormant period and stored
at 50C or 400F until spring.
The leaf-bud cutting method of propagation is particularly
valuable when source material is scarce, because it produces at
least twice as many new plants from the same amount of stock
material as can be started by stem cuttings. Actually, each node
can be used as a cutting. This cutting, which should be taken
in the spring from shoots that are partially matured, consists of
a leaf blade plus a short piece of the stem (1 to 11/2 inches) with
the attached axillary bud. Cut the stem section about 1/ to 1
inch above and below the point of leaf attachment. Place the bud
in the rooting medium vertically and lightly cover (1/ inch) so
that only the leaf blade can be seen. This method of propagation
has been successful with certain varieties of azaleas, bougain-
villeas, camellias, crotons and hibiscus.
Root cuttings are not often used as an important method of
propagation in Florida, but there are many plants which could
be propagated by this method such as plumbago, bayberry, wis-
teria, some rose species, oak-leaf hydrangea, clerodendrum and
yucca. Best results from root cuttings are likely if cuttings are
taken in late winter or early spring from 2 to 3 year old stock
plants. The period in the spring when plants are actively growing
should be avoided.
The procedure for propagation by root cuttings is simple: Cut
roots into short lengths 2 to 6 inches long, lay horizontally in the
rooting medium and cover with / inch of medium. They may
also be placed upright with the end of the root closest to the stem
at the top. Roots 1/ to 1/2 inches in diameter give the best cut-
Root cuttings can be treated similarly to deciduous hardwood
cuttings. Cuttings can be taken in fall and stored at 5C until
spring or they can be planted immediately.
Other than exceptions mentioned for narrow-leaved evergreens,
cuttings taken from outside branches of relatively-young plants
root more readily than those taken from older plants of the same
species. Cuttings should be taken from healthy, vigorous, stock
plants growing in ample light or full sunlight, depending upon
the species. The wood selected should not be from extremely rank
growth with abnormally long internodes or from small, weak
growing interior branches. Cuttings taken from stock plants
growing under good management conditions are capable of more
rapid root production than cuttings from poorly-maintained stock
plants. Heading or cutting back the main shoots will usually
force out numerous lateral branches from which cuttings can be
Figure 1. Cuttings can be divided into 2 types: terminal cuttings and basal cuttings.
TAKING STEM CUTTINGS
After the wood has been selected, section the shoot into cut-
tings of desirable length. Cuttings can be divided into two types:
terminal or tip cuttings and subterminal or basal cuttings (Fig.
1). Tip cuttings will generally root faster and produce more uni-
form root systems due to age of material. Tip cuttings are made
by taking the terminal 5 to 6 inches of the shoot with three or
more nodes. The cut should be made just below a node.
Basal cuttings are made by taking 4 to 6 inch sections of the
stem below the terminal portion. Some nurserymen prefer to use
smaller cuttings only 3 to 4 inches in length and have obtained
satisfactory rooting responses. This may be necessary when cut-
ting material is limited, but is not the recommended practice for
most plants because the reduced leaf area could reduce rooting
rate and percentage.
To encourage branching some growers also remove the tip
(the top 1 inch) of terminal cuttings. This again is a specialized
practice rather than a rule.
Treatment of Leaves on Cuttings
Leaves are usually stripped from the lower third of the cut-
ting before sticking it into the rooting medium 1 to 1', inches,
or about one-third the total length of the cuttings (Fig. 2).
Depth of sticking cuttings is important but often overlooked by
propagators. Because root initiation and growth require adequate
oxygen, cuttings must be inserted into the medium at the proper
Some nurserymen reduce leaf size on cuttings to reduce water
loss. However, retention of maximum leaf area will produce a
stronger root system in a shorter period. If the upper leaves
are extremely large-as on southern magnolia, some crotons
and hibiscus-they can be reduced in size by about one-third
to allow closer spacing in the propagating bed or they can be
bunched and secured in an upright position. This practice also
allows better mist coverage, more light and may reduce diseases.
As a general rule, however, maximum leaf area should still be
All flower buds should be removed because they can hinder
rooting of many species.
Rapid handling of cuttings after removal from the stock plants
is important. Cuttings should be taken in the early morning
when stems are turgid and kept in clean, moist conditions and
out of the sun at all times until stuck. Cuttings should be as
Figure 2. Leaves should be stripped from
should then be stuck to 1 to 11/2
Left-Cutting too deep
Right-Cutting at proper depth
lower third of the cutting. The cutting
hes into the rooting medium.
uniform as possible so that all material will be equally exposed
in the propagating container. Soaking of cuttings in water to
keep them fresh is undesirable.
Hardwood Procedures Differ
Procedures for taking hardwood cuttings (deciduous species)
differs from those for other types of stem cuttings. These cut-
tings can vary in length from 4 to 20 inches with at least two
nodes included in the cutting. The basal cut is usually just below
a node and the top cut 1/2 to 1 inch above a node. The diameter
of cuttings may range from 1/ to 1 inch depending upon the
species. Where it is difficult to distinguish between the top and
base of the cuttings, it is advisable to make all basal cuts at a
450 angle and the top cuts at right angles.
Three types of hardwood cuttings (deciduous and evergreen)
can be prepared-the "mallet," the "heel" and the "simple or
The mallet cutting, used occasionally for propagating some
junipers, contains a 1/2 to 1-inch section of 2-year wood.
The heel cutting, used with arborvitae, is made by stripping
laterals from a main stem, each cutting containing a small piece
of 2-year wood. It is difficult to find enough wood to make mallet
and heel cuttings on a commercial scale.
The straight or simple cut consisting of the current season's
wood is the only one of commercial importance.
There are several methods commonly used for handling hard-
wood cuttings before planting. In Florida, cuttings taken in the
dormant season should be bundled and stored during the callus-
ing period in boxes of moist sand or peat moss in either an un-
heated building or out-of-doors. After cuttings have callused
and dormancy is satisfied, they may be potted. As previously
mentioned these cuttings can also be planted in the propagating
medium immediately after harvesting.
Cuttings of juniper, arborvitae, maple, magnolia, some holly
species and cuttings from older wood are reported to be helped
by basal wounding. There are several ways to make wounds on
cuttings. Cuttings of junipers, for example, may be wounded
simply by stripping off the lower side branches. Or a vertical
cut with the tip of a sharp knife down the basal side of each
cutting for about an inch will produce a wound. The cut should
not be too deep, but the cambium should be exposed. After wound-
ing treatment of cuttings with a root-promoting compound may
Wounding may produce varying results, depending upon the
propagator. While some growers find it beneficial others do not.
The purpose of treating cuttings with "hormones" is to in-
crease the rooting percentage of cuttings, to hasten root initi-
ation, to increase the number of roots per cutting and to increase
uniformity of roots produced.
Results from the use of rooting hormones are variable, and
the range between promoting and inhibiting effects are narrow.
Improved results can be expected for many species of evergreens,
if the cuttings are taken at the right time of year and the proper
hormonal material and concentration used. However, experiences
with deciduous hardwood cuttings have shown that in most
cases responses to growth-regulator treatments are less than
with softwood cuttings. Commercial growers should test hor-
mones and determine the best method for their operation to make
certain that the material is beneficial.
Reliable Root-Promoting Chemicals
The most reliable root-promoting chemicals are indolebutyric
acid (IBA), indoleacetic acid (IAA) and napthaleneacetic acid
(NAA). IBA is probably the most widely used commercially,
because it is nontoxic over a wide range of plants and is effective
in promoting rooting of a large number of plant species.
These chemicals are available in commercial preparations dis-
persed in a powder or talc into which the basal end of the cut-
ting is dipped before inserting into the rooting medium. Difficult-
to-root species should be treated with the more concentrated
preparations, whereas easier-to-root species should be treated
immediately after they are taken from the stock plant, fresh cuts
should be made before dipping into the powder.
Several cuttings may be dipped in the powder at once rather
than doing each cutting individually. And if there is little or
no moisture at the base of the cuttings, they may be pressed
against a damp sponge before being dipped into the powder so
the powder will adhere. Cuttings may be tapped lightly after
dipping to obtain uniform spread on all the cuttings.
Remove a small portion sufficient for treating cuttings rather
than dipping cuttings into the entire stock of powder. Do not
return unused powder into stock material as it can lead to early
deterioration of the stock supply.
Methods for Applying Chemicals
A satisfactory method is to spread a thin film of powder on a
piece of paper or aluminum foil, dip a handful of cuttings in the
powder and rotate until the bases of the cuttings are evenly
covered. Insert cuttings into the medium immediately after treat-
ment. A thick knife may be used to make a trench in the rooting
medium before the cuttings are inserted to avoid brushing off
the powder during insertion.
The dilute solution soaking method of applying hormones can
be used satisfactorily, although it is more difficult and time
consuming for commercial growers. With this method the basal
inch of cuttings is soaked in a dilute solution of material for
about 24 hours before being inserted into the rooting medium.
Concentrations used vary from about 20 ppm for easily-rooted
species to about 200 ppm for the more difficult species. To pre-
pare a 100 ppm solution of IBA, dissolve a level 1/ teaspoon of
the chemical in 1,/ cup of alcohol (ethyl or isopropyl) and stir
thoroughly in a gallon of water. NAA dissolves best in a few
drops of ammonia which is then mixed in water.
The concentrated dip method is preferred by most propagators
because it is faster and usually gives more uniform results. A
concentrated solution of the chemical in alcohol is prepared (500
to 10,000 ppm) and basal ends of cuttings are dipped for about
5 seconds and inserted into the rooting medium. To prepare an
approximate 4,000 ppm solution of IBA dissolve a level 1/ tea-
spoon of the pure material in 31/ ounces of 10 percent alcohol.
Regardless of the method of hormone treatment used, fresh
preparations are advisable. It should be remembered that treat-
ment with hormones is not a substitute for good propagation
procedures and will not ensure rooting if other factors are
Even if cuttings are taken properly, they will not root if en-
vironmental conditions are not correct. The environmental con-
ditions necessary for successful rooting of cuttings are: proper
air temperature (650-750F or 180-240C), a humid atmosphere,
ample light, and a moist but well-drained and well-aerated
Light intensity cannot be controlled as easily as other factors.
However, when plants are rooted under intermittent mist sys-
tems, full sunlight is best for most species. Light is necessary for
production of foods and naturally occurring hormones in the cut-
ting and higher light intensity means more foods to stimulate
root development and initiation.
Shading is usually necessary to provide the proper tempera-
ture. A shading material which reduces natural sunlight by 30
percent is most often used. This still permits a high light inten-
sity during rooting.
Bottom heat is rarely used in Florida, but should be used
more. The ideal temperature for the rooting medium is 270 to
330C or 800 to 900F and is not usually obtained from normal air
Maintenance of a high humidity for cuttings during propaga-
tion is most easily obtained by using mist propagation.
The major purposes of the rooting medium are to hold the cut-
tings erect and to provide adequate oxygen and moisture. High
water-holding capacity, good drainage and good aeration must
be provided by the medium that is selected. Volume of the
medium should be fairly constant whether wet or dry. Usually
one material will not provide all of these properties, so a mixture
is required. Whatever the mixture selected, it should be sterile.
A mixture of organic and inorganic materials such as peat and
perlite or peat and builder's sand 1:1 by volume is an excellent
mixture. It is used by many commercial nurseries in Florida for
rooting a wide range of woody ornamentals. Both media are rela-
tively stable, easy to handle and provide moisture, drainage and
aeration necessary for rooting. Both media also produce cuttings
with a fibrous root system.
Although coarse sand and perlite have sometimes been used
alone for rooting some plants, rooting responses have been ex-
tremely variable. Neither of these is as desirable alone as in com-
bination with peat moss.
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
This publication was promulgated at a cost of $380.54, or
7.6 cents per copy to inform nurserymen and their employ-
ees about propagation of woody ornamentals by cuttings.
Single copies are free to residents of Florida and may be obtained
from the County Extension Office. Bulk rates are available upon
request. Please submit details of the request to C.M. Hinton, Publi-
cation Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664. University of
Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Cooperative Extension Service. IFAS, University of Florida
and United States Department of Agriculture. Cooperating
K. R. Tefertiller. Director