How to take hardwood cuttings
Choose stems that are about pencil thickness and fully ripened and woody, but not old and gnarled (except in the case of mulberry, poplar and willow, which don’t seem to mind). Willow and poplar both have pre-formed root initials, which make them so easy to root. Even branches of pussy willow stood in water will soon begin to push out roots, so eager are they to grow. On deciduous plants, the leaves should have fallen by now, but snip off any that remain. On evergreens, remove all but the topmost pair of leaves. Root your cuttings outdoors in open ground if you have the space. If you don’t, then the cuttings can be rooted in pots, but choose large containers so that the compost is slower to dry out, and the pots unlikely to blow over and spill their contents in the slightest breeze. For anything that is slightly temperamental or slow rooting – such as cornus or laburnum – it’s probably better to use pots so that they don’t lock up a piece of ground that might be needed for something else in a year’s time. In severe winter weather, protect these pots in a cold frame if you have one, or shelter them by the house if not.
1 Hardwood cuttings should always be firm wood, about as thick as a pencil. Snip away any sideshoots or soft top growth. Make a clean, straight cut below a bud at the base and above a bud at the top so that the cutting is 25-30cm long. The cuttings can be as short as 15cm, but the longer they are the better they seem to be able to survive the vicissitudes of outdoor life.
2 Make a slit trench by pushing a spade into the ground to the full blade depth and wiggling it to form a narrow V-shaped channel. The soil needs to be moist to prevent the earth from falling back in. Trickle sharp sand or horticultural grit into the bottom of the trench to make sure drainage is good. This will help to prevent the bottom of the cuttings from rotting (this is not necessary in sandy soil).
3 Push the cuttings into the trench one by one, making sure they are the right way up, spacing them 15cm apart and inserting them to fully two-thirds of their length, so that only the top 8-10cm is visible. Firm the earth back into place with your foot and label the rows well, not only to remind you what the cuttings are but also to show you where they are!