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How To Successfully Root a Tree Branch

How To Successfully Root a Tree Branch

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Trees are gorgeous, and sometimes you have a favorite. However, if you plant seeds from your beloved tree, they might not grow up to be what you hoped, as the seeds are the result of two trees coming together through pollination.

Duplicating your favorite tree means rooting a tree branch. But how?

Rooting a tree branch requires that the cutting is under a year old. The branch must start in water or sandy soil. Dipping the cut end in hormone powder is believed to raise the odds of success. The cutting will take anywhere from a few weeks to months before being ready for transplanting.

Rooting a tree branch is often preferred to air layering or growing from seed because it is faster. However, not all trees will grow from cuttings.

Deciduous trees are usually the easiest to grow from a cutting, while evergreens are often considered the hardest.

How To Root A Tree Branch In Water Or Soil

Cutting a Young Tree Branch with Pruners

Rooting a tree branch is pretty straightforward. However, you do need to ensure it isn’t a grafted tree. Rooting a grafted tree branch will not result in a duplicate but a tree of the scion (the non-root stock tree used during grafting).

Be sure to research what type of season your tree of choice does best with rooting. For example, softwood trees root best if the cutting is taken in spring or early summer. Hardwood trees, however, tend to root best at the end of autumn or early winter.

  1. You need to cut a branch from the tree that is less than a year old. Preferably use a sterile pruner or knife. The branch should be between 6-10 in (15 – 25 cm) long.
  2. Remove leaves and buds from the lower part of the branch that will be submerged.
  3. If using rooting hormone (advised for tree cuttings), dip the cut part into it, or apply gently.
  4. If using water: place it in a container with around 7.5 cm. Do add water regularly and change once a week. If using soil: place it in a pot with soil that drains well, such as sandy soil or potting soil. Keep the contents moist. Using cling film or a plastic bag with holes can help ensure the soil doesn’t dry out between watering.
  5. The branch will take at least a few weeks, if not months before its new roots are thick and long. Once the roots are looking hearty, you can transplant the new tree.

The advantage of rooting the branch in water is that you can easily see when the new roots are ready to be transplanted. However, if your pot is clear (such as the sawed-off bottom of an old soda bottle), you watch for the roots to form in the soil.

The transfer from water to soil can be hard on a plant. David Clark, a horticulturist, advises slowly adding a bit of soil over the course of a few weeks to help your plant transition.

If you want to see someone rooting tree branches with soil, Veronica Flores has a YouTube video that will walk you through it:

How To Root A Tree Branch With Air Layering

Air Layering is propagating a new tree without taking a cutting. Instead, you select a branch from the tree and leave it on the tree while it makes new roots.

Some people find this method more successful than rooting a branch from a cutting. However, air layering usually takes longer than typical rooting methods.

  1. Prepare your sphagnum peat moss. Place it in a plastic bag with added water and seal it. Leave it for at least an hour. If you don’t have sphagnum peat moss, you can try potting soil. It isn’t ideal but will be better than other options.
  2. Locate a healthy branch that’s as fat as a pencil. Find a node (leaf bud) that should be a foot (30.5 cm) from the branch’s tip.
  3. Cut a ring on the branch .25 in (.6 cm) below the node using a sterile implement. You want to go deep enough that you are past the bark but not cutting the wood. Alternatively, you can wrap copper wire at the same spot you would typically cut. The wire needs to gouge halfway through the bark.
  4. Coat your “wound” (the ring) with rooting hormone.
  5. Pack your sphagnum peat moss around the “wound,” then wrap it with cling film. Then secure it with twine, tape (electrical is good), or zip ties.
  6. Check your branch every week or two to ensure it has plenty of moisture.
  7. Once the peat moss is clearly filled with roots (typically takes an entire season), you can detach the branch from the tree.

Some people are now using air layering pods rather than traditional air layering methods. They claim to be safer for the tree while being more secure than your twine and cling film method. They come in three sizes and cost around ten dollars for a pack of ten.

Want to see a demonstration of air layering? Watch this YouTube video:

Popular Trees To Root From A Branch

Fruit trees are one of the most common to root. An apple is a wonderful option to try if you have never rooted a branch before.

14 Popular Fruit Trees To Root From A Branch

  • Apple
  • Avocado
  • Cherry
  • Fig
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Mango
  • Olive
  • Orange
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Papaya
  • Pomegranate
  • Pomelo

14 Non-Fruit Trees To Root From A Branch

  • Arborvitae
  • Ash
  • Beech
  • Cedar
  • Cottonwood
  • Cypress
  • Fir
  • Elm
  • Hemlock
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Tsuga
  • Willow

When rooting a non-fruit tree, it will be easier to do it from a deciduous than an evergreen. This is because evergreen branches are often brittle. But if you like a challenge, give them a go.

Using Natural Rooting Hormones

Putting Cutting in Water

There is growing popularity of trying to use natural rooting hormones. Two common choices are honey and cinnamon.

Honey is not actually a rooting hormone. However, honey does have antibacterial properties, which makes it worthwhile when using it for other cuttings.

Cinnamon is trickier because in much of North America, cinnamon isn’t even cinnamon. However, there is evidence that oil from real cinnamon does have anti-fungus properties. This can be useful when propagating some plants, especially roses.

When it comes to rooting tree branches, using honey or cinnamon isn’t going to hurt the tree branch. It may even eliminate some bacteria or fungus that may have transferred to the branch when being cut. But it isn’t going to give you the benefits of a rooting hormone.

Final Thoughts

Whether you root a tree branch using water, soil, or air layering, moisture and patience are key to success. Don’t let your branch dry out, and remember that some tree varieties can up to an entire season to produce enough healthy roots.

However, no matter how you decide to root a tree branch, it is still faster than growing from seed.


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