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How to Propagate Conifer Cuttings

Updated April 14, 2018

Conifers occur naturally in a wide range of habitats and climates around the world, from the northern boreal forests to tropical islands in the South Pacific. The name conifer means "cone-bearing," in reference to the seed vessels produced by the trees. Though they produce large quantities of seed each year, conifers grow best when propagated from cuttings. Cutting-propagated conifers feature identical traits to the mother tree and mature quickly since they already have a fully formed vascular system, but they are best kept potted for a full year before planting to ensure survival.

Prepare a rooting pot before taking the conifer cutting. Fill a 4-inch nursery container with a mix of equal measures potting compost and horticultural grit. Saturate the mix with 1 cup of water and let it drain. Poke a 2.5-inch-deep planting hole in the centre of the rooting mix using a dibble or your fingertip.

Select appropriate cuttings depending on the species of conifer. Choose softwood cuttings for species such as yew, cedar and hemlock, and hardwood cuttings for species such as white pine (Pinus strobus) and northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis).

Find a healthy branch from as high up in the tree as possible. Sever the branch using bypass shears. Lay the branch on a work surface and spread the stems out. Find a 5-inch-long side-shoot with healthy foliage and a pliable stem.

Remove the side-shoot by pulling it back against its natural direction of growth so that it comes off with a portion of bark and tissue from the main branch. Remove the foliage from the lower half of the shoot by pinching the leaves off with your fingers.

Dip the end of the conifer cutting in water to moisten it slightly. Roll the moistened end in 0.5 per cent IBA rooting hormone powder until it is coated. Shake the cutting slightly to remove any excess powder.

Insert the conifer cutting into the planting hole in the rooting pot. Press the soil in around the base of the cutting to steady it and express any trapped air. Cover the pot with a propagation dome to hold warmth and moisture around the conifer cutting.

Place the potted conifer cutting on a heating mat set to 70F. Keep it in a place where it receives very bright light for at least five hours a day, such as near a large window or in a greenhouse or cold frame. To keep the foliage moist, use a spray bottle to mist the conifer cutting once a week.

Repot the cutting into a 1-gallon nursery container filled with a mix of equal parts regular garden soil and horticultural grit after the tips of the foliage begin to show new growth. Place the repotted conifer cutting outdoors in a sheltered spot for one year to help the plant acclimate to normal weather conditions before transplanting in a permanent bed.

Warning

Wear gloves when working with rooting hormone.

Things You'll Need

  • 4-inch nursery container
  • Potting compost
  • Horticultural grit
  • Dibble
  • Bypass shears
  • 0.5 per cent IBA (indole-3-butyric acid) rooting hormone powder
  • Propagating dome
  • Heating mat
  • Spray bottle
  • 1-gallon nursery container
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About the Author

Samantha McMullen began writing professionally in 2001. Her nearly 20 years of experience in horticulture informs her work, which has appeared in publications such as Mother Earth News.