You have the space for a new tree, and you already know what kind you want—the exact kind you already have. With a tree that’s already planted in your yard, you know exactly the kind of maintenance it needs. So why not take a branch from an existing tree and plant a new one? Can you plant a tree branch? Will it take root? The short answer is, in general, yes, though there are possibly some qualifiers. This process is called propagating, or cloning.
Here are four facts to get you started if you want to propagate a tree from a tree branch.
1. First, Be Certain About Where You’re Planting Your Tree
It’s great if you want to plant a kind of tree that you already have in your own yard. You’ll have some prior experience and you’ll know a little bit about what to expect. Plus, if the tree you want is a fruit tree, you might be able to get them to cross-pollinate. (And that means fresh fruit every year.) However, you need to be sure you’re choosing the right space for it. Planting a tree isn’t like hanging up a picture inside your house—it can waste time and energy you’ve spent if you must move a tree that’s in the wrong spot. Also, can you imagine picking up and moving a fully-grown tree?
So first consider a few things about the parent tree. What needs does this tree have, as far as light and water? Then consider what your new sapling will require—what’s the light like in the new space? If your full-grown tree enjoys full sun, or at least six hours of light a day, the new tree will need that same amount of light to thrive in the new space you’ve planned for it. How about water and drainage? If your yard is on a slope, it may have different water requirements than if the ground is flat or if it tends to get swampy. This is important to consider in a rainy state like Oregon.
Some foresight is also good if you’re planning to plant this tree near your house. If the tree you’re planting grows especially wide, you could be in for a headache—what if the branches of your tree are constantly banging against your kitchen windows when it’s windy? Also, check for power lines overhead (or utility lines underground). A tree that’s growing into power lines could be a future public safety hazard.
2. What Type of Tree Are You Trying to Plant?
It’s important to know the species of your tree because you’ll need to use different methods for different trees. If your tree is softwood, such as cedar, Douglas fir, juniper, or pine, it’s best to collect cuttings in the spring to early summer. Examples of hardwoods include oak, ash, or cherry trees, and these cuttings are best gathered in the autumn to early winter.
Some varieties of trees are difficult to propagate this way and use a method called air-layering. This method is usually used for more decorative plants. It’s a bit more involved and is used for trees that are difficult to root using more traditional methods. Whatever tree you want to plant, be certain of what kind of tree it is so that you know when to best gather your cuttings and what kind of a ride you’ll be in for.
Here’s the simplification of the process: when you clone a plant, you cut a relatively young tree branch or shoot off the tree, dip it in some rooting hormone, and plant it in a pot. Once roots form in the pot, it’s ready to be planted in the ground. For softwoods, this can be within 6 to 10 weeks; for hardwoods, this can be several months or up to a year.
3. Cloning a Softwood
Softwoods tend to work a little faster than hardwoods, and it’s easier to take them from branch to sapling within a growing season. The ideal conditions for choosing your cuttings are after rain early in the morning. This ensures that the tree will have a lot of moisture built up inside of it.
You’re looking for a young tree branch with a fresh shoot on it. Cut right above a bud on a shoot that doesn’t have any flowers on it. You’ll want a shoot that’s about four inches long. If you’re not able to plant the shoot right away, you can always put it in a clean plastic bag and refrigerate it. It’ll still be fresh when you come back to it later. If you do come back to it later, snip it right at the end again to expose fresh wood. You want to dip your shoot into the rooting hormone with wood as fresh as possible for the best result.
Poke a hole in a pot of compost to make room for the stem, and plant it in that. The first set of leaves should be right above the surface of the compost. Water the pot and place it in a plastic bag and keep it in a warm spot until the roots form.
4. Cloning a Hardwood
This is a similar process, with some differences. First, you’ll gather these clippings in the fall. Choose branches on the parent tree that have grown in the past year and cut right below a bud. This cutting should be between six inches and one foot long. Just as with the softwood, you’ll dip the end in rooting hormone and plant it in a pot—but this pot should have sand in it instead of compost. Keep it moist until the spring, and then you can move it outside. There, dig a trench and fill it with compost, then plant your rootling in it. Be patient; it can take up to a year for this rootling to develop the roots and become a sapling.
So you can plant a tree branch and grow a new tree. Our experienced and licensed arborists at Mr. Tree Services in Portland, Oregon, would love to answer your questions if you want to propagate a tree in your yard. Contact us today to schedule a call or visit.