Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Propagation of cuttings aka Food Forest on the cheap

Trees and shrubs can be expensive. Nobody has thousands of dollars to spend on fruit trees and berry bushes....well not many people anyway. So how can we get many, many trees and bushes for little money. Here is a way: take cuttings and propagate the trees yourself.


All you need is some already existing plants, or a friend that has some interesting trees and bushes, or an easily accessible orchard somewhere (Please ask before taking cuttings from anywhere that isn't yours. Generally people don't mind a few branches cut off their trees, but don't assume). Take your cuttings. The cuttings should be nice, vibrant, new shoots in most cases. With some hardwood species it is better to take the growth from last year which are already hardened out a bit. Those take longer to root but make a stronger new sapling.

Root starter

You can buy root starter solution or powder in any garden center and sometimes in box stores such as Canadian Tire or Home Depot. You can also make your own if you have access to a willow tree. Willows contain a large amount of auxins, the hormones that make plants grow roots.

Take some cuttings from the willow tree. The branches should be around 1cm or 0.5 inch thick. Tenderise (ie smash) the branches with a clean hammer and cut them into 1 inch long pieces. You don't have to tenderise the branches, but it aids the extraction of the hormone when the cells are a little bit battered.

Pieces of willow branches after soaking in hot water

For every cup of branch pieces, boil up 2 cups of water. Put your willow pieces into a container with a lid and pour the boiling water over it. Close the lid and punch a small hole into it to let the steam escape. Then let the brew stand overnight and cool down.

The next day simply filter off the liquid, which should be a dark brown colour at this stage, into a bottle and your organic root starter is done.
Finished root starter solution. The smell is strong, but not unpleasant.

Starting the cuttings

There are different ways out there to start the cuttings. Some people just apply some of the powder or liquid to the little nodes at the bottom of a cutting and immediately plant the cutting into some potting soil and perlite mix. Some people put the cutting out into the soil directly.

We soaked our cuttings by standing them into the rooting solution for 24hrs then planted them into a potting soil bag. Simply punch some holes into the bag and stick your cutting in. This saves work and room. You can put a lot of cutting into one bag. Possibly as much as 60 or more.
Preparing the planting bag

The roots will take some time to develop. This can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Hardwood species will take longer and I have heard of cuttings starting to root after 9 months. Patience is the key here, we are talking about trees after all. So pick where you're putting your little nursery wisely, you don't want to put it where it'll be a nuisance.
The finished bags. We have a lot more room in each bag but we ran out of cuttings.

After the roots develop, you can dig a hole and plant your tree et voila! You've started your food forest and all it cost you was some potting soil, some rooting mixture and some time. Go on, give it a go.


  1. How do you keep the soil in the bag moist? Sometimes garden soil in a bag comes bone dry.

    1. I try to get bags that have moist soil in them. If the bag is dry, you can soak it in water before planting out. Most bags have some small breathing holes in them, through which the water will soak in. After planting the cuttings I use a hose and let water just run over the bag. The water will go through the holes and soak the soil. If you store the bags outside, the rain will do the same. Because of the bag the water won't evaporate to fast and watering is only necessary during long dry spells. Check by poking a finger into the bag to know when it is getting to dry.

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