Skip to main content

Four Ways to Propagate Trees: A Step-By-Step Guide

This is an infrared photo of Cottonwood trees in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This is an infrared photo of Cottonwood trees in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Overview of Propagation Methods

Trees can be propagated in several ways, including:

  1. Seeds are the most common and natural method for propagating trees. If this is your chosen method, you can gather seeds from a parent tree or purchase seedlings from a nursery or garden center in your area.
  2. There is one horticultural technique in which a piece of one tree (the scion) is inserted into the root system of another tree (the rootstock). This is referred to as grafting. Grafting this way allows the scion to receive nutrients and water from the rootstock, which will allow it to grow (and hopefully thrive).
  3. Simple ground layering is a propagation method in which a branch of a tree is bent down to the ground and covered with soil to enable it to grow roots. When the branch has developed a strong root system, it can be cut off from the parent tree and planted as a separate tree.
  4. Tree cuttings are sections of a tree branch that are cut off and planted in a rooting medium to form new trees. Cuttings can be taken from either softwood or hardwood.
Rubber tree seeds

Rubber tree seeds

Seed Propagation

If you’re looking for a fun way to propagate trees and have an enormous amount of patience, you can start from scratch by planting seeds. This is a step-by-step guide to planting tree seeds:

  1. Collect seeds from a tree or purchase them from a nursery, garden center or online.
  2. To prepare your planting area, you will need to clear all weeds and debris, then loosen the soil with a trowel.
  3. If your seeds are large, you should scarify them (break the seed coat) by lightly sanding with sandpaper or by gently nicking it with a sharp knife. This will allow the seed to absorb water and germinate faster.
  4. Plant your seeds in the area you have prepared, making sure to follow the instructions on the packet, which will give you information on depth, spacing, etc. If you are planting several seeds, be sure to space them out evenly so they have room to grow.
  5. Cover the seeds with soil and water them well.
  6. The soil around your seeds should be kept moist but not waterlogged.
  7. As the seeds germinate and grow into seedlings, you can thin out the weaker seedlings allowing the larger, stronger ones to grow.
  8. When your seedlings are large enough, they are ready to be transplanted to a permanent location of your choosing

Not all tree species can be successfully propagated from seeds, with some taking several years to grow into seedlings (hence the patience needed). Keeping an eye on your seedlings and giving them proper attention and care will help them grow and allow you to eventually enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Grafting Trees

various-ways-to-propagate-trees-a-step-by-step-guide

Grafting Instructions

If you find propagating trees with seeds or cutting difficult, you may want to try the grafting method. It is an excellent way to produce trees that have specific characteristics like being resistant to certain diseases, or even fruit trees that have a particular flavor.

This is a step-by-step guide that will show you how to graft a tree:

  1. Collect a scion with at least two buds from the tree you want to propagate.
  2. Choose a healthy, vigorous rootstock from a compatible tree. The rootstock should be approximately the same size or slightly larger than the scion.
  3. Make a clean cut through the bark on the rootstock, about six inches above the ground. Always use either a clean knife or pruning shears when cutting.
  4. Cut the scion so that it matches the cut on the rootstock, allowing them to fit snugly together.
  5. Align the cambium layers of the scion and rootstock, and use grafting tape or wax to secure the two pieces together. Cambium is the layer of plant tissue responsible for the secondary growth of stems and roots.
  6. Water the area of the grafting well. Click here to learn how to properly care for a newly-grafted tree.
  7. As the tree grows and the graft takes hold, you can remove the grafting tape or wax and prune off any suckers (small sprouts of leaves or stems that grow around the base of a tree or higher on the trunk).

Grafting can be challenging and it can take some practice to get it right but in the end, it's worth it. It's always important to make clean cuts and align the cambium layers properly to ensure a successful graft.

Scroll to Continue

Simple Ground Layering

Here are some step-by-step instructions for ground layering trees as a propagation method. There are several methods of layering but for the purpose of this article, we are concentrating on this one method.

  1. Select a low-lying, healthy branch that has not yet flowered.
  2. Using a sharp knife or pruning shears, make a clean cut through the bark on the underside of the branch (approximately six inches from the tip of the branch).
  3. Peel back the bark to expose the cambium layer.
  4. Dust the exposed cambium with rooting hormone powder, which will encourage the formation of healthy roots.
  5. Bend the branch down to the ground and secure it in place with a garden staple.
  6. Cover the area where the branch touches the ground with soil, leaving the tip exposed. Water the soil to keep it moist but not waterlogged.
  7. It can take several months for the branch to develop a strong root system. Periodically check for adequate moisture and for the formation of roots. It may take more than one season before the layer is ready to be removed for transplanting. You can test to see if the roots are ready by gently tugging on the branch. If you are met with resistance, it is probably ready to be cut away from the parent tree.
  8. When you cut the branch off from the parent tree, be careful not to damage the new roots.
  9. Plant the rooted branch in your chosen location and water it well. Watering is crucial for a tree’s roots to adapt and grow into its surrounding soil. If you feel the soil a few inches deep and it is dry or slightly damp, add some water.
various-ways-to-propagate-trees-a-step-by-step-guide
Garden staples that aid in simple ground layering. They are available at most nurseries, garden centers and online.

Garden staples that aid in simple ground layering. They are available at most nurseries, garden centers and online.

Tree Cuttings

Propagating trees from cuttings is a simple method that works for deciduous and evergreen tree varieties. Successful cuttings will become a new tree that is identical to the parent tree. For this method, take your cuttings from branches that are less than a year old. Some of the most popular fruit trees that can successfully grow from cuttings include the following:

  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Blueberry
  • Cherry
  • Currants
  • Elderberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Plum

Deciduous trees such as maples and oaks can be grown from cuttings, along with many evergreen tree species. Some other popular trees that you can grow from cuttings include Olive, Locust, Juniper, Willow and Fig trees.

Follow these instructions for taking your cuttings and getting them properly planted.

  1. Choose a healthy, non-flowering branch on the tree you want to propagate. The branch should be firm and have at least two leaf nodes.
  2. Using a sharp, clean knife or pruning shears, cut the branch into sections that are 4-6 inches long. Each section should contain at least one leaf node.
  3. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of each cutting to prevent the cuttings from rotting while they are rooting.
  4. Dip the cut end of each cutting into rooting hormone powder or gel to encourage root growth.
  5. Fill a pot with a well-draining rooting medium, such as perlite or vermiculite.
  6. Plant the cuttings in the rooting medium and be sure to firm the medium around the base of each cutting so there is good contact with the soil.
  7. Water the cuttings well and place the pot or tray in a warm, sunny location.
  8. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, misting the cuttings regularly to keep the leaves from drying out.
  9. It can take several weeks or months for the cuttings to root and grow into new trees. To check for root growth, tug gently on the cuttings. If you are met with resistance, they have more than likely been successfully rooted.

Cuttings

various-ways-to-propagate-trees-a-step-by-step-guide

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

Related Articles