It's well known that many tree species can be propagated by taking stem cuttings.

It's also well known that many tree species can grow new stems and leaves after having the trunk cut.

My question is: can a tree be propagated by cutting a section from the trunk? This would effectively be planting a rootless, leafless cylinder using standard cutting propagation techniques.

I understand this would have a few challenges - notably, the water absorption challenges of a rootless cutting. I'm looking for strong documented sources saying it can't be done, or for anecdotal successes.

  • Any particular reason you're interested in doing it the hard way?
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 18:15
  • 2
    Mostly as an attempt to get a head-start on a Bonsai trunk. Combined with a desire to use the otherwise-wasted parts of a felled tree. Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 18:56
  • 1
    Only if the tree is Groot ;-) Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 18:00

7 Answers 7


The type of cutting you are talking about is mostly likely called a truncheon. Some trees will grow from this kind of cutting VERY well. Others not so well or not at all.

A truncheon is usually a 3 foot long stem or branch as thick as your forearm. You denude the truncheon, then let is season for a day or two in the shade so the ends dry out (necessary to prevent the tree from feeding well from the cut) and plant it upright 2 ft deep so that 1 ft remains above the soil.

The best time of year to do this is in the fall. This gives the truncheon a chance to callous and throw roots without trying to push out foliage, and develop some strength during the spring months. This method won't work if you try it in the spring or summer. The truncheon will try, but will ultimately die from heat exhaustion no matter how much water you give it.

Trees that grow well from truncheons are mulberries and locusts (probably other acacia and psuedo-acacia as well).

Trees that will not make it are the conifers, and the hard hard woods like walnuts and oaks.

Trees in the rose family (apples, pears, peaches, cheeries, etc) can sprout, but I have had inconsistent results.

  • Thanks for the answer - do you have backup on this? For instance, have you tried it and had it fail? Or can you cite a source? Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:39
  • Other than a very old printed reference I would have to search for again, most of the material on the Internet regarding truncheons would be written by me
    – Escoce
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:40
  • Sounds like I'd be interested in reading what you've written - can you recommend any articles/answers/blog posts in particular? Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:48
  • Search google for "mulberry truncheon" and you'll get several sources, some mine some others. I'd really rather not point out which are mine.
    – Escoce
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 16:54
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    Willows truncheon so easily, I saw a fence of fresh willow posts put in (to hold electric lines) and they all rooted and shot up about 3' that first year.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 22:30

Apparently this is known as taking "stem cuttings" - the trunk of a tree being a large stem. An "internodal" cutting would be the best description of a plain cylindrical section bearing no branches or buds.

This page has some good insight: http://www.oakleafgardening.com/how-to/get-new-plants-from-your-existing-ones/stem-cuttings/#internodal

The source above indicates that it is possible, but requires better conditions than other kinds of cuttings.


Although I already answered the question with truncheons, I read the questioner's comment that he wrote later. Since this is for a bonsai starter, a truncheon would not be suitable.

What you want to do is called layering in which you cut through the branch or stem almost 90% of the way, insert a pebble into the cut to keep it open. Wrap the entire cutting with seed starter soil and wrap a black plastic bag around that. Keep that moist but not soaking wet.


Root cuttings woulds also technically qualify by the thread title conditions. As would the rather general heading of "cell culture techniques" or "micropropagation" as it's also called.


It works for most poplars and most willows to start from a significant chunk.

  • Standard erosion control practice is to bury several inch diameter bundles of willow sticks in the stream bank mud. They are buried horizontally, and results in a mass of shoots that filter and slow the water during the next flood.

  • My grandfather used green lombardy poplar poles for a fence. Ended up with a perfectly spaced row of trees.

  • The British have a tradition of 'fedges' (fence + hedge) using 12 foot by 1.5 inch willow rods set 2 feet into the ground, sometimes at a 45 degree angle. This is a lot of top for a not very big bottom. Recommend trying this in fall right after the leaves start to drop. I suspect it works in England due to higher humidity and rainfall.

  • One landscape contractor client of mine likes 4-6 foot long willow poles 1 to 2" thick. They sledge them into the ground and cut off the top about 6" above ground level.

  • A standard size willow stem is about 1 meter long, and 2 cm diameter. For this diameter you have to drill a pilot hole in the soil somewhat smaller than the willow. 2/3 to 5/6 of the willow is underground.

When starting a cutting, you have a race condition: The top of the cutting is losing water to the environment. The bottom has no roots. So the race: Can the cutting make roots before the top dries out? Many of the practices are done to balance this race condition:

  • Burying most of the cutting. In my poplar production, I leave 1 bud above ground.

  • Working with dormant stock. Buds transpire less than leaves do.

  • Working in fall. Soil temps are still warm while open air temps are cooler.

  • Removing leaves. With willow I remove all leaves, Often you leave only a single pair, or even a pair cut in half.

  • Bottom heat. Chemical reactions generally are faster at cool temps. Keep soil temps in low 70F's (20C's) while tops are in the 50's (10's)

  • Decreased light. A propagation house typically has 40 to 60% light reduction. If working at home, keep on the north side of a building.

  • Periodic misting. A timer runs spray nozzles that provide typically 15 seconds of mist every 5-15 minutes.

  • Mist tents. A greenhouse frame covered in open mesh white shade cloth that is kept wet so that any air exchange is with completely saturated air.

  • Injured tissue. More prone to develop callus that can then differentiate into roots. The classic injury this way is a strip of bark about 1 mm wide removed from the bottom end of the cutting.

  • Rooting hormones. These are chemicals that mimic the auxins that plants use internally to regulate growth.

Different plants react differently. Some root well from hardwood (winter dormant) cuttings. Some only from softwood. Some have very narrow windows where the cutting is successful. Some don't root at all. Generally younger tissue is more likely to differentiate.

See Dirr https://www.amazon.ca/Reference-Manual-Woody-Plant-Propagation/dp/1604690046

The 4th edition is better than the current one which spends too much space on pretty pictures.


I brought a small olive tree to Canada. It was not accepted at customs, they cut the roots and let me keep half of the trunk with branches and leafs. My heart was broken. I know I can try to cut branches and plant them but can I plant the whole trunk with root hormones and hope to be able to save it? If yes should I cut some branches or remove leaves? Thanks for any help

  • Hi Sonia, this site does not work like a forum, this is not an answer and will get deleted. You are welcome to ask your own fresh question. Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 2:35

Making Bonsai From Large Cuttings, Part 1 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PD2_ZEC53aI

It also has a part 2. Search on youtube for - A Day in the Life of Bonsai Iligan: Scarlet Truncheon and Trunk Split

Air Layering thick trunks, part 1 : search for - Bonsai Techniques - Air Layering graham potter Bonsai Techniques - Air Layering Part II

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