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I've been experimenting with various cuttings taken during the winter (so hardwood cuttings). I've had some failures: taking from plants that (I now know) don't propagate well from hardwood cuttings, or simply having <100% success rate with cuttings that 'should' work. I also had some encouraging successes.

One thing I'm uncertain about is how to store cuttings, if that's possible at all. So far I gather the cuttings I take in a bundle wrapped in a damp cloth, then bring that in a dark cool place to overwinter until I'm ready to stick them in pots or in the ground. Since they seem inert, I don't water them at all, but I notice that by the time I revisit the stems and cut them to appropriate sizes to be stuck in soil, the cloth and stems are both pretty dry. As noted, some have worked, some have not, so I'm unsure of how good or bad this method is.

So, how can I store hardwood cuttings, if at all? Should I be watering these inert cuttings over winter, and if so at what pace or moisture level do I want to keep them? Should I put them in the freezer wrapped in a damp cloth or dry cloth? I've heard of sticking them in buckets of slightly wet sand and keeping that sand slightly wet and in a cool dark place over winter but haven't tried that yet. Does storage depend a lot on the species or are there general rules of thumb for all hardwood cuttings?

  • <100% success rate is perfectly normal, btw. – Stephie Feb 16 '18 at 16:30
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I am confused what you mean by storage. If you intend to hold these cuttings briefly for sale or shipping within the dormancy period simply wrapping in damp paper towels, then wrapping the bundle loosely - and not air tight - in plastic and placing in a refrigerator should yield good results. If the refrigerator has a "produce" bin which controls the humidity, place them there and so much the better.

If you intend to propagate using these cuttings, then, although there will always be differences between various species, good practice is based on understanding the natural life cycle of the plant but standards apply. Prune the tips after the leaves have fallen and the next seasons buds have set. Prepare an outdoor bed of coarse sand and compost. A greater level of success is achieved by scarifying the bark near the cut end and dusting the cut end with growth hormone. At a 45° angle insert the hardwood cutting 1/3 to 1/2 deep into the loosely packed bed. Cover the bed and cuttings with composted mulch such as leaf mould or rotted straw - deeper in colder climates. In the following spring, after the parent plant leafs out, uncover your cuttings. The majority will have developed roots by this point and you merely have to pot them.

  • These instructions are helpful. Can we get into a little more detail about timing? Why I'm concerned about storing cuttings at all is that I take cuttings in mid-Winter (December, January) then I've thought to get them started in February, March. Is this timing all off and I should go from cutting to 'starting' (preferably outdoors as you and others described) immediately? Meaning I should wait to do any of this until late enough in Winter/early Spring so that the ground isn't frozen and covered with snow? – cr0 Feb 16 '18 at 14:17
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    @cr0 that’s it. You make the cuttings either in late fall or on a frost-free winter day and get them into the soil immediately. The idea is that you have to wait until the plant goes dormant / settles for winter to ensure the wood is “ripe” before you cut. You can “store/plant” bundles of sticks in one go and take them out later in spring. Replant the ones with roots or lots of callous individually, ditch the duds. – Stephie Feb 16 '18 at 16:27
  • @cr0 As Stephie pointed out, the late Fall period is when dormancy occurs. The plant tissue has made numerous changes to prepare for survival over the winter and has also already prepared itself to rapidly begin growth in the Spring. We take advantage of these natural changes by adjusting our schedules to their biology. The plant does not become more dormant in mid or late Winter. Cutting then usually damages the parent as much as the cutting because it does not have the time or resources to heal the wound in the deep cold and darkness of Winter. Prune and propagate at the same time in Fall. – herb guy Feb 16 '18 at 18:51
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    Thanks for all the clarification! So what I did "gathering bundles of sticks in one go at random times after dormancy, storing them throughout winter until late winter, then planting them all in one go" could work as I've seen, but it isn't ideal. Higher success rate is more likely with pruning & propagating at the same time, in late fall or late winter when the ground and daily temps aren't continuously frosty. – cr0 Feb 16 '18 at 21:11
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The RHS https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=387 says that cuttings should be watched as they can desiccate in containers and that sounds like what you've allowed to happen. If you keep the entire cutting in a plastic bag it's likely at some stage to wake up but then can't respire.

So one should follow the traditional methods of planting into soil or sand as you've described.

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