One of the easiest ways of producing new deciduous shrubs is from what are known as hardwood cuttings. This is basically a length of stem pushed into the ground during the winter. Warm winter days are a good time to do this.
It might sound improbable that a stick stuck into the soil should spring into life, but it is one of the most effective methods of propagating plants. If you’ve never taken cuttings before, this is the method to try first. I can guarantee that that you will get a thrill the following spring when your apparently dead piece of wood starts sprouting leaves.
You can’t take hardwood cuttings from all deciduous shrubs (if only one could). The ones that will work best include:
Dogwoods. Cornus alba. These need to be regularly pruned right back to the ground and the pruned wood is ideal for using as cuttings.
Elderflower. Sambucus. The common elder is probably not worth propagating, but the dark and golden-leaved cultivars certainly are.
Currant. Ribes. Gooseberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant. With blackcurrant cuttings leave just two buds above the soil.
Actinidia. The Chinese Gooseberry or Kiwi fruit.
Chaenomeles. The Japanese Quince
Wisteria. These need a warm, sheltered place in order to root.
Once you are sure that it is possible to take hardwood cuttings of the shrub you want to propagate, you will need to wait until all the leaves have fallen. The cuttings can be put into any spare place in the garden but will have more chance of survival if they are in sheltered spot, away from cold, drying winds. Your cuttings do not have to be put into the place you eventually want your new shrub to be: you can move them to their final place later. Remove any weeds from the area and lightly fork over the soil.
Cut a length of stem from your chosen shrub that has grown this year. Make sure that your secateurs are sharp, because you want a clean, crisp cut. The base of the stem you cut off will probably be too old and hard to root; the top of the stem too thin and young, so do not use these. The thickness of the stem to use will depend on the type of shrub but generally will be somewhere between the thickness of a pencil and the thickness of your little finger. Cut the stem with a straight cut just underneath a pair of buds. On some stems you can easily see where this is but on others, such as dogwoods, the buds may be no more than a slightly raised point on the surface of the bark. Make your next cut about 8ins to 12ins further along the stem, just above a pair of buds. Cut at a slight angle. That is your first cutting. If you are only wanting to produce one more shrub, take three or four cuttings as insurance. If all your cuttings make it you will have some to give away.
Make a slit in the soil with your trowel or spade and push the cutting in to a depth of three-quarters of its length. If you have very heavy, wet soil put a little horticultural sharp sand into the bottom of the hole. Press the soil around the cutting lightly with your hands. Don’t be tempted to heel it in with your boots as this will compact the soil and make the cutting rot. Water the cutting and label it: chances are that by next spring you will have forgotten what it is. Even though your cutting will be producing leaves during the following spring, leave it where it is to develop a good root system. If you need to move it, do it in the autumn.