Propagating Fruit Trees / Shrubs from Cuttings

Propagating fruit trees and shrubs from cuttings is an important urban homesteading skill.  If you want free plants or low-cost plants, learning to propagate your own plants is critical.  In general, most berries and edible shrubs are easy to propagate from hardwood or softwood cutting depending on the variety. Fruit trees are best grafted onto strong rootstock that is developed in a stool layering bed.  Alternatively, air layering is a technique to grow plantable plants from existing plants and only detach the new plant once strong roots have been established.

The following highlights the most popular methods of creating your own plants and popular techniques.


Grafting is utilized to either add a new variety to an existing tree or to create a new tree.  The wood that is to be grafted on is referred to as scion wood.  The scion wood is the variety that you want to have grown into a new tree or a new part of an existing tree.  While the scion wood is important, if you are grafting a new tree you need the rootstock as well.  The rootstock is the lower portion of the new tree that is generally grown for specific traits such as disease resistance, soil condition preference, and often most importantly size. 

In order to graft, a new variety at its simplest is just cutting the scion wood and matching a cut on the rootstock wood.  Then connect the two pieces so that the green portion under the bark called the cambium is touching.  Finally, wrap the graft tightly with a parafilm grafting tape.  The plant will heal over the graft and grow into a successful tree.  

There are many types of graft cuts and techniques to improve the success of a graft.  For example, these include the whip and tongue graft, the cleft graft, the side veneer graft, the bark graft method, and bud grafting.  

Fruit Trees to Graft:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Figs
  • Lemon
  • Nectarines
  • Oranges
  • Plums
  • Pears (Asian & European)
  • Peaches
  • Persimmon
  • Pomegranate
  • Quince

There are countless varieties of each tree highlighted above.  Instead of a fruit tree producing a single crop, why not have a single fruit tree that produces three to five different varieties.  It is possible to harvest for several months of a single tree by grafting early, mid, and late-ripening varieties onto a single tree.  Guerrilla grafting is another strategy to get more fruit in your community by grafting fruit trees to compatible trees in public spaces and parks, this should only be done with permission.

Rooting from cuttings

Fig Cuttings Growing

Figs Propagated Inddoors on Heat and Transplanted to Air Prune Bed to Grow

Propagating fruit bushes and shrubs from root cuttings is a very successful strategy.  For this reason, if you purchase a plant and want to have more it is foolish to go back to the nursery and buy another if you have excess material you can use to create cuttings.  Root cuttings are best harvested when the temperatures are cold before the buds start to swell.  Notably, rooting from cuttings of hardwoods is a great winter project.

Tools for Propagating from Cuttings:

  • Clean and sharp garden pruners
  • Soilless potting mix
  • Root growth hormone or Willow water
  • Pot, tray, or location with well-draining native soil
  • Seed heat mat for winter rooting


  • Stool Layering

Stool layering or mound layering is a technique that is used to propagate certain plants and fruit trees.  It is most popular for creating future rootstock.  Stool layering is simply the process of building up a layer of material often sawdust or peat moss.  This material is piled around a low-lying plant so that existing branches and new branches create roots.  Once the roots are established these sections are cut and planted to continue the growing process.

  • Air Layering

Air layering is a technique to create a new plant from an existing branch.  First, the desired branch is identified and the top layer of bark is removed in a one to two-inch section.  Second, a container filled with peat moss or other material that is heavily wetted is fixed to the plant where the bark is removed.  Third, continue to water the plant as normal and monitor the branch.  Lastly, when you can observe that roots have grown into the medium it is possible to cut or saw the branch off and plant it.

Air layering is an excellent way to establish a larger plant at the time of planting than is achievable with a typical root cutting.  Alternatively, some plants struggle to root from cuttings and this strategy overcomes the weaknesses of other cutting methods due to staying on the branch until roots are established.

  • Indoors on heat

When establishing root cuttings especially in the winter or early spring placing them indoors on heat is advisable.  Using a seed heat mat or another method to provide bottom heat to the soil less propagation mix improves rooting.  By applying heat it is possible to keep the top of the cutting dormant while the roots begin to grow.  The optimal temperature of the soil is between 70 and 75 degrees when propagating hardwood cuttings on heat.

  • Outdoors in pots or In-Ground

Many plants do not require sophisticated propagation techniques such as air layering propagating on heat, simply cut them and place them in a pot.  It is even possible to take cuttings and push them directly into the ground.  As an example, I have found that grapes work very well being pushed into pots that are placed outdoors and elderberries can be propagated directly into native soil in the ground.

  • Rooting Cuttings in Water

It is possible to root cuttings placed directly in water.  Using an airstone bubbler to keep the water moving, place your cuttings directly into the water.  This is a popular technique to use when rooting plants that have already broken dormancy in the spring and summer growing months.  Some plants work better as dormant cuttings and others work best once they have established leaves.  

  • Plants that work well for cuttings

    • Herbs like: Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Oregano, Lavender, etc.
    • Blueberry
    • Currents
    • Elderberries
    • Figs
    • Gooseberries
    • Goumi
    • Grape
    • Honeyberry (Haskap)
    • Kiwi
    • Marionberry
    • Mulberries
    • Sea Buckthorn
    • And many many more