Rooting Cuttings : Red Osier Dogwood
Red Osier (cornus sericia) is almost foolproof for rooting stem cuttings. The habit of this species is to grow vertically, gain some height and then tip over as it ages. This allows the stems to root. The scenario allows the plant to move place to place more readily than an expansion through root suckers. Red Osier will thus spread throughout an area, slowly but surely.
This tendency to have the stems root works handily for the propagator. Often all that is necessary is to cut a length of stem, anywhere from a few inches to feet long, and drive it into moist earth. In streambank management and hillsides, handfuls of bound cuttings are often rammed into the banks to proliferate.
- First make sure the cuttings are turgid. Soak them in water (preferably the entire length) from 1-3 hours. This is especially important if you are received them in the mail. Soaking will insure the plant will not dry out if the weather or indoor conditions are excessively dry. Desiccation is the single most common reason for rooting failure.
- Our cuttings should have a beveled cut on any root free cuttings. This is the base (distal end). Not only does this signify the orientation, it also makes it easier to drive the cutting into the soil or medium.
- Planting can be done in the field, in a nursery bed, or in a more controlled environment like indoor propagation beds or pots. As with nearly all cuttings, the bottom heat created by a heat mat, etc., can be helpful, with this species it is unnecessary. Some prefer to use bottom heat to increase their confidence, and to develop a quicker root system. A word of warning- when pots or beds are used in a controlled system like this, it can be difficult to lift the rooted cuttings without breaking the new roots (this can be trouble). Instead, retain the entire soil ball when transplanting. Most growers will prefer to plant the cuttings directly in the soil.
- The planting site ideally will be free of weed/grass competition, contain a relatively loose soil, and have an appreciable amount of moisture present. Make sure you have some sort of mulch handy. Mulches can simply be leaves, bark, and other local debris but hay or wood chips will also work.
- Keep the cuttings in a plastic sack or pail of water as you work. It is easy for them to dry out, especially on a warm breezy day. Have water nearby as well to saturate the planting area after the project is completed. Do this final watering just before you place your mulch.
- Stick the cuttings so that less than 25% is above ground. In the field some digging will be required for the longer pieces, but in damp soil the shorter stouter cuttings can be pushed in. Osier will root even if placed horizontally, but do your best to orient the tip more vertically. We usually place ours at a 45 degree angle for ease of planting.
- Indoor planting or pot culture should be similar, including a coating of mulch.
- Cuttings should root in a few weeks, beginning with a callus (distorted clump of white/tan tissue). Keep area moist. Budbreak in the aerial portion begins later and should be kept watered.
- During heat, shading is a good idea. Leafy boughs work or can be covered with pails temporarily.