There are many ways to grow native plants. From container plants to bareroot stems to spreading seed, each option has its advantages. Unlike methods that require purchasing a starter plant, the cutting and staking method allows us to grow plants from a cutting of a plant already growing nearby.
No matter if you’re working on a backyard or a large restoration project, this is an affordable way to plant areas to improve wildlife habitat and reduce soil erosion.
Which native plant species grow well from cuttings?
Cutting and staking works well for many perennial woody plants. Click the name of the plants below to learn about the species we often plant with this technique.
Willows (Salix species)
Scouler’s willow (Salix scouleriana), Pacific willow (Salix lasiandra), Hooker’s willow (Salix hookeriana), and Sitka willow (Salix sitchensis) are abundant throughout the Tualatin Valley. Willow are the most common species used with the cutting and staking method. First, identify willow species in the spring or summer when they are full of leaves as it can be difficult to tell them apart at other times of year. Look for willows growing in wet locations such as streambanks, pond or lake edges, and wetlands. Whereas most native willows dislike dry soils or drought, Scouler’s willow can grow well in forest understories and tolerates short periods of drought.
Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Although red-osier dogwood doesn’t establish as easily as willow does using this method, we still recommended them for live staking along creeks and in wet soils. Dogwood can grow in a wide range of habitats but prefers moist soils. Plant them in places with full sun to partial shade and tolerates seasonal flooding. Pollinators love its pretty, white-clustered flowers.
Black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)
Twinberry is a terrific species to plant for pollinators and wildlife habitat. Hummingbirds love to visit their yellow flowers and the berries make great food for other birds. It grows well in sunny to partially shady locations with moist soil and tolerates seasonal flooding. It doesn’t grow as tall or spread as quickly as willow or dogwood, making it a good option for urban areas or rain gardens.
Douglas spirea (Spiraea douglasii)
You’ve probably seen spirea growing in ditches, along creeks, and in wetlands. Its clumps of pink flowers are eye-catching, even from a distance! Douglas spirea forms dense thickets that provide important habitat for wildlife and pollinators. It grows in sunny, wet areas that may dry up seasonally or stay wet year-round.
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
Snowberry is the jack-of-all trades when it comes to planting for wildlife. Its berries provide food for birds in winter and its dense, shrubby growth provides cover for a multitude of forest critters. It grows in a wide variety of conditions and is hardy to dry spells, seasonal flooding, and heavy grazing by deer. Once established, it spreads quickly through its underground rhizomeRhizome A continuously growing, horizontal underground stem. and fills in bare ground.
How to grow plants from live cuttings:
A plant cutting is a piece of stem that’s cut from a mature plant. Due to an amazing ability to regrow from stems, cuttings from certain shrubs and trees can be driven straight into the soil (staking) and will grow into a new plant.
Step 1. Get ready to take a cutting.
Before you start, gather your supplies. Making a cutting is simple to do but can be time consuming and labor intensive, you’ll need:
- Sharp loppers
- Gardening gloves
- Several hours (depending on how many cuttings you plan to make)
Locate an established population of the species you intend to take cuttings of.
Take cuttings in late fall or winter when the plants are dormant. Dormancy is after the leaves have fallen and before buds appear. Generally, between late November and mid-February. Because it’s challenging to identify plants without their leaves, we suggest finding them in the spring or summer when there are more clues to look for like flowers, fruit, and leaves. Look for plants that are mature and have numerous long, straight branches. Take a note of the location or flag the specific plants you wish to make cuttings from so you can find them later.
Remember: Never take more than 30% of the parent plant when making cuttings. Good cutting blocks (the plants that you take cuttings from) will regenerate and can offer healthy material for years if treated with care.
Step 2. Make cuttings from healthy plants.
Cut 2-6 foot branches from recent growth.
Young growth is more likely to establish from a cutting than older stems. For this reason, look for shinier and more brightly colored branches, particularly in willow and dogwood. After you have cut a long branch from your mature plant this can be divided into multiple cuttings.
Cuttings that are 2-6 feet long are usually most successful because they can be driven further into the ground where it remains wetter for longer.
If needed, create multiple cuttings from a single branch.
After making an extra-long cutting, place it on the ground and prune off any bulky side branches and remove leaves. Then make diagonal cuts in whatever interval you choose, between 2-6 feet. It’s important to differentiate top from bottom! Stakes don’t grow upside down.
Make horizontal cuts across the top of the stake just above where the new bud will sprout. At a minimum, cuttings should be at least one foot long, ½ an inch wide (roughly thumb-sized), and include at least two leaf joints.
Keep it organized.
Organize your cuttings in a pile with all the horizontal cuts (the top) facing the same way. Bundle your stakes with twine in clusters to make it easy to transport.
Step 3. Stake your fresh cuttings.
Be quick! Cuttings are at risk of quickly drying out and should be installed the same day they are harvested. If you cannot put them in the ground on the same day they were cut, store them in a cool, moist, shaded place and wet them thoroughly every day. By doing this you may keep them alive for several weeks.
Identify locations with the appropriate conditions for your cuttings.
It’s important to install cuttings in conditions that are appropriate for the species. Each plant has unique growing conditions – make sure to pick the right plant for the location. Do you need short plants? Tall plants? Plants that can survive a shady backyard corner? Plants along the sides of a wetland in wet soils? Wet places such as streambanks, pond edges, and seasonally flooded areas are locations where staking will be most effective. When planting along streamsides, plant them at the top of the bank to ensure they aren’t washed away during heavy rains and high flow.
Right click the table below and open in a new tab or download the PDF to see what growing conditions are needed for each plant.
How to install your cuttings.
Staking cuttings in lines helps to fill in as much space as possible while ensuring each plant has enough room to grow. A common planting interval is one cutting every 2 to 4 feet. Adjust this spacing depending on your needs. When thinking about your spacing, remember not all the cuttings will survive.
Push or use a mallet to hammer cuttings into the soil at least half of the length of the stem. Leave several leaf nodes/buds exposed above the soil. In compacted or gravelly soils, you can use a piece of rebar to hammer starter holes to insert your cuttings into.
Caring for plantings:
Plants installed by cutting and staking usually don’t need much care. If your native plants are put in the correct location, they won’t need to be watered and should start growing new shoots in the first growing season. If you’re noticing your stakes aren’t growing, several factors could be to blame:
- They were installed upside down. Make sure the leaf nodes or buds are pointed upwards.
- Wildlife are eating them. Many native shrub species are tasty to beavers, nutria, and deer.
- The planting site doesn’t have enough moisture and/or light.
- The cuttings were harvested too early or too late in the season.
Watch our how-to video to see cutting and staking in action!
A note on beavers:
Beavers are one of our region’s most interesting and influential residents. They provide far reaching benefits to our watershed but can also cause challenges for land managers. Many of the plants installed by cutting and staking, specifically willow species, will attract beaver to the area. To learn more about living with beavers and to assess whether their presence will be compatible to your property, check out these resources from the Tualatin River Watershed Council.
A note on trespassing:
Do not trespass in the pursuit of finding or making cutting materials! This could result in a dangerous situation for you and anyone else involved. Always ask permission before entering land that isn’t your own. Do not take cuttings from public parks and natural areas without first getting proper permission.