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The science of cuttings?  RSS feed

 
jesse markowitz
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Location: Hudson Valley, NY
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Does anyone around here have a lot of experience with propagating plants via cutting? I feel like if you can make this work, this skill would be one of the biggest money savers on a startup farm. Unfortunately, from what I've seen, it seems like very few people actually employ this technique. I'm not really sure why, but I don't think I've run into one person that uses cuttings or grafts trees on their farm. Maybe because of the fear of failure? Or is there some other reason that people shy away from this technique that I'm not aware of?

I could buy a few books on the matter, but I'm learning to not trust everything I read in books about farming. I'd love to hear some first hand accounts of people trying this out, if we have anyone who does this on the board.

Thanks!
 
Dillon Nichols
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Mike Haych posted some very relevant info in this current thread: http://www.permies.com/t/51908/trees/Year-Income-Tree-Nursery


I started experimenting with cuttings last year on a small scale. All my cuttings were obtained free from a variety of sources; trees I already owned, a couple public food forests with trees that needed some trimming anyhow, a local permaculturalist that I volunteered with, and some from just out in the woods.

My success rates were all over the place, and I didn't really have the right environment to keep the cuttings in, but I still ended up with at least a couple successes from almost everything I tried. This has provided me with plenty of fig trees and grape vines of several cultivars, along with a few mulberries and elderberries; a couple dozen successes overall. Probably around $400 worth if I had bought them retail.

One of the figs I rooted from a cutting last winter is now ~7ft tall!

I'm trying a few more this winter with minor changes to methodology, but really looking forward to experimenting with a misting bed once I have a suitable place for it.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I am doing this now but don't have enough experience to be of much use yet. I have been rooting houseplant and herb cuttings for a long time for personal use, now branching (haha) into trees and commercial scale.

Interested in other's experiences and knowledge!
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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jesse markowitz wrote:Does anyone around here have a lot of experience with propagating plants via cutting? I feel like if you can make this work, this skill would be one of the biggest money savers on a startup farm. Unfortunately, from what I've seen, it seems like very few people actually employ this technique. I'm not really sure why, but I don't think I've run into one person that uses cuttings or grafts trees on their farm. Maybe because of the fear of failure? Or is there some other reason that people shy away from this technique that I'm not aware of?

The biggest reason to avoid grafting yourself is that when everything is factored in it is often more economical to just buy pre-grafted trees. For example, lets imagine I'm putting in an acre of plum trees at 20 foot spacing (100 trees). If I order those trees per-grafted from Van Well, it will cost me about $1,000.

If I go the grafting route, I'll probably put 100 myrobalan from Coppenhaven and that will cost me about $100. I'll also need to get scion wood from somewhere, so I can buy it or trade for it. $5 per stick of scion wood is not unusual to buy it. Assuming I graft five trees per stick, I'll need about $50 in scion wood. If I trade for the scion wood, I'll spend an hour or two cutting and mailing sticks out. Assuming $10 an hour for my time, that's pretty close to $50 going that route too.

Once the trees arrive, I'll need to graft them and plant them, assuming three minutes a tree that's another five hours or $50 of time ($200 for the venture so far). Over the next two years I'll need to water the trees and mitigate the impact of pests. If I planted the trees spread out over the acre, I would figure 30 minutes to half an hour per tree ($500-$1000) or maybe five minutes a tree if they are in a nursery bed ($80). If they are in nursery bed, I will have to dig them up and transplant them. Assuming I am doing this by hand, I would figure at least 15 minutes a tree (digging out a two year old tree is a pain in the ass!), so that's another $250 in time.

Using these numbers I'd estimate you save about $4 a tree by grafting yourself ($1,000 vs. $530), but the pre-grafted trees are two years old when you get them so they will fruit sooner. Even assuming that the annual crop from a tree is only worth $10, the numbers really swing in favor of just buying grafted trees.


All that being said, I've done a lot of tree grafting myself, but the main advantage in my opinion is that you get a much broader selection of trees rather than the $$$ savings.

EDIT: This scenario assumes you are only planting a few hundred trees. As you scale up and add infrastructure (and equipment like the GK Digger) the numbers start to favor grafting.
 
Simone Gar
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Location: Alberta, zone 3
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I am interested too. I have played around with cuttings for a bit but results were all over the place too.
Any info on books would be great too.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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jesse markowitz wrote:Does anyone around here have a lot of experience with propagating plants via cutting? I feel like if you can make this work, this skill would be one of the biggest money savers on a startup farm. Unfortunately, from what I've seen, it seems like very few people actually employ this technique. I'm not really sure why, but I don't think I've run into one person that uses cuttings or grafts trees on their farm. Maybe because of the fear of failure? Or is there some other reason that people shy away from this technique that I'm not aware of?

I could buy a few books on the matter, but I'm learning to not trust everything I read in books about farming. I'd love to hear some first hand accounts of people trying this out, if we have anyone who does this on the board.

Thanks!


I have been using cuttings as an orchardist and nurseryman since 1968, does that mean I have a lot of experience?

Both methods, cuttings and grafting take some time to master, grafting takes more time to master than cutting propagation.
Grafting requires banding material, knifes that are very sharp, sterilizing liquid and an on the belt container for it, and disposable gloves if your working your way down a 500 foot long row of rootstock in containers or burlap balls.

Many people I know in the farming business have tried to use the cuttings method on a farm size scale, but, since only one was an orchardman, he was the only one to go more than one year with the method.

Of the orchards that I've worked for (over the years) making cuttings and planting those cuttings in the fields, not many wanted to continue the expenses that were part of the process. We always ended up with grafting being the method used.
Think of it this way, you have 1000 trees in your orchard, you have the land for 1 or 2 thousand more and want those trees to be basically free, so you decide to get into raising the new trees from cuttings.
Sounds great, and it is.
Where most folks get bunged up is when they add up the costs of pots, soil (or as most use potting mix), rooting hormones, lights, greenhouses (where winters are harsh enough to need them), man hours involved in nurturing the cuttings into rooted trees whips and then nurturing them into 4-8 foot trees ready for the orchard, so four years later they are ready to put the new cutting produced trees in the orchard and wait two more years for the first fruit.
I have read where some people seem to think you can get ready to plant, cutting produced, trees for free. This is not usually the case in the real world, the free part is the material to root, the rest does incur costs.
When the bean counter for the orchard/ farm starts adding up all the costs and includes water most of them faint or pitch a fit to the owner.
Why?
Because for an orchard, you are talking about 6 years before the trees are ready to bear a "crop" of fruit that will start bringing in money to the farm. The accountant sees that as years of loss instead of profit.

I do cuttings in my orchard and my grape fields. But I also do grafts when I have the right root stock, some of my cuttings are to get new root stock for grafts.
I do it because I can increase the number of trees with the attributes I want and I am not in a hurry to have producing trees (mine are for fruit for the hogs), I also have trees for food for us but not any that I sell.

If you are just looking to add trees that will fruit in the future as a way to increase your total fruit counts, then this is a very viable method and worth taking up.

If you are a producing orchard (like my friends that are in the peach business) then it is faster to use grafted buds to sturdy root stock, these will take a shorter number of years to production (4 years to crop producing trees) but you can take one branch and get up to 20 new trees started from what would have been one tree via rooting.
It takes the same number of man hours to graft 20 trees as it does to make 20 good cuttings, grafts are done for the most part when you get them wrapped, no cloche required or green house, just water and check every few days for if the graft took (about 2 weeks and you know if success was achieved).

Woody plants (not just trees) take more care and preparation to root from cuttings than grafts, which is why most folks are doing grafts instead.
Air layering or ground layering are actually the surest methods to get viable cuttings from some trees, others will only work if you use tissue cloning methods.

Overall; If cuttings will produce roots systems that are disease resistant and will have all the other good attributes you are looking for, then it would be a preferred method as long as you can wait the extra years for them to produce.
If you are wanting to do cuttings of dwarf trees, keep in mind that all dwarfs are on special root stock, you would have to force root bolting so you could make cuttings of that root stock first then graft onto the newly rooted root stock. (cheaper and faster to just buy the root stock).
 
Dillon Nichols
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Thanks for all that perspective Bryant!


Where most folks get bunged up is when they add up the costs of pots, soil (or as most use potting mix), rooting hormones, lights, greenhouses (where winters are harsh enough to need them), man hours involved in nurturing the cuttings into rooted trees whips and then nurturing them into 4-8 foot trees ready for the orchard, so four years later they are ready to put the new cutting produced trees in the orchard and wait two more years for the first fruit.
I have read where some people seem to think you can get ready to plant, cutting produced, trees for free. This is not usually the case in the real world, the free part is the material to root, the rest does incur costs.


If you have time on your hands, you can often lower these costs substantially, especially on a small scale. I've scored hundreds of pots off the side of the road and craigslist. Most of the materials for my little greenhouse were salvaged from an old solarium that someone was getting rid of. I'm mixing potting soil from garden soil, composted cattle manure & composted woodchips, plus a bit of sand and kelp. Costs me about $30 per yard including the diesel to go pick it up.

I don't think I have anything from last year that will need more than 18 months to be ready for planting out, and most could have gone in the ground this fall if I'd been ready, but obviously this is highly species and location dependent.


I recall from a visit to a recently established apple orchard that they grafted most(all?) of their own trees; aside from dwarfing rootstock, they were also experimenting with a dwarfing interstem on antonovka roots, to get the stability and drought resistance of the antonvokas deep taproot while keeping the overall dwarf dimensions that their high density system needs. They also offer custom grafted trees, which is pretty neat given they've 300+ varieties to pick scionwood from! http://saltspringapplecompany.com/
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Bryant and Dillon make great points. It depends on your goals. I just started rooting cuttings in the last year or so, and some plants are very easy and cost nothing more than a bottle of rooting compound, and you can make that yourself if you have access to a willow tree. I have rooted Autumn Olive, Jostaberry, Mulberry, and Honeyberry so far. All I did to root mine was make a small box from old 1x4 lumber, fill it with damp sand, stick the cuttings in with a little rooting hormone stuck to the cut. I took an old aquarium and painted it white except for a few stripes that I masked off. I turned it upside down over the cuttings to create a terrarium effect and kept the sand damp. That's it. This is obviously small scale, but you can easily start 40 or 50 cuttings under a small aquarium. I think I paid $20 for my first Honeyberry plants, I forget what I paid for Autumn Olive and Jostaberry, and my Mulberry trees are volunteers, but they will all be basically free from now on. I don't have to bother with potting them because they can go straight from the aquarium setup into the ground, either in beds to grow them bigger before planting, or straight into their final locations. There are any number plants that you can start from cuttings and for nitrogen fixers, berry bushes, windbreak plants, etc., it is a great alternative to buying them.
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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Autumn olive is a "pest" here, I can't imagine paying for it!

Another despised invasive species here is multiflora rose. I often find myself wondering if it would take grafts nicely
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Matu Collins wrote:Autumn olive is a "pest" here, I can't imagine paying for it!

Another despised invasive species here is multiflora rose. I often find myself wondering if it would take grafts nicely


Matu, hau kola, multiflora rose is a good rootstock for less vigorous rose varieties. It takes bud and branch grafts nicely.
Though the root will still tend to put off sucker type growth.
There are two species that are considered to be "multiflora".
Rosa multiflora var. multiflora. Flowers white, 1.5–2 cm diameter.
Rosa multiflora var. cathayensis developed by Rehder & E.H.Wilson. Flowers pink, to 4 cm diameter.

I like to use this rootstock for in pot only rose grafts. As you know it is a "dwarf" type and those characteristics come through unless you are grafting tea roses to the rootstock.
Keeping these in containers makes it a lot easier to nip off the suckers that will originate from the roots.
Complete removal is difficult since these buggers will come back from as little as 1" of root left in the ground.
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Matu Collins wrote:Autumn olive is a "pest" here, I can't imagine paying for it!

...


I bought this collection: 2 Garnet autumn olive, 2 Charlies Golden autumn olive, 2 Delightful autumn olive, plus 5 extra Garnet autumn olives for $153.00 including shipping. And that's why I started making cuttings...
 
jesse markowitz
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Location: Hudson Valley, NY
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A lot of great info. Thanks everyone!

 
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