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Native Plant Propagator Workshop – Live Staking and Hardwood Cutting

January 7, 2013

Back in December, Forterra hosted a live staking and hardwood cutting workshop at Titlow Park in Tacoma.  After sporadic bouts of rain, we were lucky to have a beautiful December morning to learn more about propagating our own native plants for our restoration sites.

Why use live stakes and hardwood cuttings for native plant restoration?

Removing invasive plants

Removing invasive plants to make room for live stakes

Native plants have evolved for thousands of years and adapted to the soil, climate, and ecological conditions of the region.  This means that they are well-suited to take on not only long bouts of wet weather with low light, but also the dry Pacific Northwest summers that challenge the survival of non-native plants.  Because natives are so well adapted to these conditions, it means that they require less care and maintenance than non-native plants – this saves us time and money in our restoration projects.

Native plants can be sourced in a variety of ways such as in pots, plugs, as bare roots, from seeds, or from cuttings.  Each of these has advantages and disadvantages.  One of the main advantages of using live stakes and hardwood cuttings for your restoration projects is that these materials are cheap, often just costing an investment of your time, easy to store and transport, and easy to plant.

When is the best time to take cuttings and plant live stakes?

The best time to collect plant material to live stake is from late fall through early spring.  This is when plants in the Pacific Northwest are dormant.  This is also the best time to plant live stakes because they need fairly wet soil when planted.  This helps the stake establish new roots, and it makes planting much easier than in hard, dry soil.

What things should I consider when collecting live stakes or hardwood cuttings?

The first thing to know is that not all native plants are will propagate well as stakes or from cuttings.  While it’s OK to experiment some, and we encourage you to talk to other stewards, volunteers, neighbors and restoration professionals to share what works, it’s good to have a few “go-to” plants that we know do well.  These are listed below:

Native plants that propagate well from live stakes*

Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)

Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)

Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa)

Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana)

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)

Willows (Salix spp.)

Elderberries (Sambucus spp.)

Spirea/Hardhack (Spiraea douglasii)

Native plants that propagate well from hardwood cuttings*

Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)

Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)

Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa)

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)

Willows (Salix spp.)

Elderberries (Sambucus spp.)

Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)

Orange honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa)

Indian-plum (Oemleria cerasiformis)

Mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii)

Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Wild blackberry (Rubus ursinus)

Spirea/Hardhack (Spiraea douglasii)

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)

Western yew (Taxus brevifolia)

Western redcedar (Thuja plicata)

What’s the difference between a live stake and a cutting?

Willow stake bundle

Willow stake bundle

At this workshop, we learned that live stakes can be planted right away – on the same day in fact.  Because of this, live stakes tend to be thicker and longer than cuttings.  While typical thickness varies from ½ in – 1 ½ in, for live stakes, the thicker the better because we “plant” them using a rubber mallet.  Stakes should be about 3 feet long (see photo).  We worked with willow and red-osier dogwood for this workshop, but we noted that spirea stakes planted nearly a year ago are doing very well.

Cuttings, on the other hand, aren’t planted immediately.  These are from species that behave differently and need to be held with their root-side in moist sawdust or soil in a cool, dark place for a few months.  After a while, these form a callous and will begin to send out roots.  Once they begin to root, pot them up in their own one-gallon containers, move to a place where they can get light and keep them watered.  By doing this, you can have hundreds of plants for your site next year.  This is also good motivation to get some more area cleared from invasive plants during those dry summer months.  Because they receive this extra care, cuttings are much smaller than stakes.  At a minimum, they should be the thickness of a pencil, and about 8 inches long (see photo).  We worked mainly with salmonberry for the workshop.

Salmonberry cuttings

Processing salmonberry cuttings

In total, more than 26 people attended this workshop.  It was a great mix of Green Tacoma Partnership Habitat Stewards, community members, and even Washington Conservation Crews!  Everybody learned a lot and participants went home with cuttings to care for and prepare for later planting in GTP restoration areas.

Forterra is planning to offer similar workshops throughout 2013.  Of course, it is difficult to take cuttings if you don’t know what a plant is, so we’ll be including a winter twig ID walk, native and invasive plant ID walks and practices, as well as seed collection activities.  You can find out more about these opportunities, as well as connect to regular GTP work parties through CEDAR.

*Adapted from “Grow Your Own Native Landscape: A Guide to Identifying, Propagating, & Landscaping with Western Washington Native Plants.” Michael Leigh. WSU Extension. 1999.

This workshop was made possible through funding from the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry program.  This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

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