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Wattle and prop twigs that grow

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#1 Janet Macunovich

Janet Macunovich


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Posted 15 March 2020 - 12:08 AM

G. sent us an email, asking:

I have some red twig dogwood sticks that I purchased for Christmas decorating and they have started rooting. Is it ridiculous to imagine that I can get new plants from them? Where will I find your advice on how to do it? I am thinking of putting in potting soil in the house until roots get established in soil.

We brought the discussion here and hope others will add their experiences:

You sure can expect new shrubs from those canes, G. Plant them if you need them.


You may have to stake them until their roots are wide enough to steady their tops. Or you can cut the cane back. (It may die back on its own.)


We push a lot of freshly-cut young branches into the ground each spring. The sticks are products of pruning, mostly, and we aren't "sticking" them in the way that term is used to mean propagating them. We use them to make wattle fencing and supports for tipsy perennials.


A wattle fence we made from redtwig dogwood.



We've seen all of these sprout without any special attention: willow (various Salix species), redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba), burning bush (Euonymus alata), rose of sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), Hydrangea, butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and Forsythia. If we think about it a bit longer others will come to mind.


This wattle cage made from cut-down butterfly bush sticks is growing. (Arrows) We stuck the branches into the groun about 6 weeks before we noticed this growth.




 I was walking past this garden one July day when an out-of-place leaf drew my eye. (Arrow)




It is a hydrangea, growing from the base of a stick I pruned out in spring and stuck in to the ground to help prop a peony.




Occasionally we have a use for the plants. Then we dig and transplant them. Most often we rub out the new growth because we already have an abundance of that plant which gave us the cuttings in the first place.


We've been surprised sometimes.


One year when we were cutting hard on an entire rose of sharon hedge we thought, "These will make cool wattle. Flexible, smooth, gray." We made a number of peony cages and small fences. Through spring and to the end of June, the sticks' performance bore out our hunch.


Then in late July when the soil was most warm (so we suppose), 90% of the twigs sprouted. All together like a forest.

In two weeks the sticks were so leafy the peonies that wattle was supporting were in danger of being choked out. We went to pull out the cages and found the sticks were so well rooted we had to dig rather than pull. It seems they had been rooting for two months before pushing out leafy growth. Since then we have seen rose of sharon branches do the same thing when left where they fell in spring and accidentally buried in mulch. In August we found "weeds' sprouting there, tugged on them and found we were lifting a fairly large branch.


Sometimes people say to us, "No, leave them, how cool is that to have a living fence!" But since the fastest growing species are most likely to sprout, the cute living fence quickly becomes a shaggy jumble.


This willow wattle may look attractive with a bit of foliage...



...but it will grow very quickly and the formerly low-maintenance fence will be a chore to keep in bounds.




This obelisk is made from three Christmas tree trunks with redtwig dogwood twined around the legs and curly willow crowning the top.




The redtwigs sprouted and by late summer that foliage was hiding the obelisk. The amused and somewhat indulgent owner nipped the shoots back...




...but two years later they are still there. redtwig sprouts are coming out on the right. On the left a separately planted variegated honeysuckle vine called Harlequin is climbing up. Now the rustic obelisk has served its time and needs to be removed. That will mean excavating the redtwig's sturdy roots, too.




Sticking cuttings in fall can work, too. We are waiting now to see how many new butterfly bushes come from the twigs we stuck last fall. (We clipped them from a volunteer butterfly bush that seemed to be specially loved by the butterflies.)


Steven's great uncle cut saplings each fall and push 6' lengths deep into the soil along the road to guide the snow plow driver. (Snow gets deep up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.) Sometimes half of them would sprout the next spring. It's likely that if they were left in place that only the low sprouts would survive - the tree would start over from the ground - but we never tested that. Uncle Eldon pulled them out as he never wanted permanent plantings there.

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