Elderberry cuttings taken during early spring are placed into garden now

Bob Dluzen
The Detroit News

The weather has finally turned the corner so it’s time to stick my elderberry cuttings. I took these hardwood cuttings a few weeks back while the plant I cut them from was still dormant.

To make it easier to see which end goes up, the top of the cutting has a flat cut while the bottom has a slanted cut.

To keep them in good condition until the time was right, I placed them in my small refrigerator that gets used for a variety of purposes, anything from storing garlic bulbs and hardwood cuttings to keeping beer cold.

The cuttings were tightly wrapped in plastic to keep them from drying out. The temperature inside the fridge was very near 32 degrees, keeping the cuttings dormant. They kept quite well all this time. 

Despite being in the dark refrigerator and being kept so cold, the buds decided spring was here and started to swell anyway.

I have about twenty elderberry cuttings of various diameters ready to go into the soil. Pencil diameter cutting generally work the best.

I have a spot in one of our garden beds that has been receiving lots of compost during the years and has a nice layer of shredded leaf mulch left over from last year. It’s also a very visible spot so I can keep a close eye on the cuttings. 

To prevent damage to the buds, dig a hole for your cutting rather than pushing it into the soil.

Since the cuttings don’t have roots yet, it’s important they don’t dry out. There is always the danger they could become desiccated and die before they even have a chance to get started.

A layer of finely ground, partially decomposed leaf mulch makes a good soil surface covering.

The idea behind starting plants this way is that each cell in a plant has all of the genetic information to grow into a new, complete plant if the conditions are right. The scientific term for this is “totipotent.”

By taking cuttings we are only interested in getting one piece of plant to develop roots. The upper part of the cutting already has leaf buds that are set to grow into eaves. And a short stem is already present, the only thing that keeps it from being a complete plant is the lack of roots.

When placed into the soil, roots will form at the bottom of a cutting from plant cells inside the cutting. Plant hormones called auxins will coax cells to change their original course of development to forming roots instead.

The needed plant auxins are supplied by leaf buds. That is why it is critical that some leaf buds are present on the rooting end of a cutting. If you try to stick a hardwood cutting without any buds at the bottom, it won’t be able to form roots.

The release of the hormones causes some of the xylem and phloem cells to change into the beginning of root cells. 

The new root cells grow, eventually emerge and connect themselves to the vascular parts of the cutting’s stem so that water and nutrients can flow between the new roots and the rest of the young plant.

It takes about four to six weeks for the roots to establish themselves. 

Since there are no roots to take up minerals or supply other nutrients, all of the energy and nutrients needed for this new growth is taken from the reserves present in the piece of stem we use for making the cutting.

In the meantime, the cuttings will have to be watched closely and watered when needed. Fortunately, elderberries are quick growing once they get going so they will be able to fend for themselves fairly soon after the roots are established.