How to propagate plum trees

The secret to growing fruit and nut trees for free

Trees add immense value to a block of land, but they don’t have to cost a fortune.

Words: Sheryn Dean

There should be some wise old proverb saying the most expensive part of a tree is the hole. I can’t find one, but it is true so I will say it now.

A tree is easily made by growing a seed or planting a cutting. Nature has been reproducing itself for 3.8 billion years and propagating another tree is neither new nor difficult.

However, giving it the right components to grow and thrive, the nutrients, water and air, right climate, protection from stock or pests and competing weeds, is what takes effort.

Nature makes trees from seed. She uses the numbers game. Hundreds or thousands of seeds are produced each year for survival of the species but only one or two may ever make it to maturity.

The huge benefit of this is evolution. Each seed will vary, a little or a lot, depending on its botanical composition. The strongest one suited to those exact conditions will thrive and survive long-term. This way, the species will evolve and adapt to different or changing environments.

Mankind has only recently bred and selected trees for our own use. We want the large fruit, pretty flower or fast-growing tree and so have selected to suit.

READ MORE: 5 easy things to do to ensure a fruitful future for your orchard
READ MORE: A step by step guide to grafting fruit trees

We’ve then learned to propagate it to ensure we get a tree exactly like its parent.

This doesn’t help evolution much. However, it does ensure what we grow in our lifetime produces what we want.

Even smarter, we have worked out how to combine a cutting that will replicate the fruit of its parent with the roots of another tree which has other attributes, like dwarfism so we get a smaller tree. These grafted trees don’t usually live as long but they have the benefit of bringing multiple good attributes together.

Different trees do best with different types of propagation. These are some of the easiest ones to plant on your block, and it’s all for free.


Peaches, nectarines, apricots and almonds (which is a type of peach) grow pretty much true to type. This means the stone will grow into a tree very similar to the tree it came from and produce a very similar fruit. It’s not as exact as cloning with a cutting, but close.

I have found peaches and nectarines trees do best in the Waikato when grown from stones. Stone-grown trees are producing well within five years and are more resistant to leaf curl and brown rot. If these fungal diseases are a problem in your area, plant your tree where it gets maximum air flow to alleviate them.

How to grow stonefruit for free

Don’t let your stone dry out. Clean the flesh from them and store in the fridge in a jar or sealed plastic bag with some sphagnum moss or damp paper towels to winter over. If you live in a cold area, plant in a pot and keep outside (moist but not wet) to get the winter chill.

Plums are more frequently grown from cuttings. Select new, healthy branches in winter (not vigorous water shoots or spindly growth), cut flush with the join to the main branch (this junction is where roots will sprout from), soak in willow water if available and plant in pots or directly into place.


Apples and pears are cross pollinated, meaning there is a mother and a father plant. Like a human baby, the result contains a unique mix of both parents that can vary immensely. A seed-grown apple is unique which is why there are thousands of named apple varieties in the world.

Planting a seed is taking a gamble, but if you have a free seed and some space, what have you got to lose? I recommend growing apples in your shelter or riparian planting and pears as shade trees.

How to grow pipfruit for free

Eat your apple, pear, nashi, quince or other pipfruit. Decide if was a good fruit by evaluating:
• taste
• size
• disease-resistance
• anything else you know about the parent tree

If it’s yes, spit the seeds into some sphagnum moss or damp paper towels, seal in a jar or plastic bag and put it in the back of the fridge to winter over.

In spring (or when you notice it starting to grow and remember it), transplant each seed into a pot and leave to grow until large enough to plant out.

The Meyer lemon is also easy to grow from seed. Simply put some seeds into moist potting mix and wait.


I was told that a walnut tree grown from seed would take years to produce.

However, I’ve recently visited a grower who has proven otherwise. She has hundreds of trees, grafted and seedling side-by-side, and says some of the seedlings had produced earlier than the grafted trees. It depended most on the aftercare provided. Her seed-grown walnuts have also been less susceptible to blight.

How to grow a walnut for free

Walnut seedlings only vary slighty from the parent.

Choose a good fresh nut and do not let it dry out. Remove the husk and do a float test to ensure it is viable (discard floaters).

Walnut tree sapling, two months after germination.

If you’re in the winterless north you will need to cold stratify nuts in the fridge (as for pipfruit) before planting.

Plant into a garden bed close to your home, with the seam of the nut vertical so water does not pool inside the shell and rot the nut.

A young walnut grows its taproot first, which needs depth. Planting it in a pot is detrimental long term. If grown in the garden, leave for at least a year so it develops side roots. Then carefully transplant it to its final spot.

Walnut seedling.


An experienced grower assures me it is a waste of time growing seedling hazels. Looking at the nut size of my seedlings compared to those of my named varieties, I am inclined to agree with her.

Hazelnut seedlings are a waste of time.

The other consideration with hazels is that they need a pollinator of a different variety that flowers at the right time so it does make sense to clone them so you know what you are getting.

How to grow a hazel for free

Hazels are best multiplied by stools or air layering which is when branches are encouraged to root by pruning and covering with dirt, but they can also be propagated from cuttings.

Take cuttings of new growth no longer than 10cm. Lightly cut the bark on the bottom 2cm and soak in willow water or dip in rooting compound. Plant in a well-draining medium.


The rumour that a seedling avocado is useless is not true. Modern breeding means your bought avocado will have a seed which has at least a 50 per cent chance of growing into a useful tree.

How to grow an avocado for free

Avocado seeds pop up regularly in my compost hole. Next year, I swear I am going to dig my compost hole where I want an avocado tree to grow as they have long deep roots to dig out, especially difficult when they are already one metre down a hole to start with.

A more spectacular way to grow an avocado tree is to suspend your stone half-in, half-out of water by inserting three toothpicks into it and setting it on a jar.

Keep it warm (20-25°C) and in good light. Once the roots grow down into the water and a stem and leaves grow up, pot out into a tall, deep pot, then transplant carefully as they dislike having their roots disturbed.


The most common problem when growing seeds and cuttings is too much moisture causing rot. Use a well-draining sand mix or buy special grit or rockwool.

Take a little soil from around the roots of the mother plant and mix this in with your other planting medium. It will transfer the symbiotic mycorrhizae fungi and bacteria for that plant.

Ensure it is kept continually moist but not wet, over winter.


‘Willow water’ contains a growth hormone that will encourage cuttings to sprout roots.   You can make willow water by steeping the cambium layer (the green layer just under the bark) of willow trees in water.

CUT branches of new growth into short pieces.

SMASH with a hammer or peel the bark off in strips to expose the cambium. Soak in water for a several days. You can speed up the process by using boiling water and soaking overnight.

Willow tree bark.

DIP or soak your cuttings in the water for up to a couple of hours before planting, then use the remaining water to irrigate the cuttings. You can also buy a rooting compound that does the same thing.


• Dipping the base of a cutting in honey or molasses before planting provides an instant sugar fix to boost root growth.
• Bottom heat can also encourage root growth. I use a modified bain-marie but you can buy special heat pads or use a heat sink like a paving stone to absorb heat from the sun during the day and warm the bottom of the cuttings at night.


A step-by-step guide to grafting fruit trees

6 great companions for fruit trees

How to espalier fruit trees

Kath Irvine’s pruning fundamentals: When to prune and the three golden rules of pruning

This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.

How to Propagate Plum Trees from Hardwood Cuttings

by Dave

Last year my plum tree was the victim of a savage deer rubbing attack. The bark was stripped all the way around the trunk leaving no possibility of water passing toward the top of the tree through the cambium layer. It was frustrating to say the least. Two varieties of plum trees are necessary for good cross pollination to produce fruit and one of mine was doomed…or so I thought. I took a chance and cut the plum tree down then took cuttings from the top of the plum that had not yet had time to dry out. Here’s how I propagated plum trees from cuttings.

Propagating Plum Trees from Cuttings

The plum tree cuttings were about 6 to 8 inches long. I treated the cuttings with rooting hormone then stuck them in pots of soil. Then I put about 9 cuttings each in small 6 inch square nursery pots. I was in a hurry and just used whatever soil I had around at the time.

(The best time to take hardwood cuttings is when plants are dormant.)

I Had Low Expectations for these Cuttings

I didn’t expect much but figured it was worth a shot to save my tree. I put the cuttings over the winter in my greenhouse (which is unheated) and let the dormant cuttings rest over the winter.

See how these cuttings did in the video below!

I Left the Cuttings alone for a While

I didn’t pay much attention to them until this spring. As I planted and watered my other greenhouse plants I watered the plum tree cuttings. Some of the plum branches began to sprout leaves which indicated they still had a chance but didn’t necessarily mean that there were roots yet.  

I checked a few periodically but they were not ready.  Those that I did check eventually died because I disturbed them (impatience will often work against you in plant propagation). In retrospect I recommend only checking your cuttings when you see actual roots emerging from the underside of the pot. See the picture below.

This morning I took a peek at the underside of the pots and found roots coming out! Of the cuttings I took I have about 7-8 cuttings that may have rooted. I won’t pull them out until I am ready to transplant them all into pots so my exact success rate is still up in the air.

(Since I cut the top off my plum tree I left the root system in the ground which has since regrown quite a bit of foliage. I’ll trim down the sprouting foliage to one strong main leader and let it grow. )  

The hardwood plant propagation method is best done in the late fall after dormancy. You can do this method with all kind of trees and shrubs.  

More Plant Propagation Information Here: Plant Propagation from Growing The Home Garden.

When you prune your trees in the fall take a few pencil thick sized branches of first year growth, treat them with rooting hormone (may or may not be necessary depending on the plant), and overwinter them in a location where they will have some humidity. Tenting cuttings or covering with a plastic container will help to maintain enough humidity so they do not dry out.

Below is an example of the type of cutting your should take from your plum trees. The video shows callusing on the cutting when is part way through rooting. The callus is where the cutting has healed with scar tissue over the would. The new roots will form from that callus area. Watch the video to see what that looks like.

You don’t have to have a greenhouse to grow cuttings! You can get a clear plastic tote and place it in the shade and use it as a plant propagation chamber. Once spring growth begins don’t let the cuttings dry out.

Important Plant Propagation Notes

If you are taking cuttings of fruit trees keep in mind that it will generate its own roots.  Which means if it was grafted on a different root stock before to create a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety it will grow to a full sized tree.

It also may not have the same vigor as the previous plant did since grafted root stock is typically chosen for improved growth and disease resistance which it imparts to the grafted variety.

Plum Tree Propagation From Hardwood Cuttings

Here is a summary of the method I used to propagate hardwood cuttings of plums.

  • Take pencil size cuttings of hardwood plum trees about 6 to 8 inches in length with clean pruning shears.
  • Apply rooting hormone to the cut ends.
  • Stick the cuttings in a good rooting medium. I’ve used sand in the past but in this case I used potting soil and had success. The important thing is that it is a disease free medium.
  • Keep the medium moist (not soggy) throughout the winter. Bottom watering by using a tray can help with this so you aren’t having to water too frequently.
  • When leaves emerge consider covering the cuttings with a humidity covering of some kind. A tent made from a plastic bag or a clear plastic bottle can act as a cloche.
  • Wait for roots to appear. This can take some time so be patient. Check the bottom of the pots for visible signs of roots.
  • When it appears that you have a nice quantity of roots go ahead and pot the plants individually. It may take some time before they are ready to plant in the ground, maybe as much as a year but hopefully by fall.

4 effective ways to propagate plums

Do you like some kind of plum and want to get several of these trees on your site? No problem! We will tell you how to propagate a plum. You just need to choose the method you like and follow our advice.

Propagation of plums will help save on planting material: you will not have to pay money for a seedling. Plus, it's easy and fun.

1. Plum propagation by cuttings

Even a beginner can grow plums from cuttings. It is best to propagate the plant with green cuttings. They are harvested, as a rule, in early July, when the shoots turn red at the base.

In cloudy weather, early in the morning or in the evening, a young healthy shoot 20-30 cm long is cut. Cuttings with 2-4 leaves are cut from it (one cut is made even, and the second - the lower one - at an angle of 45 degrees) and dipped in a growth stimulator solution (Epin, Heteroauxin or others) for 14-16 hours.

A bed for rooting cuttings is prepared in advance in a place protected from direct sunlight. Peat is mixed with sand in equal parts, the resulting mixture is poured onto the bed (the layer should be 10-14 cm). The surface is leveled and 2-3 cm of coarse-grained river sand is poured on top. Before planting the cuttings, the bed is shed with a fertilizer solution (1 tsp of superphosphate per 10 liters of water).

Cuttings are planted vertically in pre-moistened soil. They are deepened by 2.5-3 cm. The distance between plants should be 5-7 cm. A frame or wire arcs are installed above the ridge and the film is pulled. In the resulting greenhouse, the air temperature should be in the range of 25-28 ° C.

The cuttings are watered a little bit several times a day and the condensate is removed from the film. Roots are formed after 15-40 days - depending on the plum variety. On hot days, the cuttings are aired so that the temperature in the greenhouse does not exceed 30 ° C.

In October, the bed with cuttings is mulched with peat and dry leaves (about 10 cm layer), and in the northern regions, with the onset of cold weather, they are additionally covered with dense spunbond for the winter. In spring, seedlings can be transplanted to a permanent place in the garden.

Plum varieties such as Early ripening red, Hungarian Moscow, Pamyat Timiryazev and Tulskaya black are best propagated by green cuttings.

2. Propagation of plums by root shoots

Root shoots are propagated only by own roots, not by grafted plums. The shoots of grafted trees have a different color and shape of shoots, buds and leaves compared to the rest of the plant. And the root growth of self-rooted plums does not differ in appearance from the mother tree.

For propagation, a plum with a branched crown, a low trunk and a well-developed root system is chosen, from this tree they dig out a healthy two-year-old shoot with its own roots, which grows on the side well-lit by the sun and not near the trunk itself. Do this in the fall (September-October) or spring (April) before bud break.

The shoot is carefully separated from the mother root (the root cord is cut on both sides). After that, the roots are examined, the damaged areas are removed, the aerial part is shortened by 1/3 of the total length and the plum shoots are planted in loose soil in a permanent or temporary place, as is done with an ordinary seedling.

The plant is regularly watered and periodically fed with a complex mineral fertilizer.

When separating the overgrowth, sections on the main root are covered with garden pitch so that the plant does not get an infection.

3. Propagation of plums by layering

This method of propagation is started at the beginning of spring, when the soil warms up. The lateral shoot of a low plum is bent to the ground and a groove 10-15 cm wide and deep is dug in this place. If the stem tends to straighten up, it is pinned to the ground.

The soil must always be moist, so the soil around the cuttings is covered with foil. When leaves appear at the top of the allotted shoot, it means that it has roots. By autumn, such a plant is separated from the mother and transplanted to a permanent place.

Plum can also be propagated by air layering. It is best to start preparing such layering in the spring, and plant it in a permanent place in the fall. To do this, on last year's shoot at a height of 15-20 cm from the top, cut the bark to the wood (you can make an annular cut). Then a lump of moistened sphagnum is fixed at the incision site and wrapped in polyethylene. To keep this system better, you can make a stand from a plastic bottle.

Sphagnum is kept moist so that when the weather is good, roots form quickly at the incision site. After that, layering with roots is carefully cut off from the mother plant and, together with a wet substrate, is planted in the ground for growing.

4. Propagation of plums by seeds

Varietal plums are not grown from seeds. This method of propagation is mainly used to obtain a stock - a plant on which cuttings or buds of varietal specimens are grafted.

Before sowing, plum seeds are first soaked for 4 days, the water being changed daily. Then the bones are dried and stored for some time in a glass jar. Then they are stratified for 6 months in a mixture of sand and sawdust at a temperature of +1 to -7°C.

Seeds are sown in late autumn or spring, when the soil has thawed. They can also be sown in a container, and when the seedlings grow up, they can be transplanted into open ground in the garden.

You can try to sow a plum stone in autumn in the ground without stratification. Then in winter this process will take place naturally. But such seeds germinate unevenly, and in the first year many seedlings die, even if they are covered with non-woven material.

Grown specimens are seated at a distance of 20-30 cm from each other. Care for seedlings in the same way as for adult plums. At the same time, timely watering is very important, since even a short-term drought can destroy fragile roots. A year later, a cultivar can be grafted onto the seedlings (usually young plants are grafted by budding).

Varietal trees are often propagated by grafting. How to graft a plum, you can read in the article Everything You Need to Know About Grafting a Plum.

Plum propagation methods

There are several ways to propagate plums:
  1. Plum propagation by cuttings. This is the best, most reliable and popular way to grow plums. The advantage of this method is that you do not need to buy expensive planting material. The cutting takes root quickly and multiplies quickly. This is a great option to grow many trees of the same variety. The disadvantage of this method is that not every plum variety can be propagated by this method. Also, the result is influenced by many factors such as: fertilizer, soil preparation, choice of cuttings, proper preparation of planting material
  2. Propagation of plums by root shoots. The main advantage of this method is that it begins to bear fruit a couple of years earlier. The harvest is much higher, and constancy in plum growth and fruiting. The tree grows resistant to pests and diseases. From the financial side, it is also a plus - it does not require the cost of purchasing material. Minus - not all varieties are suitable for such reproduction, the root system may develop poorly (become fibrous).
  3. Propagation of plums by layering. The advantage is that the "children" will completely repeat all the qualities and parameters of their "parent", that is, the taste, color of the fruit, shape, ripening and flowering time. The male or female qualities will also be repeated. The downside is that in winter the roots can freeze, in the summer, on the contrary, the roots die off. Such a plant does not have a central root, which is fraught with decay.

Together with the editors of the site, we will take a closer look at each of the listed methods.

Plum propagation by cuttings

This method is suitable for both experienced gardeners and beginners. For propagation, we select only green cuttings that are not lignified.

When to harvest cuttings

For regions with severe winters, we advise you to carry out this process starting in spring, until the buds begin to bloom. If you live in a warmer region, then you can start planting a tree closer to autumn. The best option is from May to the end of August.

Procurement and storage rules

We choose even, visually healthy tree branches. It is advisable to cut the cuttings early in the morning, while they have the maximum amount of moisture. If you do not immediately start rooting, then you need to put the green cuttings in a jar of water.

We cut off the middle part of the cut branch with 3 buds. We make the lower cut right under the kidney, we also cut off the bottom sheet. We make the upper cut a little higher than the upper kidney. On the resulting workpiece, if there are large leaves, they must be cut in half, as they will take energy and there will be a large evaporation of moisture. Roots will form from the bottom of the bud, and the plant itself will form from the top.

Rooting cuttings

For nutrient solution we need:

  • about 4 tablespoons of ash;
  • 1 liter of water;
  • 1 tablespoon of nitrophoska.

With this solution, it is necessary to water the earth with sand and do not forget to loosen if necessary.
The plant needs a temperature of + 25 + 30 degrees, as well as humidity. Therefore, you need to make a small greenhouse. It is very convenient to make a greenhouse from an ordinary plastic bottle, or from a plastic box, you can also plant it in an ordinary bucket.

At the bottom of the greenhouse we pour the prepared moist soil about 12 cm deep. It is better if the soil is loose and without lumps.

We plant the cuttings in moist soil at a depth of 6 cm so that the lower bud goes into the ground. After planting, it is necessary to cover with a lid or film, but so that they do not touch the leaves. Over time, as needed, weeds need to be weeded and watered to maintain moisture. Tightness in the greenhouse must be observed. The greenhouse can be placed in the shade, where the sun's rays sometimes fall, or you can even put it in the house, on the balcony or loggia.

Propagation by root shoots

The best option is to cut off the root shoots in the fall. It is better to do this in the month of October, when the foliage has fallen.

Will plum shoots bear fruit

The shoots will bear fruit for sure, but what exactly will grow depends on whether the tree is own-rooted or not - if the cultivar was grafted onto the stock, then, accordingly, the shoots will be from the rootstock, as well as the fruits. If the tree is self-rooted, then the same variety will grow from the shoot as the mother tree.

How to carry out rooting work

The shoot that comes from the main branch is ineffective for planting, so it is necessary to choose a shoot at a distance of no closer than 50 cm from the main trunk. The root system must be carefully torn apart so as not to damage and carefully cut on both sides with a shovel or secateurs.

Alternatively, you can take care of the undergrowth in advance. In summer, separate the shoot from the mother tree by cutting the rhizome. Then, the entire period before transplantation, fertilize, constantly loosen and water. By autumn, the roots should gain strength and they can be transplanted to the site.

Land for planting must be prepared. To do this, they dig it up, loosen it and add wood ash to it. It also does not hurt to fertilize with nitrophoska. Dig a hole with a diameter of 50 cm. Drainage is laid out at the bottom. Next, carry out the manipulation of planting an ordinary seedling. Place in the ground and straighten the roots. After that, it is necessary to water abundantly.

Two ways of rooting cuttings

The principle of layering is that roots develop in sawdust, damp soil or moss.

Air tapping

Our goal is to get roots on the growing branch. We will need a pruner, wire or rope, a knife, a bag and fertilized land (preferably a root and growth stimulator). This method is suitable for a dying, old tree that you want to keep on your site.

  1. We choose a straight branch, without branches, visually healthy and even. We will make roots on last year's branch:
  2. To root air layers, it is necessary to remove the shoots on the lower and upper parts of the branch, leaving no stumps.
  3. We make a ring about 1 cm wide by removing the bark. To do this, we make an incision in a circle in the upper part, then a circular incision in the lower part of the branch. After we remove the layer of bark. It is best to do this procedure when there is juice, the most suitable period is spring or early summer.
  4. We take a plastic bag and make a hole in it. We pull the package onto a cut branch. At a distance of 10 cm from the incision, we tighten it from below with a rope or wire, you can also use electrical tape.
  5. Pour fertilized soil into a tied bag. See that the ring hits the ground. We add water so that the earth is saturated with moisture. If you use a growth and root formation stimulator, then before this procedure it is necessary to apply with a brush to our cut.
  6. We wrap the package, making it look like a bag. We also tie the ends with electrical tape or wire. We pierce several holes in the bag for ventilation. It is desirable to make such a bag from the shady side. Important! If air layering is done on the sunny side, wrap the bag with several layers of newspaper.
  7. As the roots appear, the upper part of the branch must be cut in half. Until the moment the seedling is planted, it is not advised to open the package, as the roots can become weathered, dry and disappear.

Ground tapping

Rooting cuttings without cutting them off the tree proceeds as follows:

  1. If the plum is undersized, then we take one of the lower branches, remove the foliage, leave only the top and make small grooves on the bark.
  2. We dig a groove with a diameter of 10 cm, bend the selected and prepared branch to the ground and pin it with a wire bracket. Then we process the shoot with a growth and root formation stimulator.

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