Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, graduations, reunions and weddings are times to remember. One way people remember others is to give gifts. Trees can make very long-lasting gifts. Ones that have historical significance for the giver and recipient are even more special.
For instance, President Andrew Jackson planted a Southern magnolia in the south lawn of the White House in remembrance of his wife, who had died a few months before his inauguration. The tree came from a cutting of a tree at their Hermitage plantation in Tennessee. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan gave his retiring chief of staff, Howard Baker, a cutting from the Jackson magnolia. In May 1995, Baker planted a cutting from his tree at the Hermitage, which is now a museum.
If you have an old $20 bill, look to the left of the White House portico and you will see the large Southern magnolia tree. The Jackson magnolia at the White House is still growing despite being hit by an airplane, at Baker's residence in Tennessee and at the Hermitage Plantation. The single tree is growing in three locations because of cloning. If you start with a piece of a branch, known as a cutting, and take care of it so that it grows its own roots, you will have two individually separate yet genetically identical trees.
Many trees and shrubs have been grown this way for centuries. It is not hard. You just have to be a little patient. Most of our landscape trees and shrubs can be reproduced with softwood cuttings. Look at any tree branch and you will notice that the end of the branch that has leaves growing directly on it is a different color than the section of branch growing closer to the tree trunk. The older sections of the branch are known as hardwood cuttings. The softwood cuttings still have the ability to grow roots. In many trees and shrubs, hardwood has lost this ability.
Prune the softwood cutting about 6 inches to 1 foot long. When pruning, always leave a bud at the end of the branch so the branch can continue to grow. On many cuttings, the section of stem between buds will not grow, so it should be cut off. The leaves should be removed from the bottom third up to one-half of the cutting. The stem should then be stuck into sand, perlite, vermiculite or peat moss. Keep the cuttings in a shady location with lots of humidity and moisture for several months.
Professionals use a greenhouse with automatic misters. We can improvise with a milk jug cut in half. The bottom is filled with sand; the cuttings are placed in; and the top is set back on. It can be held in place with a dowel running out the top and a clothespin to hold it on. The pros also use rooting hormones that are often available in garden centers or catalogs. The hormones do increase the percentage of cuttings that will root and the amount of roots the cuttings get.
The more cuttings you take the better your chance that some will root. The longer you wait (as long as they are not dead) the more likely some will root. Some tree cuttings will have lots of roots in only a month, and others will need all summer and fall to get enough roots to survive on their own.