It's August and time for the 'toothpick' technique

nandina(8b)August 23, 2006

I have not posted this propagation method in several years. Time for a repeat. Just a reminder that all cuttings need to callus before they will root. This method allows the callusing to take place on the mother plant before the cutting is removed and is most helpful for those hard to root trees/shrubs. Plan to use the toothpick technique during the last weeks of August up until mid-September. This is a little known process and when I first posted it a number of growers contacted me, pleased to know about it as it requires no misting systems, etc.


A very sharp, small penknife or Exacto knife.

A small block of wood (to prevent cutting fingers!)

Some colored yarns or tape for marking purposes.



1. Select the stem from which you wish to take a cutting. Look along it until you locate a bud ON LAST YEAR'S GROWTH.

2. Place the block of wood behind that point and make a single VERTICAL cut all the way through the stem, just below the bud.

3. Insert a toopick through the cut.

4. Mark each cutting with colored yarn/tape so that you can locate it at a later date.

5. Walk away from your toothpick cuttings until the end of October or November. Leave them alone!


You will note that a callus has formed where you wounded the cutting and inserted a toothpick. With sharp pruning shears remove the cutting just below the toothpick. Trim off the toothpick on either side of the cutting.

7. Dip your cuttings in rooting hormone and set them in a cold frame. Water well and close up the frame for the winter. Water as needed. If you do not have a cold frame, set the cuttings right next to your house foundation on the east or north side. Lean an old window or glass pane up against the foundation to protect them.

8. Rooting should take place by mid-spring. Those with greenhouses can leave the cuttings on the mother plant into December/January before setting them to root. Commercial propagators will find this useful.


This method requires a bit of practice but works well. In August/September select the stem to be used as a cutting. Locate last year's growth on the stem and grasp it between thumb and forefinger. Snap the stem lightly until it breaks in half. Leave it hanging on the plant where it will callus. Then follow instructions above for setting cuttings. Snip the cutting off, when callused, at the wounded part. This is a useful technique for azaleas and many woody shrubs and Japanese maples.

Hopefully I have explained this method so it is understood. Reading it over a few times may be necessary.

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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

Thank you so much for reminding me that is it August! I had made a mental note to do this when I found your post about it somewhere. I think this might be the answer to rooting some of the difficult plants I have tried to propagate for years, such as coppertone loquat.

Thanks, again!


    Bookmark   August 23, 2006 at 3:07PM
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wilderness1989(Zone 5B IL USA)

Thanks for the tip!!!!!
John Gray

    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 4:07PM
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i use a toothpick in the "wound" of a stem when i bury it for that the same principle??

    Bookmark   September 2, 2006 at 11:07PM
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Nandina, does this work for fruit trees and trees like the flowering cherry?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 2:17AM
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Fruit trees/flowering cherry are generally difficult to root and usually are grafted onto suitable root stock. Give the toothpick method a try...using the 'water sprouts' (upward growth on fruit tree branches that one usually removes at pruning time) as rooting material. You should have a fairly successful strike rate.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 9:14AM
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angelady777 (was angelady on GW) - Zone 6(6)

Couldn't stand it... I had to bump this especially because of the time of year for this...


    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 4:16AM
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davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))

Angela, thanks for bumping this up. This is the first time I read about this technique!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 4:31PM
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ontheteam(5a-6 (S.Eastern, MA))

Re bump :
How did it work any one in zone 6 or 7 try it?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 7:39PM
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stuckinthedirt(6b VA (Shenandoah Valley))

This is the first time I have seen this method. I am going to try it, and see how it goes. I am having trouble rooting one of my mother-in-law's camellias. Maybe this will do the trick!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 12:10PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)


    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 8:54AM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

I don't understand this method of propagating. what is the purpose of the toothpick? Do you place the toothpick in horizonal position or vertical? Never heard of this before.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2013 at 3:29AM
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I wonder if this has a better rate of success then doing an air propigating on a tree or shrub. Anyone have experience on what is better for say a cherry or Japanese Maple.

Thank you.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2014 at 4:16PM
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