Can I make a clone?
July 15, 2021 8:09 PM   Subscribe

My community garden is being evicted to develop the land for housing. I planted a few trees there a few years ago and they are too large to move now. They will be cut down. Is there a way to nab a branch and make some clones?

The trees are fig, pecan and loquat, I particularly love the pecan (for sentimental reasons and because it's a lovely tree that gives great shade). They were only planted ~6 years ago as little saplings but are already 10-20 feet tall and well established. I'd love to nab a branch of each and root them and plant them elsewhere - is that possible? If so, how?

I don't have anything to graft them onto, for those who might suggest it.
posted by Toddles to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, it's called air layering! Start now, transplant in the autumn, assuming you are in the northern hemisphere. It's pretty reliable but if they have to be destroyed anyway, I'd do several branches of each, and if you have extras you can easily sell or give them away.

Sorry for your loss; good luck!
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:26 PM on July 15, 2021 [9 favorites]

Rooting hormone powder. It's been a long time since I've used it. One summer I was obsessed though, and I had beds of stand (in seed trays), a lot of interesting tree and shrub branches I, uh, liberated while out and about, and a mister on a timer. You want the greenest branches, they're easier to root than ones that have become wooden. I suspect you don't need a whole timer set up, it was just one of the ways I read about on the early interwebs, and it worked well.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:36 PM on July 15, 2021

Your[species]MMV but we were offered N=600 oak Quercus robur and sweet chestnut Castanea saliva trees that were "too big to move". On advice we felled the trees [so sorry] for firewood, grubbed up the root-balls and planted them in mid-Winter. 12 years on we have a coppice stand as tall as the trees that we acquired. Slip the developer's backhoe driver $20 and you won't need to rent a mini-digger.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:32 PM on July 15, 2021 [8 favorites]

Short answer: yes, probably; it's called taking a cutting.

Many species of plants can grow into a new specimen in the way you suggest, by developing roots from a cut branch. This horticultural practice is called taking a cutting, and the basic technique is exactly what you suggest: cut off a branch and stick it in the ground, and let it root.

However: different species react differently, and there are ways to optimise your cuttings to give you the best chance of them working - for example using hormone rooting powder as suggested by insert clever name here. Do look up what the guides say about how to do it and get yourself prepared, then go for it and good luck!
posted by vincebowdren at 3:14 AM on July 16, 2021

To clarify, the advantage of air layering over cutting is that you can use much larger stock, it's more reliable across species, and does not depend as strongly on rooting hormone (though you can still use it as insurance).

Air layering will get you bigger trees and bearing fruit faster than any thing short of the root ball, and even then it would be close for many species. The fig in particular will root easily as a cutting or air layer, with up to maybe 1/2" diameter branch for cutting and 1" for the layer.

Also ground layering is an even better option if you have low-hanging branches than can be tucked into the earth.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:54 AM on July 16, 2021

You can use the air layering method, but depending on your budget you can absolutely have those trees moved. Whether it's BobTheScientist's method of just asking/tipping the operators, or having someone come out with an air spade, you don't have to get a cutting and wait years.
posted by checkitnice at 6:06 AM on July 16, 2021

I would do a search for "propagating {tree}" for each of those and read all you can. The different propagation methods may theoretically work on any of them, but could have a very low success rate even for pros. Find out what people recommend for each, I suspect what works best for fig will differ from pecan, for example. Whatever you do, you're going to want to get as many potential clones as possible, and hope that at least one takes and is healthy. If any of them are fruiting, I would also try from seed. Again, planting as many seeds as possible.
posted by hannahelastic at 8:53 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

With some varieties of figs, you don’t have to go to much trouble - just put a limb in some dirt and you’ll have a fig tree.
posted by dbmcd at 10:12 PM on July 16, 2021

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