Root stem cuttings of white cedar for faster results than growing from seed. White cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is one of the most popular evergreen shrubs available for hedging and privacy screens. It goes by many names, including American arborvitae, Eastern arborvitae, Northern white cedar or Eastern white cedar – or just "white cedar."
Thick, green foliage forms a dense, pyramidal or conical shape that reaches heights of 25 feet with a spread of 5 feet. Trees in the wild can reach up to 40 to 60 feet tall, but trees in the home landscape will rarely grow taller than 30 feet. White cedar grows slowly and so will your rooted cuttings, but if you follow a few simple instructions, you'll soon have healthy offspring from the mother tree.
Step 1: Choose the Timing
Take cuttings from white cedar trees in late fall, winter or early spring. Be sure that the trees are fully dormant and their sap is running very slowly. This will cause less injury to the tree and to the cutting itself. Avoid taking cuttings in the afternoon; instead, plan for early morning for the slowest sap movement of all.
Step 2: Prepare the Pots
Fill medium-size flowerpots with a soilless potting mixture in preparation for receiving the cuttings.
Step 3: Take the Cuttings
Cut three to four 6-inch stems from this year's growth of cedar branches with a sharp knife. Test branches with your fingers. They should be flexible and light brown, with plenty of foliage. Last year's wood will be darker and stiff. Cut at a 45-degree angle to leave a large surface for absorbing rooting hormone and moisture. Do not cut straight across the stem.
Step 4: Pinch Off the Lower Foliage
Pinch off foliage from the bottom half of each cutting. Wrap the cuttings in wet paper towels and place them in a bowl of ice to keep them cold and moist until you can root them. Don't let them stay there for more than an hour or two.
Step 5: Apply Rooting Hormone
Dip the bottom 1/3 of the white cedar cuttings in rooting hormone, covering the surface completely.
Step 6: Plant the Cuttings
Tap off excess hormone and poke the cuttings in the soilless potting mix, covering the bottom half of the stem. Pat the mixture down firmly around the cutting with your fingers so the potting mix makes firm contact with the stem.
Step 7: Protect the Cuttings
Put the flowerpots in clear plastic bags and seal their tops with twist ties. Place them in a warm room with bright, indirect light.
Step 8: Ensure Proper Moisture
Open and mist the cuttings each day with a spray bottle of water. Reseal the bags to trap humidity inside. Test the cuttings after four weeks. If they resist a light tug, rooting has occurred.
Step 9: Transplant Cuttings Into Larger Pots
Transplant the white cedar cuttings into pots of regular potting soil after three months.
Step 10: Transplant Cuttings Into Landscape
Take them outdoors so they can acclimate gradually. Transplant your new white cedar trees into the landscape in late fall.
Cat McCabe has been a freelance writer, editor, director and actor since the early 1980s. Her work has been featured in commercials, regional magazines and business publications throughout North America. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater from New York University and is currently a contributing writer for a national quarterly.