Can You Start a New California Pepper Tree from a Cutting?

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California pepper trees (​Schinus molle​, USDA zones 9-11) are also known as Peruvian pepper trees because of their native habitat. You can start a new California pepper tree from a cutting or shoot or by planting the aggressively distributed seeds. Use caution in selecting a location for the tree, if it escapes cultivation, which has happened in portions of Australia and southern Florida, it can choke out native vegetation and is considered invasive.

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Tip

You can start a new California pepper tree from a cutting, shoot or seeds.

Time to Take Cuttings

Cuttings yield mature trees faster than seed propagation. When propagating trees, many gardeners choose to harvest and root cuttings due to the technique's ease and speed. The cuttings can be taken during the tree's active growth period or the dormant phase, depending on the tree type.

California pepper trees are drought-tolerant narrow-leaved evergreen trees. The best time to propagate this type of evergreen is during the late dormant stage. Take cuttings during the winter season.

Types of Cuttings

Stems, branches, roots — there are many parts of a tree from which to take a cutting. Since California pepper tree cuttings are taken during the dormant period, stem and branch cuttings are the most effective.

Choose branches and stems that are at least one year old. Start at the tip of a branch, or stem and prepare to make tip cutting. Use a garden knife or pruners to make the cut between 4 to 10 inches from the branch or stem tip. The longer the cutting the quicker the plant will mature.

Maintenance and Growth

Cuttings must be maintained and nurtured in order to root and, ultimately, produce a healthy plant. Remove the lower leaves, but keep the upper leaves intact; foliage helps the root system by supplying it with needed nutrients. Swirl the cut end of the cutting in rooting powder or a homemade rooting compound before inserting it into the potting medium. These hormones encourage rooting but cuttings will root without these hormones.

Root your California pepper tree cuttings in a porous, well draining medium, such as moist peat moss or pine bark combined with equal parts perlite or coarse sand. Keep the medium and the air surrounding the cutting moist by putting the pot and cutting inside a plastic bag or covering it with a glass or plastic bottle or vase. Consistent moisture and humidity encourages rapid root growth.

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Cuttings taken in winter are rooted and ready to be planted in containers or beds by spring. The saplings are still too young to plant directly in the ground. They require loose, well aerated soil until their root systems strengthen.

Considerations When Taking Cuttings

Inspect stems and branches prior to cutting and choose branches that are healthy, leafy but not full of flower buds. Make clean cuts with sharp cutting tools. Jagged cuts will damage the parent plant, making it susceptible to disease.

Before you take the cuttings, sterilize your cutting tools by dipping the blades in rubbing alcohol or a pine-oil cleaner. A rag dipped in the sterilizing solution can be used to wipe the blades between cuts. Put on gloves and safety glasses to protect your hands and eyes, and add a dust mask when working with potting soil, compost and soil amendments.

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Catherine Duffy

Catherine Duffy's writing can be found on gardening blogs, tech sites and business blogs. Although these topics seem quite different, they have one area in common: systems and design. Duffy makes systems and design (as they pertains to plants, supply chains or software) entertaining and welcoming to general readers.