How to Get Started with Live Staking
In this episode, we’re going to look at how to get started with live staking including a list of Pacific Northwest native plants that can be live staked successfully. Live staking is one of the easiest ways to get a ton of new plants. But not all plants can be live-staked and there are some tricks to doing it successfully. Let’s get started with live staking.
Live staking is a bit strange when you think about it. You’re taking a woody cutting from a tree or shrub and sticking it down in the ground. And almost magically that stick will grow roots, stems, leaves and become a brand-new plant.
Though it will be a clone of the parent. This is one of the downsides—if you get all your live stakes from a small number of plants you won’t have a very diverse mix of new plants.
But live staking is still a great way to quickly and cheaply get new plants. Especially if you’re working in wet areas like wetlands and along rivers and streams.
At its most basic live staking is just taking hardwood or woody cuttings from woody plants like trees and shrubs and then sticking them in the ground.
But there is a bit more to it than that and some tricks to be more successful.
So let’s look at what it takes to get started with live staking.
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Further Listening and Reading: Growing with Nature episodes and blog posts with more information about the topics covered in this episode.
Books and Other Resources
- Guide to Harvesting and Planting Live Stakes for Stream Restoration
- LIVE STAKING: A TRUSTY TECHNIQUE FOR PLANTING TREES AND SHRUBS ON THE CHEAP
Plant List: More information about some of the plants covered in this episode.
What Plants can Live Stake – Examples from Western Washington
I really love live staking and I use it whenever I can. I’ve been slowly establishing a hedgerow along a busy road just by sticking in live stakes each year.
As more and more of them get established the hedgerow gets thicker and provides a better barrier along the road.
And in our wetland area, we’ve got a bunch of willows and some cottonwoods that are growing great. All of which started as sticks pushed into the ground.
But not all plants can be grown from live stakes. Generally, wetland plants are your best option but that isn’t always true.
Here in western Washington, I’ve been live staking our native Nootka rose and snowberries with some success. Snowberries tend to take a bit better than Nootka roses but both can be grown from live stakes. Though they’re slow to get established—they won’t really grow until their 2nd year.
At least not above ground—but below ground, they will be growing roots and getting ready to take off.
Willows and cottonwoods are some of the easiest plants to grow from live stakes. But some other plants that can be grown from live stakes are elderberry, black twinberry, Pacific ninebark, red osier dogwood, red flowering currant, and Douglas spirea.
You really just need to try taking cuttings and see what happens.
Some like Nootka rose will only have about a 30% survival rate but others like willows can be upwards of 75 to 90% depending on the site.
But even with plants like Nootka rose where only a small number of your live stakes will make it you can still get a bunch of free plants without much effort.
I can quickly harvest dozens of Nootka rose cuttings for live staking from my established plants. Even if 70% of them don’t make it I can still get a lot of roses.
In the show notes, I’ve made a list of plants that I’ve had luck live staking. I’ve already mentioned them in this episode but the show notes have them as a nice list with their scientific names so make sure to check that out.
And just give it a try. See what plants live stake and which don’t.
And make sure you keep listening because now I’m going to share some tips on how to get started with live staking.
Plants that Live Stake
Here are 10 native plants that I have successfully live staked plus how easy or hard it was for me to get them to survive. You might find different levels of success depending on your unique site conditions.
- Willows (Salix. ) – Easy
- Black Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera (trichocarpa)) – Easy
- Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii) – Challenging
- Red Oiser Dogwood (Cornus sericea (stolonifera)) – Easy
- Douglas Spirea (Spiraea douglasii) – Easy
- Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) – Medium
- Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) – Easy
- Red-Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) – Easy
- Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana) – Challenging
- Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) – Medium
Get Started with Live Staking
There are a couple of main steps for getting started with live staking. The first is to harvest your live stakes when the plants are dormant.
Fall or winter is generally when you will want to collect live stakes. This is also the best time to plant the live stakes.
You will need to keep your live stakes moist until they’re ready to plant. If they dry out, they won’t grow.
I like to collect a bunch at once and then put them in bundles for storage until I’m ready to plant them. These bundles can be partially buried in woodchips to keep them moist. But still, try to get them planted within a week of being harvested.
It’s also best to generally harvest 1st or 2nd year growth that is woody but not too tough. Older wood can work but you can get a better result from younger growth.
And you will want to cuttings to be at least as thick as your fingers up to a few inches across. Cuttings that are at least 3-feet long make the best live stakes but you can make do with 2-foot long live stakes.
If you go shorter than that you’re not likely to have much luck.
Some plants like Douglas spirea, snowberries, and Nootka roses won’t have large stems or branches for you to harvest. For these just take nice healthy-looking growth that is as straight as possible. You will still want them to be 2 to 3-feet long if possible though sometimes 1-foot long cuttings are the best you can do with these species.
When harvesting your live stakes make sure to keep them oriented the same way they grew. You will want to put the bottom of the live stake in the ground with the top part sticking out.
This way the buds will all face the right way and while they can sometimes grow from an upside-down position you will have more success planting them upright.
An easy way to keep track of this is to make a straight cut on the top so you have a flat edge and then cut the bottom at a slant so you have a pointed end. This will also make it easier to plant the live stakes.
If you have long cuttings that are over 3-feet you can cut them in half to get 2 live stakes. Just make sure to keep them orientated correctly.
And try to keep both live stakes to at least 2-feet in length.
You will also want to cut off any side branches so your new live stakes won’t have to support that extra growth until they’re ready.
To improve your success rate for live staking with species like Nootka rose or snowberries you can soak them in a bucket with willow cuttings—you can include willow leaves in the mix. Willows naturally produce a hormone that triggers rooting. By soaking your non-willow live stakes with willow cuttings you can help trigger them to start rooting. I would keep your live stakes soaking with the willow cuttings overnight before planting them.
Once you’ve harvested your live stakes you’re ready to plant them. To do this you will want a rubber or wooden mallet, gloves, and possibly a 2 to 3-foot piece of rebar. And something to carry your live stakes in.
There are 2 main ways to plant live stakes. The 1st is to just push them in the ground with your hands and use your body weight to help. If the ground is soft enough this can work though you risk bending or breaking the live stakes.
But it does make the job quickly in soft ground.
The 2nd option is to use a mallet to pound in the live stake. But this only works if your live stakes are thick enough. This likely won’t be an option with Nootka roses, snowberries or Douglas spirea live stakes, or any other small live stakes.
And even large live stakes can crack when being pounded by a mallet. And don’t forget to put the pointy end in the ground first with the flat cut at the top.
Regardless of which method you use sometimes, you will need to use a piece of rebar to get the hole started. The only downside to this is sometimes you end up with air gaps between the live stake and the sides of the hole.
If this happens tamp down the ground around the live stake to seal it all up.
You will want to get the live stake down into the ground far enough so at least half of it is buried. And it’s better to get about 2/3rds of the live stake planted with just a couple of buds remaining above ground.
Always keep at least 2 buds above ground.
And be careful when planting so you don’t damage any of the small buds on the live stake.
Once the live stakes are all planted you just have to wait. Often the above-ground growth will be small during the first year. But if they survive they will often take off and grow quickly in the following years.
You can help your live stakes out by keeping them mulched and protected from browse from deer and other animals. And the earlier in the fall or winter you can get them planted the better—this will give them more time to get their roots established before the summer heat.
Let’s Get Started with Live Staking
Live staking really is a great way to quickly get a bunch of new plants started. And it’s also a great way to get new native plants for your property.
You can easily go to areas with native plants like willows and just take a couple of cuttings from those plants for live staking.
Don’t take more than a couple of cuttings from any one plant and make sure you have permission to do this.
This way the parent plant will quickly recover and you can get new native plants for your property. I’ve gotten a lot of live stakes this way.
Often I grab cuttings from roadside ditches that are part of the county right-of-way. These plants tend to be mowed down regularly so taking a few cuttings won’t cause any harm. The same can be done along trails if the plant is growing out into the trail.
You can do the same on your property if you already have plants established. My Nootka rose live stakes are from plants that I bought as bareroots and planted a few years ago. Now that they’re established I can get live stakes from them without hurting them.
But you do want to be careful to get your live stakes from several individual plants. This reduces the impact on each parent plant and makes sure your new plants are still diverse.
Live staking clones the parent plant so if you only took cuttings from 1 plant all your new plants would be clones of each other. This wouldn’t be sustainable since they likely couldn’t reproduce and they could all be prone to the same diseases or pests.
So always try to get your live stakes from a wide range of parent plants.
Now you’ve just got to go out and start live staking. Just follow the steps and tips we covered in this episode and make sure to keep track of which plants successfully live stake and which don’t.
This way you can build your own list of plants that live stake successfully where you live. Please feel free to share plants you’ve live-staked successfully in the comments section of the show notes so others can learn from your example.
And stay tuned for our next episode where we will cover some tips on how to successfully salvage native plants for your property. Salvaging native plants from development sites, along trails, and other areas is a great way to get free native plants. But you’ve got to know how to do it so you don’t cause damage. Make sure to check out the next episode to learn more about how to salvage native plants. And don’t forget to check out the show notes for more links and resources related to this episode.
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