Issue: April 28, 2007
Propagating mesquite trees
I would like to grow some mesquite trees. Is it possible to do so with cuttings?
Mesquite are very difficult to grow from cuttings. Research reports on the internet indicate that it is not impossible, but a very low percentage of the cuttings successfully form roots and grow. Mesquite trees are more commonly propagated by seeds or by grafting a desirable variety onto a seedling rootstock.
Clonal propagation is used to increase many ornamental plants because it is a quick way to produce exact replicates of the parent plant in those plants. The mesquite is one of many plants that do not easily reproduce in this manner.
If you still want to try to grow mesquite trees from cuttings, take the cuttings at various times of the year (softwood cuttings from new growth in the spring, semi-hardwood cuttings in mid-summer, and dormant cuttings in fall or winter). Treat the cuttings with strong concentrations of rooting hormones and follow directions in any of the many plant propagation books available in libraries or bookstores. The softwood and semi-hardwood cuttings must be protected from desiccating and will require a greenhouse or other means of maintaining humidity around the cuttings.
One report indicated that layering was more effective than propagation by cuttings. To propagate the mesquite in this manner, wound the stem then treat the wound with rooting hormone. While the wound is still fresh, bury the wounded portion of the stem in potting soil (the growing end remaining out of the soil) or wrap the wounded area with moist, fibrous sphagnum moss. Then wrap the moss containing the wounded stem with plastic. Seal the top and bottom of the plastic to keep the sphagnum moss moist. It may be helpful to cover this plastic with aluminum foil to keep the rooting area dark (benefits root formation) and to prevent overheating in our bright New Mexico sunlight.
If you want to produce more plants by seeds (to grow as seedling plants or for rootstocks for grafting) you should consider scarifying the seeds. Scarification requires slight wounding or scratching of the seed coat before planting the seeds. This overcomes the natural dormancy of mesquite and allows moisture and oxygen to reach the embryo inside the seed. Stratification may also help. Put the scarified seed into moist sphagnum moss or potting soil and store in a refrigerator for 6 to 8 weeks before planting the seeds. This overcomes dormancy present in many temperate zone plants. This treatment may not be necessary, but it should not harm the seeds.
Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: email@example.com, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!