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New Mexico State University

Issue: May 14

Mexican elder can be propagated from cuttings and seeds.

Q. I have two Mexican elders that for the most part did not survive the freeze, although there are some new shoots growing from the base of the tree. Can you explain what I need to do to propagate this tree?

Jennifer J.

A. A search of the internet confirmed my thoughts that Mexican elder can be propagated by cuttings. Softwood cuttings (collected when the stems are new and very tender) as well as hardwood and root cuttings were mentioned. The softwood cuttings need special protection to prevent drying while roots form (a humid greenhouse or being enclosed in plastic bags to maintain humidity - in plastic bags, do not put them in direct sunlight or they will get too hot). All cuttings will do best if the base of the cutting is treated with a rooting hormone (available at many garden stores). The Dona Ana County Extension Master Gardener publication suggests "pole planting" mature stems put deeply into the soil may also work. I remember hearing of this years ago.

Root cuttings may also be successful. In this case dig some pencil sized roots and put them into pots of good soil, or in the garden where they are to grow. Keep them moist and new plants may form.

A publication by the Natural Resource Conservation Service states that they are best propagated by seeds. If you have any fruit with seeds from last years, you can try planting them. This publication also mentions that Mexican elder has a very fragile root system that is easily damaged in transplanting.

I also saw a reference to "layering" in which a lower stem is bent to the ground, wounded (scratched), treated with rooting hormone, then buried in good potting soil. Place a large, heavy rock over the place where the stem has been bent to the ground to hold it against the wind. By the end of the summer, it should have formed roots. Because it was left attached to the root system, it will not be as prone to drying as in the case of cuttings which are severed from the parent plant. Once roots have formed, you can sever it from the parent plant and carefully transplant it.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.