An Interview with John Walton from

by HuntingFreak

Row of Service Berry Trees

Last winter I sat down with a few friends to hash out some plans to build a better deer habitat. To get started, we decided to purchase some cuttings that we could plant the following spring. Through some online forums like the QDMA, we found that Big Rock Trees was highly recommended. We placed an order for a few hundred cuttings.

That spring, without any equipment, we slammed them into the ground and waalaa – we now have some screens and thickets started. Who knew you could stick a branch into the ground and it would grow? Though the concept was easily understood, and I literally planted a couple hundred of those cuttings by myself in no time, I wanted to know more. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview John Walton, owner of Big Rock Trees.

So What Is Big Rock Trees and How Did it Get Started? is an online nursery for habitat managers focusing on species that grow from Livestake cuttings (un-rooted cuttings). We also offer propagation containers useful for growing trees and shrubs in a controlled setting before moving them out “into the wild”. We started in 2009 after realizing there simply wasn’t a source for Livestake cuttings and supplies.  With the growing movement of land owners doing habitat improvement projects on their property, a reliable source for LiveStake cuttings was needed. Thus the birth of

For Those of Us That Don’t Know – What Exactly Is a Cutting and What Are the Advantages of Planting Them?

Cutting Planting TipsLiveStake cuttings can range from small 2 bud cuttings, as short as 3 or 4 inches to larger pole cuttings, as long as 4 feet. The cuttings are relatively straight sections of the parent plant with all branches removed. The cuttings have enough stored energy to supplement the development of roots and shoots until the new plant is self-sustaining.

Regardless of their size, cuttings are planted with one or more buds exposed by simply inserting the cutting into the soil.  From these buds, the cutting will begin to develop upper leafy growth. At the same time, the buds below ground will begin to develop roots.

Cuttings are often used because of their relatively inexpensive price, ease of planting, and flexibility of uses. Cuttings can easily be planted at a rate of 200 plants per hour per person on a prepared planting  site. Little or no equipment is required, no holes to dig, and access to remote planting sites can be advantageous.

What Are Some of the Uses for Cuttings?

Hybrid Willow CuttingCuttings can be used for a wide variety of purposes in a habitat project. The list of uses includes:

Screening – Visual boarders for blocking off views from the road, breaking up large fields into smaller fields, etc.

Cover – Thickets for all types of wildlife. Depending on the species you choose this could include browse, fruit, and thermal cover.

Food – Fruit & browse. This type of planting can be used as a “Year Round” food source.

Many of the uses overlap each other. For instance, a screen made of a mix of Hybrid Poplars and Elderberry would provide both visual screening, browse, and fruit!

What is Your Favorite Cutting(s) for Growing Thickets for Deer?

BigRockTrees.comThat’s a tough one to answer, it depends a lot on your planting site and what you expect to get out of the planting. On sites that tend to be wet, Red Osier Dogwood, Silky Dogwood, and Hybrid Willows would be my favorites.

On more upland sites I would choose Arrow Wood, Elderberry and Hybrid Poplars. If I could only choose one, hands down Elderberry would be my favorite.

If You Had One Piece of Advice For Someone Trying to Build the Perfect Wildlife Habitat – What Would It Be?

I think too much attention is given to Food Plots. Although they are necessary, and often provide instant gratification, they still only provide a small portion of what wildlife need to thrive. A typical food plot provides nutrition for 4 or 5 months per year. What should the wildlife do the rest of the year?

Planting beneficial trees and shrubs is a longer term investment with a much higher return in the long run. I think properties need both, and I plant lots of food plots every year. In short, don’t forget the trees and shrubs in any good habitat plan!

For More Information

I want to personally thank John for being a good sport and for everything he does for the industry. For more information or to place an order visit

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

FastpitchGloves January 6, 2012 at 11:53 am

We are looking at planting some road cover soon. Plus we need more general cover for winter. This cut stake method makes lots of sense. I see it being used on pond banks, and river banks to secure the soil. They grow fast too.


HuntingFreak January 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm

We were amazed at the growth we got on some of our screen rows. 3-4 feet in one summer and even taller on some of the hybrid species. If you have moist ground, take a look at the hybrid willows. They make great road screens.


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