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We've just done all ours last week and there were leaves further up teh stems. I always wait till mid April as we get heavy late frosts that can kill the wee buds left behind on the stumps.
As for propagating, Midwinter Fire suckers freely in my garden so I have new plants to give away every year. Alba sibirica and its green and mahogany stemmed cousins layer very easily all by themselves if I let them so you could try layering some stems deliberately. I've also pushed pencil thick stems of the rpunings into a slit trench in the veggie plot and made babies that way but, the last two years, spring droughts have meant they failed so this year I've stuck cut stems in water. They look decorative in the house and, if any root, I'll just pot them up.
For me Midwinter Fire is a bit of a thug. It's true it responds less vigorously to hard pruning than the others but the thing suckers and spreads all over the place in my garden.