Last updated on April 25th, 2022
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You might have had a plant in the past where a piece of the stem or branch has touched the ground and suddenly it formed roots into the ground and a new plant was formed. Plants such as ivy or Hydrangeas like the climbing varieties tend to fall to the ground and then naturally form roots in the ground. When you don’t want this, it is a burden and you have to go around uprooting and then lifting the plant so that it doesn’t happen again. However, when you are layering, that is exactly what you want because it makes propagating certain plants very easy, with very little work or care involved, in comparison to taking cuttings.
Layering is a wonderfully useful technique for propagating new shrubs from existing shrubs, giving them a slightly better opportunity to thrive, because they begin their life still somewhat attached to the original shrub.
What is layering?
Layering is an easy technique whereby you encourage roots to form on a piece of your plant while it is still attached to the main plant, rather than cutting it off of the main plant like you would with cutting.
Techniques for layering
This technique is best for plants with stems that can be easily bent to the ground. If you cannot bend the stems well, air layering is a similar technique that helps root sections to form on your stems without making them touch the soil.
When you use the technique you will only get a small number of new plants, but that is often sufficient. You can use commercial techniques like Serpentine or French layering to get a higher number of plants if this is what you need, which we also discuss below.
What plants are suitable for layering?
- Climbing plants
When can you layer deciduous and evergreen plants?
The best time to use the layering technique is in spring or autumn. Rest assured, it is a simple technique that any gardener can do. Deciduous plants do best when layered during either of these seasons, however, evergreen plants do best in spring.
How to layer plants
There are different methods of layering you can use, and we go over each of these methods in more detail below, and then you can select the option that is preferred to you.
Simple Layering – The most common way to layer shrubs
The method is a simple method. And one that is best for any shrubs that can be bent to the ground. For this, take the young, flexible shoots and bend them to ground level. Make a mark where they touch.
At 30cm from the tip of the shoot, make an incision 2.5-5cm in length along the stem, running through the first leaf bud. This will create an opening that should be propped with a small piece of wood.
Apply rooting hormone to the new wound, and beneath the shoot make a shallow trench about 10-15cm deep. Peg the wounded part of your stem into the trench using wire and then secure the tip to an upward cane. Fill the trench in with soil and water it. Within 12 months there should be a strong root structure. When that time comes, you can sever the shoot so that it is not attached to the mother plant any longer and transplant it into its final position.
Tip Layering – best for blackberries or hybrid berries
Tip layering is a method better suited for blackberries and hybrid berries. For this, you want to wait until the middle or the end of spring and find an arching stem that can reach the ground. Bury 7.5cm of the tip under the soil and peg it down with wire if necessary. Water it once it is buried. The roots should be in place by the following spring or autumn at which point you can sever the ties to the main plant and transplant.
French Layering – perfect for vigorous shrubs
This technique is better for vigorously growing shrubs like Prunus tenella, Cornus (dogwoods) or Cotinus (smoke bush). It involves cutting back the parent plant in spring so that a single parent plant produces many new stems at ground level.
The following spring each of those should be pegged to the soil, this will create the shape of spokes on a wheel. The side shoots will start to grow upwards out of the stems, at which point you want to pack soil over them in a mound shape to encourage more rooting. By autumn or the following spring, you can separate and transplant these rooted sections.
This final method is for climbers that have long, flexible stems. Some examples include Wisteria, Clematis, Honeysuckle and Hydrangea. For this, you want to loop the stems of the climbers into and then out of the soil, burying each section, similar to the simple layering technique. This encourages roots at several points along your plant stem. By the following year, they should be rooted enough to be severed and transplanted.
With any of these techniques, be sure to keep watering the different shoots. If you let the soil dry out, then the roots won’t form. This becomes particularly important over summer. Also, implement measures to prevent slugs or snails from nearing the shoots because they will damage them easily.