Plant Propagation: Layering

May 6, 2012

LAYERING IS PROBABLY THE EASIEST — and surprisingly, the least known — method of plant propagation. I’ve used this technique to increase the weigela (above), forsythia, rhododendron, and other shrubs which bring beauty to my garden. With layering, the stem you wish to propagate remains attached to the parent plant. Consequently it receives nourishment until it grows its own set of roots. I’m layering my beloved flowering quince ‘Cameo’ today. Would you like to see the fun procedure?

Mid-spring is the best time for layering. This is when plants are teeming with energy, and have an urgent desire to grow. First, select a stem which is long and flexible enough to be bent downward. Then dig a small, 3-inch-deep trench directly beneath the stem. Remove leaves from the area of the stem that will later be covered with soil.
Using a razor blade or a sharp knife, scrape off a section of the stem’s outer, or “cambium” layer. It is from this wound that roots will emerge.

Finally, set the wounded portion of the stem into the ground, and pin it down with either a piece of bent coat-hanger wire, or a landscaping pin (above). Pin firmly enough to insure stem and soil make contact. Then cover both stem and pin with soil, and firm gently. Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the rooting process.

After six weeks have passed, remove the soil. If roots are evident, sever the stem from its parent, and give the young plant permanent quarters elsewhere. If no roots are present, replace the soil. Checks for roots again after two weeks have passed.

And here is a list (by no means complete) of plants which can be easily reproduced using the layering-technique: Clethra, Forsythia, Rhododendron, Azalea, Weigela, Spirea, Hydrangea, Weeping Willow, Red-Stemmed Dogwood, and Quince.

If you have a cherished, flexible-stemmed shrub, and wish to make more of it, layering is definitely the way to go. The method has never failed me.

Think you’ll give layering a shot? Let me know by posting a comment.

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Related Posts:
Flowering Quince ‘Cameo’
How to Propagate Petunias, Wax Begonias and Impatiens for Winter Color
The Perpetual Life of Pelargonium peltatum

Comments

  1. Katreader says:

    I've heard of this technique-but have never tried it. You say, “After six have passed, remove the soil.”. Is that 6 weeks? I have a neat green hydrangea (as well as a more typical one) but it's more upright. I wonder if I could attempt the procedure with it. Hmmm. First I really need to get my raised bed made…if it ever stops raining!

  2. Katreader – thanks for the typo-alert! I've fixed that gap to read “weeks.”

    If your hydrangea has any low-growing stems, these can definitely be propagated through layering.

    Hope your weather improves. It's raining here, too!

  3. Adele says:

    So glad you mentioned layering! I've propagated clematis this way. The method really works. I use a brick or just a rock to hold the stem in place.

  4. Gardenlady says:

    Kevin, great tip. I just layered a few low forsythia stems, and pegged them down with bent pieces of hanger wire. If it works, I'll get 3 new plants. And if it doesn't, I haven't lost anything at all.

  5. martha says:

    all of the vincas behave this way too, if you have a big shady patch buy one plant and stick all of the ends in the soil. kaboom 8 new plants, and so on and you get it. the almost instant garden of exponential vinca. works great when you want speedy cascading part shade window box stuff too- pair it with fragrant and trailing carnations (they also do kevins cool layering trick).

  6. Adele – yes, a brick or stone is as good as a wire peg. Thanks for the reminder.

    Gardenlady – Good for you! Keep me updated on success.

    martha – The vincas are a great example of plants which will layer themselves naturally.

  7. Anonymous says:

    You are so right – easy, but overlooked. Several of my ground cover roses have done this on their own; why didn't I think to do it?! Only roses that are grown on their own roots will be successful with this method. Not roses that are grafted. Thanks for a great reminder of an excellent money saving way to increase one's garden.
    Andrea

  8. Bob says:

    Great post Kevin.
    I layered my hydrangea last summer. I took a big black plastic pot, cut one side to the level of the branch, passed the branch through the cut, bruised the cambium layer, filled the pot with earth until it covered the bruised part and put a brick on top of it.
    I didn't bother too check it last year.
    I just covered it with some leaves in autumn and figured the snow will protect it, which it did.
    This spring I cut it form the mother plant. When I planted it, I took the time to admire it's fantastic root system.
    This year, I'm planning to do a couple of clematis and mock oranges :)

  9. Andrea and Bob – isn't it amazing how this simple procedure can produce such fantastic results?

    And thanks for reminder — I need to layer one of my mock oranges, too!

  10. Ed says:

    so does the layering technique work for lilacs?

  11. Ed – I tried it on my old, common purple lilac. Worked like a charm.

    You can also reproduce your lilac by cutting out rooted suckers. These, more often than not, can be found underneath the plant.

  12. I've got a Harry Lauder's walking stick that was started on a graft. Will this technique work on him? I just did it about 3 days ago and forgot to scrape the section with a razor but I did remove two leaves and those spots are under the soil. So… will it work and do I have to unearth it and scrape it or will the leaf nodes be enough?

  13. BBI – I'd dig up that branch and wound its cambium layer, and then pin it back to the ground. Whether you will end up with a true HLWS from your layering effort I do not know. But it is certainly worth a try!

  14. Helga Maria Szameit says:

    Instead of landscaping pins I use the two rounded ends of wire hangers. 3 snips with a mini bolt cutter and you have 2 pegs. I use them to anchor down wire cages, soaking hoses, etc.
    When I run out of hangers, the thrift stores usually have them by the bundle.

    I have a mini rose called “Fairy”, It is spectacular and I would dearly like to start another one.
    I tried cuttings stuck in soil and covered with a clear plastic jug, but no success.
    Any good suggestions? I seem to be able to grow anything else very well.

  15. Helga – No shortage of wire hangers in this house, thanks to my partner’s frequent trips to the local dry-cleaning shop. Like Joan Crawford, I hate wire hangers for clothes. Good to know that I can cut them up to make FREE landscaping pins!

    I’ve heard that the fairy rose is difficult to propagate through stem cuttings. However, mine tends to propagate itself, every time one of its branches lays on the soil. So I would recommend that you layer it as outlined in the article above.

    Best time to layer the fairy is in late spring. For this is when the shrub is teeming with vitality.

  16. wendy says:

    My forsythia does this naturally so why not follow natures guide! Great post as always. I’d like to post some of your marvelous ideas on my market blog. Hope this is ok. Thanks for all your information. Using wire hangers is perfect.

  17. mary says:

    Do you think it would work with roses? I have two climbers that have nice long branches.

  18. mary says:

    Duh, wrote my comment without reading everyone elses. I’m going to try it with my roses. And forsythia and some others. Can’t see buying bushes for $25+ a pop when I have so many I can just propagate myself.

  19. Tammie says:

    We went from one blackberry bush to six using this method. Now we have all the blackberries we want and extras to give to neighbors. Awesome trick.

  20. Jenn S says:

    One of my hydrangeas has been propagating itself this way in my front yard. Seems like the slightest bit of soil contact causes it to root. Heathers seem to be the same way. I just dug up the 6 bushes along my driveway to give them away (I wasn’t pruning them regularly and they were flopping onto the driveway) and I found the lowest branches had all rooted in shallow soil collected on the asphalt! I cut the branches off and potted them up to see if they will grow.

  21. Linda McGrath says:

    I have an Annabelle hydrangea that I love. I am probably moving at the end of the winter and want to take as many cuttings as I can. If I do layer it, would I be better off tying to layer in a pot and if not, when should I dig it up.Can I leave it until I move? I’m from MA.
    Love this idea and so glad I can do clematis also.
    Linda
    by the was I so love getting your newsletter and your woodland garden path is beautiful!

  22. sarah says:

    I have used this techinique for both lavender and thyme with great success….I think I will try it with a rose this summer.

  23. Wendy says:

    I’m looking out the window right now at the prettiest rhododendron I’ll try this method on. Thanks for the great idea.

  24. Pippi21 says:

    Kevin, can this same method of layering work on clematis vines? I keep finding a long stem of Dr. Ruppel falling down from the rest and I keep trying to stick in inside some other foliage and the next day,it’s back out again..Can I lay that stray piece in a pot and see if it will root, then when it has taken hold, cut it from the Mother plant?

  25. Bellalagoo says:

    Wow, I have always propagated by cuttings, but this technique makes way more sense, and probably has better success at rooting. I will definately try this.

    Bella

  26. Wendy – As long as you link back to me, you can share this on your site. And by the way, I had a peak at your site. Nice!

    Pippa21 – Yes, you can make more clematis by layering stems.

  27. Hazel says:

    I was gifted by nature resurrecting an old antique rose from my compost heap, and the resulting natural layering produced a plant that is now on its way as a gift to my sister. Thank you for reminding me of this technique, there are some bushes that need layering around here!

  28. wendy says:

    Kevin, Thanks for checking our site and I will definitely link back to you when I share one of your terrific posts! Thanks so much!

  29. lola lawton says:

    many years ago a senior told me to do this with a very old rose bush I was concerned about simply he said put a rock on a stem that should make it re-root I did ,it did and grew.

  30. lola lawton says:

    yes it works for roses

  31. Amber says:

    i bet rosemary would work well with this. I have one rosemary plant that I want to eventually have 10 or so from. I’ll give it a go and see what happens. Thanks.

  32. Deb says:

    I did this a couple of years ago, I believe at your recommendation, and am so enjoying the additional shrubs that have really grown and taken off. I started a couple more last spring, but forgot about them. Came across them the other day while weeding and wow! It was such a gift to separate them from the primary plant and move them to their own locations.

    Thanks for sharing and encouraging. My enjoyment working in the garden has increased since I discovered your newsletter.

  33. Donna says:

    Amber: Yes! Rosemary does well with the layering.

  34. Renae says:

    Well, now I know how I’ve been getting those hydrangea start-ups. My bushes have been layering themselves. Awesome information! I am already harvesting seeds from my garden for spreading to other areas, so I will add this technique to cut costs in my gardening :)

  35. Renae says:

    I see a few comments on layering roses, but I thought that hybrid roses were grafted into wild root stock because the hybrids don’t develop strong enough root systems on their own.

  36. Linda says:

    My Fairy rose layers itself every year. One year, I gave away 7 new plants, other years about 5. Sadly, this year, the ice storm we had, really damaged the poor bush, and I’m just hoping it will be able to survive. I guess I should ask one of my friends to layer-one-back -to-me.
    I really have enjoyed your site Kevin, and your gentle tone that seeps out through your “conversations” with us, and is apparent through the restoration of your home and gardens.

  37. meeri says:

    This is new to me and YES, I will definitely be giving it a go! Thanks again for sharing your expertise so generously :] I’ve been recommending your site to all my gardening friends on FB.

  38. meeri says:

    Actually, i believe this method works with tomato plants, too! And strawberries, of course, do the same in theory. I’m going to try to propogate an Azalea that i just love and some Wysteria, as well!

  39. I’ve done this often, but have never scraped it before, that makes much sense, will have to give it a try. Does that make it start to get it’s own roots faster?

    Cindy Sue

  40. Cindy Sue – I think scraping the cambium layer does speed things up. Perhaps this is because a wounded plant feels the eager need to reproduce itself.

  41. Debra says:

    Rosemary works with this technique I have done it so many times I just bend a branch to the ground place a rock over it and waalaa starter plant in 2 months by snipping it away from the mother plant : )

  42. Deb R says:

    I have a Turk’s Cap shrub that came from a favorite Aunt. I would love to have three more, one for each corner of our house. Would layering work for Tur’s Cap?

  43. badger gardener says:

    Updating my attempts to layer my rhododendron. No luck this year , but it had some tough conditions to deal with. I disturbed the soil to dig up the hostas which were blocking airflow, some serious maple pruning last yr. resulted in a suddenly sunnier spot, moderate drought, and I got busy elsewhere in the garden and left it alone. The good news is the rhody is much healthier. Seems the leaf spot problem is getting under control and with some supplemental water is looking pretty good. I will definitely try layering again next year but give it some better attention.

  44. Deb R – Yes, you can propagate Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus) by layering stems. The plant can also be multiplied through cuttings, root division, and seed.

    badger gardener – Glad to hear your rhododendron is doing better. Rhodies are not the easiest shrubs in the world — they faint in too much sun, and sulk in too much shade. That’s a nice challenge for the gardener to work out!

  45. badger gardener says:

    I grew up in PA and the rhodies seem to thrive w/o care there. My grandma bought 2 from a Woolworths for $3 each decades ago that lived in her downtown courtyard garden , and were later moved to my parents’ yard where they still thrive. Maybe their soil is more acidic? I’m learning that they take alot more care here in WI. Do you use Miracid or something else to decrease ph for already established plants?

  46. Paul says:

    Nice article, and comments. I’ve been layering for years, and if you have enough patience it’s a great way to exponentially increase the number of plants you have. For me it’s much simpler and more foolproof than rooting or growing from seed. Once a year in the spring I take a day and layer everything I want more of; do this before any pruning/trimming and you’ll have more long “layerable” branches. In the fall I cut those babies loose from their motherships, and the next spring I have a whole bunch of plants to place wherever I want them. Since I do this annually I need to keep some notes as to where/when all these babies are. I sometimes use rooting hormone, although I haven’t concluded how much benefit it does or doesn’t add.

    For those interested, here’s my list of plants I’ve had success in layering (zone 7b/8a). This is not nearly all-inclusive, just those plants I’ve happened to try:

    Azaleas – all kinds
    Burford Holly, and dwarf (and I suspect all hollies)
    Confederate/Star Jasmine
    Anything vine-like
    English Laurel/Otto Luyken/Cherry Laurel
    Gardenias
    Loropetalum
    Mediterranean Heather
    Pyracantha
    Wintercreeper
    Camellia
    Weigela
    Forsythia
    Rosemary
    Rhododendron
    Phlox (subulata & nivalis)
    Roses (not sure about grafted root stock as noted above)
    Hydrangeas
    Blackberries
    Raspberris
    Aucuba

    Have fun!

  47. Hi Paul – Thanks for the great list. Yes, layering is the easiest way to obtain beautiful plants without spending a penny.

  48. Val says:

    Is the picture of a Weigela your own bush? Mine has never bloomed so heavily. It does get some shade and not a lot of fertilizer. Wow, yours is gorgeous.

  49. Val – Nice to meet you. Yes, that is my own Weigela. All plants (including houseplants) featured on this site were grown by me!

  50. Diane T says:

    Layering is a wonderful idea! I inherited my parents’ home and have been busy putting the gardens back in order. There’s a 50 year old flowering quince that I’d love to have repeated around the yard so I’m going to try this. Kevin, thank you so much for your delightful and very informative blog!

  51. Enid Albat says:

    Kevin you have so many gardeners on this site, I would like to share one of my favorite experiences that comes from this technique. Our local Master Gardeners organization has a plant sale the Saturday before Mother’s Day every year outside our Chamber of Commerce. Everybody brings plants they have started by whatever method (cutting, layering or even extras from seed in your winter sown jugs). Shopping here is great for a mother’s day present, to fill in where I am short planets for my vegetable garden , adding to my collection of cannas, daylilies and iris. Prices are much more reasonable than the nursery and you know they are hardy because they are locally grown. Besides the opportunity to visit with other gardeners, the bonus is the money goes to whatever gardening project the organization has adopted for the year. I am in the south (AR) so it is a good time for us to hold this. Further north you may need a later date.

  52. Barb L. says:

    I love the layering idea, and am going to try it on my Jackmani Clematis. I get so many ideas every time I look at your site. I really appreciate everything!

  53. Helen says:

    I had an Endless Summer and Invincibelle Spirit do this on their own. I just transplanted them and am praying they’ll survive the transplant.

  54. Rose says:

    How would you propagate Kalanchoe? My plant is hanging over the pot . This was a house pIant gift inserted with other plants. I would like to separate it.

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