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The Greener View: Layering Techniques

Jeff Rugg on

Q: We don't have a lot of money for landscaping, but we want to propagate several shrubs in our yard. We want the plants to be the same kind and have the same color leaves and flowers. We figured that collecting and using seeds would potentially give us different colors. We don't have a greenhouse or any way to grow cuttings. What would be an easy way to get more plants?

A: I think you can get the plants you want with a propagation technique called layering. It is easy to do, and the new plants are clones of the existing plants so everything will be identical. The new plants are actually created from the branches of the old plants.

Spring is the time to start this process. Each location on the branch that has or had a leaf is called a node. Buds at the nodes are where new branches originate. Under special environmental conditions, roots can grow at a node. Healthy branches that are anywhere from pencil diameter to about 3/4 of an inch in diameter work best.

Air layering is commonly used on tropical houseplants but can be used outdoors, too. Remove any leaves at the nodes a few inches above and below the node that is a foot from the end of the branch. Make a small cut or two in the branch at the 1-foot point. Don't cut deep enough to make the branch break. Hold the cuts open with a toothpick. Wrap the area with a ball of damp sphagnum moss about 4 inches thick. Wrap the moss in clear plastic and tie the ends shut. In a few months, roots will fill the ball and the stem can be cut off for a new plant.

Tip layering works very well on many outdoor plants such as abelia, climbing roses, forsythia, jasmine, lilac, oleander, pyracantha, shrub dogwoods, viburnum and willows. Any trailing or vining plant will work with this method. The bramble fruits of blackberry and raspberry grow easily with any layering technique.

Bend any low branch to the ground. Remove any leaves from the nodes about 6 inches from the tip of the branch. Puncture the bark with a knife in a half-inch wide strip by scraping all around or making small cuts into the wood. Bury this area and a node or two about 3 inches deep into the soil. This area of soil must be kept damp to promote root growth. Pin the branch down with a U-shaped wire or a brick.


As the new leaves appear on the plant in spring, new roots should start growing in the buried area. Leave the branch alone until fall, and then the new plant can be cut off the end of the branch and transplanted.

If there are low branches that can be laid on the ground, you can do serpentine or trench layering. With trench layering, everything is the same as with tip layering except you bury the whole length of the branch horizontally. Willows and shrub dogwoods propagate easily this way. If you start too late, there will be leaves on the nodes. Most plants would prefer the leaves be removed before burying, but willows won't care. Each node in the trench should produce roots and new stems so you get new plants at every node.

If the leaves have started growing or there are short side branches on the branch you want to lay in the trench, you can use serpentine layering. Bury one node as talked about above and then skip a node by leaving it above the ground. Bury the next one, then skip the next and so on. When roots appear, you can cut off the plants. There will be roots and maybe stems at the buried nodes, and they will be connected to the nodes left aboveground that have leaves and branches. Serpentine layering is very easy with plants that have pliable branches such as climbing hydrangea, grapes, jasmine and trumpet creeper.


Email questions to Jeff Rugg at To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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