by Carol Hanak
There are several techniques of propagation by layering but the simplest is to copy what happens naturally in nature. If the lower branches of a plant become too heavy with growth or weighed down by other means such as a fallen branch so that the branch touches the ground and remains in contact with the ground for a period of time, usually a season or two, many of those branches will develop roots at that contact point. Layering is simply the process of roots developing on a stem while it is still attached to its parent plant. This is a straight forward but excellent way to produce a few extra plants of your favorites.
We can copy nature and use this type of propagation for many of our deciduous shrubs, especially those with flexible branches. Simply choose a low branch that is long enough to easily touch the ground for several inches and that will still have enough remaining branch to extend past the ground contact point for at least 8 to 12 inches. You will want to wound the part of the branch that will be in the ground by gently scraping the bark away from the stem with a sharp knife for about an inch. This will encourage root development. You may also want to consider dusting the area with a powder compound specifically made to induce root growth but this step is not a requirement, just a beneficial aid.
Prepare the contact area of the ground by loosening the soil and digging out a shallow, 3 to 4 inch deep hole. A slightly deeper hole may be necessary if the branch is very thick. Lay the wounded area of the branch in this shallow hole and cover with soil. You will need to secure the branch with landscape pins, coat hanger wire, or possibly a brick or stone placed over the soil area. The branch will need to be left in place for the roots to develop for a season or two so make sure it is secure. You may want to place a stick, stake, or small rod in the ground and tie the top of the layered branch loosely to it to keep it vertical.
The best times of the year to try this type of layering are early spring using a dormant branch or early fall using a mature branch. Those layered in early spring should be ready by fall but it doesn’t hurt to leave them undisturbed until spring of the next year. If you choose early fall, you will need to leave the branch in place until sometime in late summer or early fall of the following year to allow enough time for root development. Check periodically to insure the branch is receiving adequate moisture. When the roots are sufficiently developed, simply cut the part of the branch that connects to the parent plant above the newly rooted area. Then, at your leisure, the new plant can be carefully removed, disturbing the new roots as little as possible, and transplanted.