TGT: Layering Shrubs, Trees and Perennials

TGT: Layering Shrubs, Trees and Perennials

Part 11 of The Home Garden’s weekly series about gardening on a budget (aka gardening cheap!)

Layering is a fantastic way to increase your plants with very little risk and a high rate of success. It is a simple method of plant propagation where roots are encouraged to develop by covering stems and branches with soil or other mediums. There are several types of layering:

  1. Simple layering
  2. Trench layering
  3. Compound layering
  4. Tip layering
  5. Mounding
  6. Air layering

The Advantage of Layering for the Home Gardener
The biggest advantage of layering is that you have very little risk of losing your cuttings or the stock plant. The future cutting is still attached to the main plant and still receiving nutrients and water regularly while its roots are forming.

The Disadvantage of Layering
The only disadvantage is that it is a process that makes a limited number of new plants each time since suitable branches are fewer than possible viable cuttings.

Simple layering
This is where a branch is buried partially beneath the soil. Wound the area just beneath a bud by making small slit up to the bud. If you want you can make a small application of rooting hormone to encourage the rooting process. Then hold it open with a toothpick or sphagnum peat moss and place that section of stem underneath the soil. All you need to do now is wait until roots have formed. Check in 4-6 weeks and see if roots have grown sufficiently then you can separate the offspring from the mother plant either into it’s own pot or into new location.

Here’s an example of one plant that I am trying to use layering to propagate. It’s an arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) that should turn a nice burgundy color in a few weeks. By the way, it’s a discount plant!

All I did was bury two stems underneath soil and mulch. I’ll check them in a few weeks to see what is happening. If there isn’t any rooting I’ll just rebury the branches and check back again later. Patience is a virtue for the home propagator, which is something I need more of!

Trench Layering
Trench layering is very similar to simple layering. The greatest difference is that you use a longer section of plant to create multiple offspring rather than one. Make a trench for the branch to lay in then place the branch into it and cover it with soil. Like with simple layering you can wound the buds to encourage roots and apply rooting hormone but many plants suitable to trench layering like blackberries and raspberries don’t need the help!

Compound Layering
This is a little more complex than simple layering. It is also known as serpentine layering since the method mimics the movement of snakes. Compound layering can be used to make multiple plants from one stem. Just layer each section of a long stem so that there is some plant exposed and some root covered. A good rule of thumb would be to layer a bud and expose a bud. Grapes are good candidates for compound layering.

Tip Layering
Tip layering is another good method of layering and is very successful with plants like forsythias! Just place the tip of a branch underneath the soil and wait. When new growth appears from the tip it may have roots.

Mounding is a good technique for plants like heather. Just cover the base of the plant with extra soil/compost and allow the plant time to form roots along the covered branches. This is a technique that I need to try on my Mediterranean white heather. It is a great wintertime bloomer!

Air Layering
This is probably one of the more complex methods of plant propagation. It is much like simple layering except that you perform the operation in the air. You use the aerial branches for your rooting subjects. First wound the branch just like you would for layering and place a toothpick or sphagnum peat moss in the opening after treating with rooting hormone. Then pack the area with damp (not soggy) sphagnum peat moss and wrap with a piece of black plastic. Tie the ends of the plastic to seal it off. Always use dark plastic since it will keep out the light. If you let light in your chances of mold greatly increase.

One quick tip: If the branch has trouble staying down you can pin it with a piece of a wire clothes hanger, some other kind of a wire, or even a rock!

There you have a few more methods for propagating plants. As I mentioned before layering is usually a safer and easier method than taking cuttings. I’ll be talking about the cuttings next week!

Here’s a look back at previous Thrifty Gardening Tips:

Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1: Buying and Saving Discount Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1 Follow Up: Buying and Saving Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 2: The Generosity of Gardeners
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 3: Save Gas, Only Mow Where You Go
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 4: Think Small Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 5: Make Compost
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 6: Making a List
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 7: Know Thy Landscape
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 8: A Two Season Trick
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 9: Plant Propagation
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 10: Divide and Conquer


Dave has written since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 4 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave has a side business growing and selling heirloom vegetables and herb plants through Blue Shed Gardens and works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Layering seems like a good method for the home gardener. I’ve never tried it, but I might next year. How interesting that there are so many ways to layer.

  2. Great post Dave. I wish that my forsythia wasn’t so good at tip layering. It has grown to monumental proportions from rooting at the tips!


  3. Really helpful post, Dave–I don’t comment enough, but I think your tips are great and you’ve become a great resource. I just have to prepare beds for all the plants you’re helping me to propogate!

  4. Thanks for the lesson. I do all except air layering and serpentine layering. I am told camelias can be propagated by air layering but have yet to try it. Maybe someday. Too complicated for me maybe. Or too long to wait. Better than seeds and cuttings though really when you think about it.

  5. Layering is a great way of multiplying shrubs & trees. It does require patience on the part of the gardener though. Not one of my strong suits either Dave. 🙂

  6. Great post Dave. Lots of ways to double or triple your plants. Some of mine have laid on the ground & rooted themselves. So now I have more. The best part–I didn't have to do any work. lol

  7. DP,

    I think all those methods are kind of variations on the same theme: If you bury it it will grow roots!


    They sure do like to do that! I need to encourage ours to do that to get a few more roots going.

  8. Cosmo,

    I’m glad you like these posts! Get those beds ready, you’ll be stocking them full before very long!

  9. Tina,

    Cuttings just grow into bigger plants faster than seedlings. They are also true to the parent plant which can be a big advantage. Of course I do like surprises!

  10. PG,

    Patience is one of those concepts that I think everyone could stand to have a little bit more of! I know I could.

  11. Lola,

    Those natural layers are great. I’ve picked up rosemary through natural layering and a red twig dogwood. Mother nature knows what she’s doing!

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