Outdoor Classroom: Layering plants

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1) Some plants are difficult to propagate from cuttings, even more so for home gardeners without temperature and moisture controlled conditions. If you are not in a hurry, layering a plant can be a simple way of increasing numbers or of getting a back-up plant for rare or special material which may not be available for sale. This rhododendron has layered naturally where branches lie on the ground.
photo 22) The plant needs to have low growing, flexible branches which reach to the ground. You may wish to try layering plants such as magnolias, rhododendrons, camellias, daphnes or conifers. Most woody plants can be layered over time but it is faster to do easily propagated plants like hydrangeas from cuttings.
photo 33) Select a firm branch or stem which can reach to the ground. It does not matter how old the wood is though young growths from last season may root faster. Remove the leaves from the middle if necessary. Slice a thin layer of bark off the lower side (called making a wound). You can paint the wound with rooting hormone if you have it, but this is not critical.
photo 44) Cultivate a small area of ground beneath the branch or dig a small trench. Peg the branch down so the wound is in contact with the soil. A hoop of wire is ideal for this part of the process. Peg it firmly so it cannot move. Cover the pegged area with up to 10cm of soil. You want to prevent the layered stem from drying out. Leave the branch tip uncovered. Now be patient. It will take a year for easy material and maybe as long as three years for difficult to propagate plants such as many of the rhododendrons.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5) When the layer has formed a reasonable mass of roots, cut it from the parent plant (think of this as cutting the umbilical cord) and either let it grow a little longer where it is or move it to some well cultivated soil – the vegetable garden is often good – so you can take care of it while it develops into a more sturdy plant.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA6) You will usually need to stake the plant to train it to grow upwards and to start developing a good shape although you can sometimes plant it on an angle to get the main leader almost vertical.