|Ground Level Layers
My grandfather said I made my first ground layer before I was 5 years old. I don’t remember it and he did like to brag on me, but from the time I could walk I followed him around the garden. What probably happened is that he did the work and let me watch until time to go get a brick from the pile and drop it on the ground over the layer. Here’s why this kind of layering works, more on the how-to, and a list of plants that are often layered on the ground.
The classic technique of layering was used for centuries before the science of it could be explained. When a low hanging branch makes contact with the ground, its nodes can send out roots. Next thing you know, there are sprouts that can be separated from the mother plant and grown on their own. I can relate to how the first person to observe this phenomenon must have felt, since the first layer I remember seeing in my garden was made by Nature, too. A frog choker of a thunderstorm buried the lowest part of a hydrangea and the area stayed muddy for weeks in that warm summer. By the time I thought to do anything, new leaves were coming up from the ends of the branches and I knew they had rooted. I gleefully cut each one from the mother and sure enough, 3 of the 6 had good roots. For a better success rate, I soon learned to start by digging a trench for the branch, and then lightly wound its nodes and brush a bit of Hormex Rooting Powder onto each wound. I have watched seasoned nursery pros make miniscule slits in clumping bamboo and muscadines vines. They worked their way down the field row quickly: pull the vine down with one hand, slice a trench holding the butt of the knife in the other and flip it around to quickly make the almost imperceptible slits. I was enthralled! I won’t make as many layers in my life as those guys made in a day but their technique stayed with me. Make the trench a few inches deep and narrow so the branch nestles into it. Wound and dress it with Hormex. Cover the branch with soil, tamp it down, and put a brick on top to hold it down. Just like my grandfather did and his grandmother before him. When I made a layer from an errant branch of banana shrub this spring, it was too short to bury much so I watered it several times with Hormex Liquid Concentrate. Just today I noticed it has new growth – and felt the rush of growing yet again.
The best kind of plant material to layer is actively growing, woody and low to the ground. Ideally, you can put 2 feet of a branch less than one inch in diameter into the trench with another foot sticking out beyond the buried part. Grapes and muscadines, bamboos and hydrangeas are good examples of plants that fit the layering criteria. Others include:
Edible figs. 2 of my 4 fig trees began as layers at friends’ gardens. One was started from a too-thick, too long branch and came to me at 4 feet tall with 4 leaves on top. I notched it in two places along the trunk and when one sprouted, pruned the top out and rooted it. A lot of work, but delicious figs as big as tennis balls.
Supple climbing roses like ‘Peggy Martin’ and ‘Lady Banks’ seem to have training wheels – they are easily layered but springy so use 2 bricks.
Wisteria (although where I live few people want more than they already have) and other big woody vines such as trumpet vine and Carolina jasmine can be ready to plant by next spring if you layer them now.
Chocolate vine and the true jasmines get a bit brittle by now in most climates. But when you next must cut them back, leave a few runners at ground level. When they sprout, turn them into layers while still supple.
I may not have been layering quite as long as my grandfather would say, but using the mother plant’s vascular system makes this propagation method child’s play.