Monthly Archives: November 2018

A Plant Geek’s Haphazard Approach To Propagating Shrubs

The equipment and supplies for simple layering are simple–gloves, sand, compost, anchoring pins, rooting hormone, pruners and a spade. The mother plant, a Genista lydia, sits in back.

Have you ever wished you could get three shrubs for the price of one?  Well, you can, with a little know-how and patience.

You simply propagate new plants from the mother shrub.  There are several ways to do this, including layering, dividing, digging up runners and taking stem cuttings.

Today I’ll cover simple layering.  In a future post, I’ll review other propagation methods that you can perform in your garden.

My study of propagation began last fall when I bought Plant Propagation, an excellent reference book produced by The American Horticultural Society.  I learned about hardwood and softwood cuttings, heating pads, cell trays, rock wool and all manner of horticultural mechanisms.  And I soon realized there were all kinds of propagation equipment and supplies that I didn’t want to spend money on.  So I experimented on the cheap.

I wanted to propagate more Genista lydias from my existing genista.

This shrublet is one I started last spring from layering. So it has been in layering mode for 6 months. I’ll wait until next spring to transplant it.

First, I tried taking a genista cutting and growing it in a sand/potting soil mixture in a pot with a plastic bag over it to retain heat and moisture.  Within a week or two, tiny green buds started popping up all over the cutting.  But a few weeks later, the cutting rotted and died.

So after doing more propagation research, I decided to try simple layering.  You can perform simple layering on any shrub with branches low enough to reach the ground.  I used it successfully last fall on red meidiland ground cover roses.  So I figured it might work for Genista lydia, as well.  Other candidates for simple layering include climbing roses, spreading cotoneaster, forsythia, lilac, viburnum, daphne, raspberries and blackberries.

Here’s my approach:

Step 1.  Collect your tools and equipment.  Mine include gardening gloves, pruners, spade, anchoring pins (I had edging pins on hand, so I used those.  But you also can use smaller, less expensive landscape fabric pins), rooting hormone (such as Clonex or Garden Safe TakeRoot), compost and general purpose sand.  The Clonex set me back $20, but everything else is stuff I already had around the house.  You can make homemade rooting hormone, if you want.  Just google online for recipes.

After digging your trench, strip all leaves from the underground portion of your selected branch and scrape a thin coat of bark off of the bottom of the branch. Then anchor the branch to to soil. I took this photo before pushing the anchoring pin farther into the ground so that you could see the pin more easily.

Step 2.  Select a young branch that’s at least 10 inches long.  You’ll need to bury some of it and have enough branch left over to leave some vegetation above ground.

Step 3.  Dig a trench 4 to 5 inches deep and about 6 inches long beneath your selected branch.

Step 4.  Strip all leaves from the portion of the branch that will be buried.  Scrape a thin layer of bark off of the bottom of the branch to encourage rooting through contact between the plant tissue and the soil.  You can also apply rooting compound at this point, but I generally just wait until the transplanting phase to use it.

Step 5.  Anchor the stripped portion of the branch to the ground with one or more anchoring pins.

Once you’ve anchored your branch to the ground, cover the anchored portion with 2 to 3 inches of a 50/50 compost/sand mixture. Then backfill the remainder of the trench with soil.

Step 6.  Cover the anchored portion of the branch with 2 to 3 inches of a 50/50 compost/sand mixture.  Then backfill the remainder of the trench with soil.  I’ve found that the compost/sand mixture improves drainage and prevents rotting, which is often a problem in heavy clay soils.

Step 7.  Position the above-ground portion of the branch so that it’s as vertical as possible.  You can even stake the top, if needed.  I don’t stress out if the branch isn’t perfectly vertical because I’ll be digging it up later to transplant it anyway.  At that point, I can reposition the top as needed when I replant it.

Step 8.  Mulch the trenched area and water it regularly.  Then wait.  Depending on your growing conditions, your new shrublet may be ready for transplanting in 4 to 6 months.  I typically transplant in spring or early fall for best root growth.  I dig a hole, coat the new roots of the shrublet with rooting compound, place the shrublet in the hole, and backfill with a mixture of two-thirds soil and one-sixth each of compost and sand.

There is one caveat to propagating your own plants asexually—that is, by any method other than planting seeds.  Don’t propagate patented plants.

Here’s the deal when it comes to patents.  When a breeder introduces a new plant, the breeder applies for a patent, which is valid for 20 years.  It’s only fair that the breeder should have an opportunity to recoup its costs and make some profits for developing the new plant.  Once the patent has expired, it’s all right to homeowners like you and me to propagate the plant asexually.

So do your research online to find out whether the plant you want to propagate has a patent in force.  Otherwise, you could face severe legal penalties.

This Genista lydia transplant looked dead within a few weeks of being moved to its new home in April. But the small plant hung in there and began producing blooms by June.

June 27, 2019 update:  In April of this year, I transplanted a Genista lydia branch that had been anchored in the ground for a year.  Once in its new home, the branch began turning brown from transplant shock.  But by June, it had grown new branches and even bloomed.  When transplanting Genista lydia, don’t give up on it too soon.


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