Layering: A Versatile Plant Propagation Technique

Layering is a highly effective method of plant propagation that allows gardeners and horticulturists to create new plants from existing ones. This technique involves encouraging the development of roots on a stem while it is still attached to the parent plant. Layering is particularly useful for plants that are difficult to root from cuttings or those that have a low success rate with other propagation methods. In this article, we will explore the various types of layering, the step-by-step process involved, and the advantages it offers to plant enthusiasts.

Types of Layering

Air Layering (Marcotting)

Air layering, also known as marcotting, is a technique commonly used to propagate woody plants with thick stems. It involves creating a small wound on a stem and then inducing the development of roots on that wounded area. This method allows the stem to remain attached to the parent plant until it establishes a strong root system. Air layering is often employed for plants like magnolias, citrus trees, and camellias.

Simple Layering

Simple layering is a straightforward method suitable for plants with flexible stems that can easily bend and touch the ground. In this technique, a portion of the stem is buried in the soil while still attached to the parent plant. Over time, roots develop at the point of contact with the soil, creating a new, independent plant. Shrubs such as forsythia and honeysuckle are commonly propagated through simple layering.

Serpentine Layering

Serpentine layering is an effective technique used for plants with long, flexible stems. It involves creating a series of shallow wounds along the stem, which are then buried at intervals, resulting in multiple root formations. This method is especially useful for vines like wisteria and grapes, as well as certain ground-cover plants.

The Layering Process

Layering is a relatively straightforward process, although the exact steps may vary slightly depending on the specific type of layering being used. The following steps outline a general approach to layering:

Step 1: Selection of Parent Plant

Choose a healthy and vigorous plant with flexible or woody stems suitable for layering. It’s important to select a plant that is known to respond well to layering for optimal success.

Step 2: Preparing the Stem

Identify a suitable stem on the parent plant that is suitable for layering. The stem should be relatively young, healthy, and free from any diseases or damage. Make a small incision or wound on the stem where roots will form. This can be done by scraping a small portion of the bark or making a shallow cut.

Step 3: Encouraging Root Formation

Apply a rooting hormone to the wounded area to stimulate the growth of roots. This will enhance the chances of successful layering by encouraging the development of new roots at the point of injury.

Step 4: Positioning the Stem

Position the wounded section of the stem in contact with a prepared rooting medium such as moist soil, sphagnum moss, or a mix of soil and peat. Bury the wounded area while ensuring that a portion of the stem remains above the soil line. This allows the buried portion to receive the necessary moisture and nutrients for root development.

Step 5: Stabilizing the Layered Stem

Secure the layered stem in place using plant stakes, wire, or other suitable materials to prevent it from dislodging or moving during the rooting process. This will ensure that the stem remains in contact with the rooting medium and allows the roots to develop undisturbed.

Step 6: Providing Adequate Care

Water the rooting medium regularly to maintain consistent moisture levels. Keep an eye on the layered stem, ensuring it remains healthy and undamaged. Avoid overwatering or allowing the soil to dry out completely, as either extreme can hinder root development.

Step 7: Separating and Transplanting

Once the layered stem has developed a strong root system, it can be separated from the parent plant and transplanted into its own pot or a suitable location in the garden. Carefully remove any supporting materials, taking care not to damage the delicate roots.

Advantages of Layering

Layering offers several advantages over other propagation methods:

Higher Success Rate

Layering has a higher success rate compared to some other methods, as the new plant retains a connection to the parent plant until it establishes its own root system. This connection provides a continuous supply of nutrients and water, increasing the chances of successful rooting.

Genetic Uniformity

Since layering produces a new plant directly from a portion of the parent plant, it ensures genetic uniformity. This is particularly useful when you want to preserve the exact traits and characteristics of a specific cultivar.

Quick Establishment

Layered plants tend to establish more quickly compared to those propagated by seeds. The new plant already has a head start with an established root system, allowing it to grow more vigorously and adapt better to its environment.

Mature Plants in a Shorter Time

By utilizing layering, gardeners can obtain mature plants in a shorter time compared to starting from seeds. This is especially valuable when propagating slow-growing or long-lived species that may take years to reach maturity from seeds.


Layering is a versatile and reliable plant propagation technique that allows you to create new plants from existing ones. Whether you choose air layering, simple layering, or serpentine layering, this method offers a higher success rate, genetic uniformity, quick establishment, and the ability to obtain mature plants in a shorter time. By mastering the art of layering, you can expand your plant collection, preserve desirable traits, and enjoy the satisfaction of creating new life from your favorite plants.