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How to Cut and Layer Plants

Layering and Transplanting

The process of layering is typically used to propagate hard-to-root shrubs like azaleas. Layering also works well with shrubs that have low-growing or creeping branches, like creeping rosemary. Layered stems develop roots while still connected to the mother plant, which helps encourage the rooting process. Follow these steps for layering:
  • In the spring, select a low, flexible branch that will bend down to the ground easily.

  • Prepare well-drained but moisture-retentive soil where the stem will touch the ground.

  • Nick the bark off the side of the stem that will touch the ground and remove the leaves near the nick. Dust the cut with rooting hormone.

  • Cover the barren and nicked stem with soil. Top it with a rock, or pin it in place with a stake or metal pin.

  • The branch tip will become the new plant. If it is an upright grower, stake the tip upright to give it a good shape.

  • Keep the rooting area moist for several months, until roots develop and become large enough to support the new plant.

  • Cut the new plant free from the parent branch and transplant it to a pot or new site in the garden.


Whether your new plant is coming from your own seedlings, stem cuttings, or the garden center, care is needed when it's time to plant it in the garden. Ideally, transplant in the evening or on a cloudy day to keep the sun from causing too much water loss in the plants and burning tender roots or leaves. Use the following tips to help you successfully transplant your new plant.

  • Don't transplant seedlings into a larger pot until they have one or two sets of true leaves. This allows seedlings to develop enough roots to be self-supporting even if a few roots are lost in the process. It's also a time when seedling roots are fairly straight and compact, making them easy to separate from nearby plants.

    How can you tell when the time is right? It's not as simple as counting the number of leaves on the stem, because the seedling usually has an extra set of leaves called cotyledons, or seed leaves. They emerge first and provide food that nourishes the sprouting seedlings. When you look closely, you can see that cotyledons are shaped differently from true leaves. Squash seedlings, for instance, have oval squash-seed-shaped cotyledons that are easy to spot. But the true leaves are broad and lobed.

    Transplant a new seedling when it grows its first set of true leaves.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Transplant a new seedling when it grows its first set of true leaves.

  • "Harden off" seedlings and cuttings before they go out into the garden. When growing in the protection of a windowsill, light garden, or greenhouse, young plants are tender and can be easily damaged by strong winds or sun. Toughen them up (a process called hardening off) to make the transition from indoors to outdoors successful.

    Days 1 and 2: Put well-watered young plants outdoors in a shady location for several hours. Bring them back indoors when the time is up.

    Days 3 and 4: Increase the length of time seedlings stay outdoors in the shade.

    Days 5 to 7: When well adjusted to shade, gradually move sun-loving plants into brighter light, starting with an hour of sun the first day.

    Day 8 and beyond: When seedlings can stay out all day without burning or wilting, they are ready for transplanting.

"Growing" a new plant from an old one, whether through seedlings, cuttings, or layering, can be quite rewarding. By following the suggestions in this article, you'll have more new plants than you know what to do with.

©Publications International, Ltd.