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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
South Shore News

Layering makes more plants


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Layering isn’t just a wise way of dressing for questionable weather. It’s also a way to propagate plants.

One method is called simple or ground layering. Walking irises and ornamental peanuts are examples. The leaves of these plants arch to the ground and root wherever they connect. Many invasive vine species also root wherever they touch the ground.

I don’t use simple layering often, but I did last summer to multiply my pipevine plants. I could never keep enough of them for gold rim swallowtail caterpillars, and I couldn’t get regular cuttings – my usual way of propagating plants – to root. So I bought two more plants and sunk their pots in holes in the ground in the sun.

As several stems grew 12 or more inches long, I placed smaller pots around the parent. Then I buried one stem in the soil of each of these pots. One end of the stem was still growing from the parent plant and the other end looked like it was growing out of the second pot. If necessary, you can peg down the stem with a forked stick or stone. I do this with stems that are still green and tender.

You don’t have to use pots at all.

If stems from a plant can be bent to the ground, use the same procedure. If the stem is woody, you should make a notch about half way through at the point where it will be under the soil, and put a bit of a toothpick or such to hold this wound open for roots to form from within. Then bury it as described above. If the stem is long and flexible enough, you can bury it in two or three spots along the stem, leaving some above ground on each side of each dip into the ground. This is called serpentine layering, which can give you a larger number of new plants more quickly. Again secure the burial. If not, the stem may well work its way up to the air and fail to root.

Keep the soil constantly moist but not soggy. After the layer has rooted you can severe its connection to the parent plant. You can tell if it is time like you do with cuttings. Pull gently and if it resists, it’s usually rooted. If it comes up, re-bury it.

When new plants seem to be well established and putting out new growth, you can move them to a different place. It took only a few weeks for the pipevine. With woody stems it can take a few months. I’ve yet to try the mound and tip layering methods. The first is said to do well with hydrangeas and similar plants; the latter works well for black raspberries, which don’t grow here. We might try it on blueberries.

Today’s pick is the wandering jew or inch plant. It’s very easy to grow in partial shade to sun. When a stem gets too long, cut a piece off and drop it in a bare spot to root. You have to keep doing that to get a ground cover or plant several plants and let them spread.

Inch plants don’t take foot traffic and their flowers are insignificant, but their leaves are rich in color throughout the year, and you don’t have to mow them when used as a ground cover. They’re also very good in hanging baskets.

Now’s the time... to tell you how important it is to help the monarch butterflies, since there are fewer and fewer of them every year. Check out www.livemonarch.com and it will tell you how to help, how to get free milkweed seeds, even how to patch a broken butterfly wing to help an injured monarch fly again. Plant some milkweed to feed the caterpillars and pentas and lantanas to supply nectar for the butterflies.

I’ve been bringing in caterpillars of several kinds to my butterfly cage on our back porch for years now. Currently I have at 30 to 40 milkweed plants growing in the ground and in pots I can move into the cage. But if anyone knows how to make these plants grow quicker, I’d sure like to know.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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