Layer To Propagate Favorite Plants

Ivy takes root as it grows.

Ivy is creepy. It creeps everywhere. As it does so, it extends roots into or onto whatever it creeps over. Not only does it do this to climb, but it also does this to propagate. It literally roots as it goes, to function more as a swarm of countless small plants instead of a single big plant. A bit of well rooted stem may grow independently from the original as a ‘layer’.

Many vines do the same, even if they are normally climbing vines that just happen to fall onto the ground. A few shrubs and trees, especially riparian sorts, are happy to do it also if lower limbs lay onto damp soil. Such a rooted stem is known as a layer because it lays on the ground to root. In a home garden, a layer might root below a layer of mulch or soil. 

In fact, many plants in home gardens are easy to propagate by intentional layering. Many develop roots more reliably if layered than if propagated from cuttings. They grow almost like cuttings, but while attached to the original plants to sustain them. Layering produces only one or a few new plants, unlike cuttings, but for most home gardens, that is enough.

Some plants are easier to layer than others. Pines and most eucalypti are uncooperative to the technique. Rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias layer relatively easily, but may take more than a year to finish. Elms and magnolias are even happier to layer, but rarely retain low stems. Some plants layer best after spring bloom. Others layer through winter.

An intentionally layered stem should be partially buried, with a few inches of stem below the soil, and a few inches of the tip of the stem protruding above the soil. Notching about a third of the way through the underside and applying rooting hormone promotes rooting. Regular watering is necessary through the process, which continues at least until winter. 

Two at Two

This species of Rhus remains unidentified.

Apologies for the delay of posting something for noon as I typically do.

These are just two pictures of two species that were not interesting enough for my Six on Saturday post this morning. Now that it is past one as I write this, it will be scheduled to post at two, hence Two at Two.

Most of what we propagate or recycle here has some potential to be used in the landscapes. Sometimes, we salvage something just because it it too appealing to waste, even if there is no plan for what will be done with it later. For example, we now have five nicely canned but otherwise useless Norway maples, just because they needed to be removed from a landscape.

I canned the four specimens of unidentified Rhus in the picture above because I thought I knew what they are, and that I wanted to plant them somewhere. Now that I realize that I have no idea what they are, and that the one thing I know about them is that they are invasive, I really do not know what to do with them. For now, they will stay canned right here where they are.

The buckeye in the picture below were grown just because the huge seed were too compelling to discard. Although I know what species they are, I also know that they are not very popular. Actually, because they defoliate and seem to be dead through summer, they are rather unpopular. They will likely just get planted in a bare spot on the bank of Zayante Creek right outside.

That is part of the problem of enjoying our work a bit too much. We take horticulture a bit too seriously, and feel compelled to find homes for all the unwanted flora that we can salvage.

Buckeye will not be easy to find a home for.

Horridculture – Soaking Seeds

P91030Hooey! It’s a bunch of hooey! Sweet pea seed that gets sown this time of year for next spring does NOT need to be soaked before sowing. In fact, unless there is some strange species of plant that has become that dependent on human intervention, NO seed need to be soaked prior to sowing. Not only is the technique completely unnecessary, but it is completely unnatural as well.

Think of it. In the wild, plants grow, bloom and produce seed. This seed does what it can to disperse and get into or onto the soil to germinate and grow into new plants to repeat the process. Some seed appeal to squirrels for burial. Some prefer to be partly digested by animals who eat their tasty fruit. Heck, some are reluctant to germinate until heated by a cleansing forest fire.

Plants employ quite a range of techniques to disperse their seed and promote germination. As strange as some of these techniques seem to us, they are all justified. They all exploit processes of the respective ecosystems they naturally inhabit. For example, seed that crave heat know that the fire that provides such heat also incinerates competing plants, leaving them vacant soil.

Regardless, there are NO plants that produce seed with an expectation that anyone will collect and soak them. Dry seed that need to rehydrate can and actually prefer to collect the moisture they need from the moist soil in which they grow. If the soil is too dry for them to rehydrate, they do not waste effort trying. They merely assume that they should wait for rainier weather.

Furthermore, seed that are needlessly soaked prior to sowing must be sown shortly after rehydrating. Unlike dry seed, rehydrated seed can not be returned to their original packet and stored for later.

Six on Saturday: Recycling Weeds


A weed is a plant where it is not wanted. There are plenty here. There are also a few situations that could use some of the plants that are considered to be weeds in their present situations. Since we are not a ‘landscape’ company that earns more by needlessly disposing of, and installing, as much plant material as possible, we sometimes get to recycle some of our useful weeds.

Laurustinus, Viburnum tinus, which I refer to simply as ‘viburnum’, has politely naturalized here. It is not prolific enough to be invasive. It just has a sneaky way of getting around, mostly in irrigated landscaped areas. It lives in the wild too. It sometimes grows into situations where it is an asset. It sometimes becomes a problem. I don’t mind removing it. I am none to keen on it.

A thicket of viburnum is in the process of being removed from an area that will soon be outfitted with a new and more appropriate landscape. Rather than merely removing and disposing of all of the viburnum, we are relocating it into other landscapes where it will be more useful as informal screening hedges. I would prefer to wait until autumn, but the new landscape is waiting.

For the informal screening hedges that we want, these viburnums will work splendidly. They will fit right into the unrefined and unlandscaped areas as if they belong there. Prettier species that I would prefer would be more conspicuous, and look like something that was planted. I know that these recycled plants will initially not be as uniform as nursery stock, but I do not care.

1. This thicket of viburnum has been here as long as anyone can remember. It gets cut down when it gets too high, and takes a few years to regenerate. A new landscape will be going in here.P90914

2. The biggest and gnarliest specimens get discarded. It would not be practical to salvage them. These mid-sized specimens with relatively compact root systems should be easily relocated.P90914+

3. They clean up nicely, with most of their foliage pruned away, and their long stems pruned back. Some of their roots get pruned to facilitate planting, and also to stimulate new root growth.P90914++

4. Once planted and soaked in, many of the relocated specimens seem to be comparable to what might have been purchased from a nursery. Even with the warm weather, wilting is minimal.P90914+++

5. With two more that are out of view beyond the right margin of this picture, these five make a nice hedge of seven newly relocated viburnum. They are nothing fancy, but should work well.P90914++++

6. This is the view that they are intended to obscure, featuring seven dumpsters and various utilitarian unpleasantries. That’s them in a neat row across the lower right corner of the picture.P90914+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Forsythia Division


Stems that develop roots to grow into new plants as they lay on the ground are known as ‘layers’. Because cane berries develop tall vertical canes that seem to leap as they arch over to touch the ground and root in, the new plants that develop where they do so are known as ‘leapers’. I sort of think that ‘layers’ sounds more like reliable hens than self propagating plants. I also sort of think that ‘leapers’ just sounds funny.

A big forsythia at work had become overgrown with several layers or leapers. I am not really sure which they are, but there was quite a mess of them. We needed to remove the superfluous plants. Also, we wanted a few forsythias in other parts of the landscape. Well, you can figure this out. We decided to kill two layers with one stone . . . or something like that. We decided to pull up the unwanted layers or leapers in one area, and plant them where they were actually desired. We decided to get it all done just prior to a big storm that would help settle the new plants in.

1. Forsythia before division.p90112

2. Forsythia after division. The entire left half of the original clump, which happens to be the original plant, as well as a few small layers or leapers, were removed. This remaining portion of the clump was not pruned yet. It will be pruned after later winter or very early spring bloom. This picture is approximately in the same position as the previous picture #1.p90112+

3. This largest of the new plants to be divided from the main plant was actually the original plant. The label was found on one of the old canes. Four smaller layers or leapers are to the right. The four smallest that are shown in picture #5 are not visible here. Because they needed to be pruned back to compensate for the root damage associated with the process, these plants were pruned almost as they would have been after bloom, which will unfortunately limit bloom in their first season.p90112++

4. This is the same largest clump in picture #3 after getting pruned and installed into another part of the landscape just before the rain. If it does not get pruned after bloom this year, the big older caned will be cut to the ground after bloom next year. By that time, there will be plenty of basal stems to replace them. Ideally, it will be pruned annually after bloom by a process known as ‘alternating canes’, which involved removing old canes to favor newer canes. Individual canes last no more than a few years before getting pruned out.p90112+++

5. After the largest of the freshly divided plants were installed directly into the landscape, the four smallest layers or leapers were canned and put into the nursery, just because we could not think of a place to plant them directly right away. A layer in the hand is worth two in the bush, and four in the nursery is even better.p90112++++

6. Another unassociated forsythia bloomed in the nursery at the shops early last year.4bd2

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Division Is Equal To Multiplication

70809thumbMathematically, division is the opposite of multiplication. Horticulturally, they are the same. Digging and splitting overgrown perennials to propagate them is known as ‘division’ because it divides many rooted stems or rhizomes of one plant into many new plants. Division is a form of propagation; and propagation is commonly known as multiplication. So, we divide plants to multiply them.

Autumn is generally the best time for panting. It is after most of the warmest and driest weather, and just before the cool and rainy weather that keeps newly planted plants from getting too dry. It seems obvious that autumn would also be the best time for division. However, a few perennials that are dormant or mostly dormant by the middle of summer can be divided now for an early start.

Bearded iris may not look dormant with their leaves still green, but they are about as dormant now as they will get. If divided now and allowed to slowly disperse roots through the remainder of summer, they can prioritize the production of new foliage when they come out of dormancy in autumn, like they would do naturally. Like many perennials in mild climates, they grow through winter.

Once dug, the plump rhizomes need to be separated from the old shriveled rhizomes that they grew from. For most, the best segments of rhizome are between the leafy tips and the stalks of the flowers that bloomed earlier this year, although it may not be easy to see where floral stalks were attached. The older sections of rhizome behind the flower stems are probably shriveled already.

The freshly divided segments of rhizome should then be groomed of deteriorating old leaves. Remaining green leaves can be cut in half to remove drying tips. Rhizomes then get replanted just below the surface, with the perpendicular fans of foliage standing upright. The main difficulty with dividing iris now is that they will need to be watered until the rain starts late in autumn. Bergenia, lily-of-the-Nile and a variety of perennials with big rhizomes get divided in a similar manner.