Monday, May 15, 2017

Air-Layering: How To Get a Free Plant

Our last bonsai meeting had a really interesting class... one that was useful for anyone who likes to garden.  We learned how to 'air layer' a plant.  

Short version is that you can make roots grow from a branch of a woody plant.  Once the roots have come in, you cut it away from the original specimen and plant as normal.  Examples of plants that air layer well are rhododendron, azalea, holly, nut trees, fruit trees, citrus trees, roses, forsythia, boxwood, bald cypress, and many types of maple.

This is the demonstration tree.  That long trunk makes it a not good specimen for bonsai.

However...the top and the bottom would make good trees.  Seriously.

To start, get some sphagnum moss (the type for orchids is great) soaking in a bucket.

Now back to the tree.  You find the point where you want roots.  You MUST have leaves growing both above and below where you cut.

You take a sharp blade and cut carefully through the first 3 layers of bark, going all the way around the area.  Then you repeat about an inch below your first cut.

Then you scrape off the bark between those two cuts.  Go all the way down to the white wood part.

Next step is to take a piece of wire and tightly twist it around the middle of your scraped area.

Once done, heavily brush the area with rooting hormone.  Make sure it is the type for woody plants.

Take out a handful of the moss and sprinkle a bit of rooting hormone in the middle.

Then you wrap this wad of moss around the cut area of the tree and then wrap some cling wrap tightly around the moss and branch/trunk.  Make sure the wrap is above and below the moss.  Make a few small slits in the bottom of the cling wrap.

(An extra set of hands is very useful for this part...).  

Once it is wrapped, you then wrap a layer of foil around it for darkness.

Form a little cup at the top of the foil to capture moisture.

In about 8 weeks you should have little roots.  You can take the foil off to have a peek.  

Once you have a nice glob of roots going, cut it away from the parent.  Plant your new tree/bush in a nursery pot and take care of it until next spring. 

In the spring you will need to repot or plant it.  At that time you take off the wire and gently tease the sphagnum moss away from the now sturdy roots before you replant.

Finally... admire your new plant!

I'll be using this method on a lovely Japanese maple we have in the front yard.  It has some branches that need to be pruned.  Instead I will air-layer them and have new trees!

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