Air-layering ficus Benjamina

rina_May 7, 2012

Al or any experienced potted-plant growers:

I am wondering if it is a good idea to air-layer a thicker branch of ficus that probably should be pruned off.


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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Dunno - that's for you to decide, but it's very doable. It's a good way to start a plant that already has a little thicker trunk than you're likely to get from a cutting. Let me know if you want to try it and I'll give you some tips that'll help.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 2:21PM
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Thank you for responding.
I ask about this tree earlier this year & got advice from you (which I am following).
I was just thinking that since some of the branches will be pruned, maybe it's worth trying to get another tree or two. Obviously I don't know which ones will eventually go, but most are 2-4.5" diameter.
If air-layering is successfull, roots will take some time to grow, right?


    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 9:04PM
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this is a little off subject, but ive often heard people talk about air layering and i have no idea what that is... what is it and how do you do it?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 9:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

On branches that size, you wouldn't be able to separate the layer until at least this time next year. You should be able to take lots of pencil-size cuttings for starts, though.

Air layering uses various techniques to force formation of adventitious roots from a point above the plants normal root system. Commonly, various methods are employed to stop the downward flow of photosynthate (carbohydrates) and the growth regulator, auxin, by removing all or part of the cambium or using a tourniquet to shut off the downward movement of carbohydrates and auxin.

I'm using zip ties on this plant to layer off the entire top of the tree, because the root system is unusable for bonsai - so I'm growing a new one.

The little holes will be filled with a rooting aid, then the entire plant will be repotted extra deep. New roots will form where the holes are and I'll have a perfect root system

Instead of zip ties, I used wire on this maple. You can still see it embedded in the wood. I sawed the old root system off immediately below the wire, and the plant is ready to be potted up and work started on moving it toward one day being a bonsai. Notice how swollen the trunk is immediately above the wire.

In this picture, I started a layer w/o bare rooting. I applied a tourniquet, drilled the holes, and added extra soil on top of the old soil.

The 'layer' is going on in the green pot with duct tape on top of the clay pot. The tree was much too tall for the trunk thickness, so I shortened the tree by about 6" by growing a new root system and cutting off the bottom of the tree.

If I was doing the layer on a branch, instead of a trunk, I would either wrap damp sphagnum moss (not peat)

around the layer and then wrap that in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. If the branch was vertical, I might use a pot filled with soil, like the green one, to surround the layer.

There are a LOT of ways to air layer. Some like to girdle the entire branch, removing all the bark and cambium right down to the xylem. Sometimes, flaps of bark are cut from the bottom up and held open with a toothpick or similar so roots will form from cambial tissues.

If you have the time, applying a tourniquet in advance of beginning the layer, and wrapping electrical tape around the area above the tourniquet (sticky side out) to keep out light and predispose the area to the formation of root initials is a really good way to speed things along and add an extra measure of insurance for success.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 10:07PM
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I am no expert, hope Al will have time to offer some tips.

I only read about it some time ago and actually tried once.
I had a palm (no name) abt. 35 (!) yrs old that grew very tall with very skinny trunk. I had to support it, and it was also hitting the ceiling so I decided to 'shorten' it.
I nicked the trunk in approx. middle, dusted some rooting hormone powder over the nicked area, wrapped moist spaghnum around it & covered in plastic. I kept it moist. In few months the roots appeared.
I cut off below the new roots & planted new, shorter tree. 7yrs. later it is still alive.
Begginer's luck...


    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 10:10PM
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Sorry, I guess I posted at the same time.

You said to take pencil size cuttings - but not to air-layer them? And what is best time to take cuttings - would it be when repotting/pruning?

If air-layering was done on thicker branches, would it be possible to still repot & root prune the tree this summer while waiting for the roots to appear?

How long (approx.) would tourniqet and tape have to be there before air-layering?

Thnx. Rina

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 10:23PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You can layer small branches if you wish, but they come easy from cuttings, so .....

Cuttings and air layers are best started when energy levels are at their highest, but there's a qualifier. Energy levels are highest in August, but the plant should be started & well rooted before winter, so the CUTTING has a chance to sock away some energy for the winter, so late Jun or Jul in your area would be best. That doesn't mean you can't/won't have success at other times, just that if you're interested in why certain timing is better .... That's why repotting tropicals is best done in mid-summer when energy levels are highest - fastest recovery & less chance of disease/insect predation when defenses are lowered due to the extended recovery periods during times of low energy reserves.

Yes, you can repot/root prune when there is a layer underway.

How long the tourniquet should be in place before the layer starts depends on when you apply it. Your Ficus is going to expend most of it's energy before Father's day on growing leaves and lengthening branches. After the Summer solstice, the tree starts to shift more toward storing energy, and slows vegetative growth. That's when the tree grows fat (thickens) instead of long. You might put on a tourniquet in Oct/Nov and not have any significant thickening until May or Jun, but then it will thicken FAST. Applying a tourniquet now, you would prolly see significant swelling by late Jul. If you started the layer then, you might be able to separate it by this time next year.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 6:46PM
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Thank you again.
I find it very interesting what could be done with plants.

I have another question if you don't mind.
Is it possible - and how - to 'clean' the ugly stubs left after previous incorrect pruning - Like this one:
(I remember you mentioning using a waterproof glue in some situations - would this be one of them?)

Thnxs. Rina

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 7:59AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I use a tool called a knob cutter, which kind of digs out the branch and makes a concave hole so the wound heals smoothly. I might also use a Dremel tool on small branches, or a die grinder on large branches to remove the deadwood so the branch collar you can see forming in the picture can roll over the wound. I use waterproof glue when I flush-cut the branch (not recommended for plants in the landscape, but perfectly acceptable for containerized woody material). I would have removed the branch flush with this

then 'scooped' out a little hollow with this

You can see how I hollowed the wound on this maple I'm just starting on. The plant was about 5 ft tall before the chop. I'll start developing the lower branches now, and build a top later, normal procedure with plants as apically dominant as the upright maples.

It's amazing how something that starts off so ugly can look so good after 5-10 years of work.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 8:24PM
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