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Airlayer separation – Ficus Benjamina

Airlayer separation – Ficus Benjamina

In August 2017 I started a new project airlayering a ficus benjamina in the post entitled Ficus benjamina airlayering based on a technique that I read about somewhere on the internet. I let the tree develop for about 10 months and then in May 2018 I decided that it is time to do the separation. Looking at the root system that was developing inside the bag in the airlayer, I considered that there were enough feeders to be able to supply the tree after separation, taking into account that I was planning to do a preliminary structural pruning as well, so a large quantity of the foliage was to be removed from the canopy.

As it can be seen in the picture above, there was a large number of leaves that I intentionally left on the canopy because the principle is simple: many leaves are photosynthesizing carrying sugars down to the roots right in the layer under the bark. As the bark is interrupted, the sugars cannot reach the roots in the soil of the tree, but these will promote creation of new roots at the point where the bark is interrupted. So, the more leaves that move sugars on the tree, the faster the roots in the layered region will grow. I wrapped the bag of sphagnum moss in aluminium foil just to prevent the light from penetrating it and disturbing the roots development because as we know, roots are photo-phobic plant parts.

After removing the plastic bag and started moving around the moss, I found many roots that where keeping the moss together compact.

Overall, the tree and its new root systems looked like this. To be honest, I was glad to find many roots there that I knew will be more than enough to sustain the separated tree, but disappointing was when I realized that the moss cannot be removed to comb out nicely the roots. When I insisted on removing the moss, I observed that the roots were so tangled in it that the risk of damaging them was inevitable.

So I cleaned out as much moss as I could without damaging the new fragile root system, and perform under-cut of the thick useless remaining trunk. The problem is that I knew at that moment that I will have to pot the tree with the moss package and with the roots chaotically tangled inside it. Another disadvantage of the moss is that it is a sterile moss and the instructions on the bag with which I bought it claims that it is treated to not rot. So I know that it will stay there close to the tree for a long time. Unfortunately, I had already done another airlayering on a Bougainvillea tree using sphagnum moss. However, I will never use it again for this purpose, and instead I will use a plastic container filled with flower potting soil that I know I am able to remove and place the new roots in proper positions.

The final product of the potting and pruning for preliminary stilling is depicted in the picture above. I did not do any wiring nor serious pruning to shape the tree in its final position. I pruned it just to give a preliminary architecture and leave enough leaves to help the new roots to establish in the new soil. Because in the middle of the pot, right under the tree there is the moss and around it towards the edge of the container is my classical bonsai soil mix, is another drawback because practically in the pot there are regions with different water uptake and different drying coefficients. This will make the watering process a little difficult but, it is as it is.

This entire process of separation took place in May 2018, as already said before. In July 2018, the tree was already getting into shape pushing new growth and letting me know for sure that the root system is working and developing new roots as well.

This is the way the tree looked in July 2018. I am planning on pruning it and wiring it in the end of August, starting of September and then let it grow over the winter till March 2019 when I will start pruning it back harder to work on the ramification more.

Hope this helps you and thanks for your visit!
M.

Ficus benjamina airlayering

Ficus benjamina airlayering

In 2015 I bought from a local nursery a ficus plant with three trunks grown in the same pot. At the moment, the idea was to interweave the trunks and fuse them together to form one tall plant as room decoration. On the way of fusing, something went wrong as  the trunks did grow unevenly. Hence, it was impossible to continue the same project because there were no more trunks to fuse. In the picture below you can see the interweave trunks. However, this plant grew vigorously for the past 2 – 3 years and I have decided that the only remaining possibility is to airlayer the tree exactly at the highest fusing point of the former trunks.

On YouTube or on Google there are several methods for air layering, mainly all being based on using sphagnum moss as wet coating. Many methods are based on cutting the bark  around the three for a height of few centimeters. Many such procedures failed because the tree rooted only on one side or not rooted at all. I think that if you create a “custom made” root system, it is highly important to start the right way. Cleaning a section of the bark around the tree can result in uneven roots. One method to control the roots for a certain position of growth is to clean off the bark of the tree only in the points where you are interested in promoting new roots. In the same time, using such a technique one can obtain a nice nebari evenly distributed around the tree.

As it follows I will present step by step how I did the airlayering of this ficus tree. First thing to be done is to moist sphagnum moss in tap water (or rain water if available) for at least half an hour before starting to airlayer. If you moist too much moss, it is not a problem. You can use the rest of the moss to distribute it evenly on soil’s surface. This will eventually give new living moss if proper care is considered by misting it several times a day.

For airlayering I have considered to use the point of the trunk where the last fusing happened. It is strange how after fusing, practically only one trunk grew continuously and the other two faced lack of energy and had a very slow development compared to the other one.

Using a drill, of course not fixed in a drilling machine but driven by hand, I performed few holes in the bark, around the tree. The depth of the holes is dictated by the thickness of the bark. However care should be considered to not penetrate the tree too deep to damage it. Doing so, you will be able to control the new roots to grow only from the holes performed with the drill. creating the holes around the tree at the same height will ensure that the nebari will have the same plane of development.

I have drilled one hole directly in the point where two trunks fused. This hole had to be deep enough to penetrate the bark that is quite thick. This hole was drilled deeper than the other ones from the surface of the trunk. You can compare yourself the holes from the picture below.

The holes performed by hand were all powdered with rooting hormone for woody plants. This was bought from a local nursery. I personally use for powdering with rooting hormone a brush used by makeup artists. This helps in a correct and even settling of the powder in the holes. To increase the speed of the the rooting process zip ties are used to strangle the trunks. This will slow down the energy coming from the leaves to reach the roots in the pot and will force new roots to emerge from the holes drilled in the trunk. Mainly this is the motivation of using these zip ties.

The last step is to fasten a transparent plastic bag around the holes and fill it up with the sphagnum moss moistened earlier. I closed up the bag as strong as possible to stop the humidity from inside the bag to evaporate. From time to time I put some water on the upper part of the plastic bag and it slowly finds it way inside keeping the moss moist all the time.

As soon as the new roots will develop, the  transparent plastic bag will help to see the actual new growth. More, this helps to decide when the new roots are sufficient to perform the separation of the new rooted tree from the old trunk and pot it into new soil. I will keep this topic updated when this moment will come.