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15 Steps to Air layering a tree to form roots
Maybe you’re wondering what Air Layering is. When I first heard the words, I pictured wafer cookies with layers of air in them. Air Layering your fig tree is not too far from that concept.
As you know, I love sweet figs and ever since I was a kid, I loved picking the figs off the trees at my grandma’s house in Loxely, AL. It wasn’t until just 17 years ago when I planted a fig tree in New Jersey, USA and once again enjoyed the sweet taste of freshly grown figs. One day, I had a natural desire to propagate additional trees through a method that my granddaddy used to utilize called Air Layering. His green thumb genes were apparently naturally releasing from within me.
This method allows you to grow roots directly out of a branch high above the ground and then into a complete root ball. The process doesn’t provide any nutrients into the roots to extend the size of the branch. Although not recommended, you can cut it down with all the roots intact and plant it into the ground. You’ll have excellent results if you first plant it into a pot afterward and then plant it into the ground the following Spring season. What Air Layering does is encourage the roots to grow in a space that contains a mixture of air pockets, water and the roots layer upon themselves into a tight ball. Air Layering is 100% successful with cloning fig trees unless you wait too late in the season to do it.
The month of June is the best month to begin Air Layering, because when you transplant it into a pot it will have enough time to establish itself before the Fall season comes around. Any existing figs on the branch will continue to grow, but will not taste good when they ripen. I recommend to not attempt to start this in August. I tried it with two trees and they nearly died.
The number one product you should have for this project is Sphagnum Moss, you can get it through Amazon at Kapecute Sphagnum Moss 34QT Perfect for Plant Propagation, Great Orchid Potting Mix, Help with Maintain Humidity, 10oz (Amazon). This is a necessity if you want to grow roots in a container where they will have little potential for rotting, plus the young roots will be able to spread freely without a need for fertilizer.
To get started, here are the materials you will need. A plastic bottle, electrical tape (it’s waterproof) and the Long Fiber Sphagnum Moss as mentioned above.
Be sure you have these materials ready along with a pitcher of water and a small bowl. Now, you don’t have to use this same exact bottle, you can experiment with different plastic bottles and different ways to cut them up to fit your branch. The objective is to create a container that will hold damp moss inside of it. Once you’ve created this container, there will be no need to add water to it.
1. Take the bowl and add a handful of the moistened Sphagnum Moss into it.
2. Using scissors or a box cutting knife, cut the 2-liter bottle (or any other plastic container) similar to what you see in the images below.
3. Cut the bottle in such a way so that you can slip it onto a branch. I cut a slot at the sides of the bottle spout and then slipped the bottle horizontally over the branch.
4. By following the below instructions, you should have two bottle top ends that should fit together.
5. Now look for a branch that looks straight
6. On the branch, you’ll see how the branch appears segmented with leaf node bumps that seem to encircle the branch. This is where the roots will grow from.
7. Once you have located these leaf node bumps, fasten one of the bottle sections with electrical tape onto the branch in such a way that the container will encase one of those bumps or knots. Just use your common sense on this step as some branches are pointed in other directions. It might require taping both halves onto the branch and then pushing the moss through a hole on a top with step 9.
8. Add water to the moss until it’s soaked and then squeeze out all of the water until the moss is just damp. (remove excess water from the bowl).
9. Pack the damp moss into the bottle half that is on the branch.
10. Fasten the other bottle segment above the lower one using your tape. Carefully taping the two halves together. If you have extra space for more moss, pack some in before you completely seal off the container. Be careful not to leave holes, otherwise moisture will escape and ants will make a home in the container. Yes, I said ants! Small black ants love it for some reason.
11. Now mark your calendar and wait 6-8 weeks for the roots to grow. I have found that by week 8 the roots are fully prepared for the transplant into a pot.
12. Carefully dismantle the plastic container from the root ball. Look at how pretty this is! Have you ordered your Sphagnum Moss yet? Don’t forget to get it here directly through Amazon at Kapecute Sphagnum Moss 34QT Perfect for Plant Propagation, Great Orchid Potting Mix, Help with Maintain Humidity, 10oz (Amazon)
13. Snip off the new air layered branch below the root ball at an angle with pruning shears between two “knots” in the branch. I use this tool because it gives a nice clean cut. This photo was taken prior to removing the plastic container, but it illustrates how I cut the branch with the shears.
14. Transplant the root ball into a nursery pot that has holes on the bottom. Loosen the roots a little although not necessary and then fill the pot with pre-moistened grow medium (Amazon). Although pre-moistening is not necessary, I just found it helpful. For this example, I moistened the potting soil with water with another pot. Notice the stick end below the roots as seen in the above photo, I let this end stand directly against the bottom of the pot.
15. Water until the grow medium is wet. The water should pass through quickly. To know when to water it again, insert a clean strip of wood into the soil, wait a few minutes and then pull it out. If the wood comes out dry, then add water. Following this method will prevent from rotting the roots.
I have tried Air Layering using other containers. Plastic wrap stuffed with the moss was an option, but birds pecked at it forcing me to wrap it with aluminum foil. Clear containers are the best, because they are “all window” allowing me to see the roots. If you use plastic wrap, it is necessary to add a little bit of water to it at least once a week.
The example container in the photo with the pruning shears in it was the most complex I’ve made. I cut the bottle in half and used the top and bottom segments. the bottom segment required using a hacksaw to cut a slot and drill a large hole in the bottom. The bottom of a 2-liter bottle is very thick plastic.