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Air Layering for Bonsai

Posted by Martha Goff on 2/16/2014

Air Layering for Bonsai


How to Make Two Trees, Four


Okay, I must admit, I am a little biased when it comes to the snaky, imported Chinese Elms. I don’t like them. I can’t imagine a tree, in nature, with such an appearance. I know it’s possible, but it is not in my ‘like’ column.


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So, when I was given not 1 but 2 such Elms, my first thought was to air layer and end up with 4 nice shohin elms. Granted it will take time, but I think it will be worth it.

I have tried to lay out the steps I use to air layer so a beginner can understand the process and not be afraid to try it. I am sure there are many different methods used, but this method has been very successful for me. It is almost March here in Florida, so I am getting an early start. If things go well, I should be able to separate the trees by June 1st.


STEP 1: Get all your supplies ready.

  1. Shredded sphagnum

  2. Sharp knife or layering tool

  3. Gloves

  4. Cling wrap

  5. Foil

  6. Rooting compound

  7. Tropical Green Organic Fertilizer

  8. Fresh bonsai soil

  9. Cut sealer


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A tip I learned from Boon on shredding sphagnum is to use a screen (any size from 1/8”, ¼”, or ½” will do.)

Rub the sphagnum back and forth across the screen. I place the shredded sphagnum into a bowl of water with a little Superthrive (you can use any rooting or vitamin product you choose.) Always wear gloves. Sphagnum has been known to cause severe bacterial infection when in contact with skin.


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When all the needed materials are ready, you can move on to Step 2.




Step 2: Choose the spot for the air layer and trim back the tree to the potential new line.

            Materials Needed:

  1. A sharp clean knife.


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            The two trees offer totally different potential trees. I cut back to reveal that potential.

Next I marked off and removed the bark and cambium layer at the air layer point. The area cleaned should be approximately 1” long.


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The black tool is one I purchased from Pedro Morales. It is especially designed for air layering. It cannot be used on really thick trees nor is it successful on the type of curvy trunks above. It will offer a starting point, however, that can be finished nicely with a sharp knife.

Step 3: Completing the Air Layer

            Materials Needed:

  1. Plastic cling wrap

  2. Foil

  3. Rooting powder and brush

  4. Shredded Sphagnum


Tear a piece of plastic cling wrap long enough to go around the cut area several times. Lay the wrap on the soil at the base of the tree and place a handful of sphagnum close to one end. Lift the plastic wrap to the cut area and press against the cut. Holding the sphagnum against the cut, begin to wrap the plastic loose end around the tree making sure the sphagnum spreads to cover the entire cut. Tear the end piece of plastic end enough to tie it off. Once secure, you tear a piece of foil long enough to cover the entire area.


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Step 4: Sealing cuts and Fertilizing.

            Materials Needed:

  1. Cut paste

  2. Organic Bonsai Fertilizer

  3. Fresh bonsai soil


Using whatever cut paste you prefer, seal all cuts.

Next, remove about 1” of soil from the top of the pot. Using your Organic Bonsai Fertilizer Cakes, place one cake every 3 or 4” around the pot.


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My preferred fertilizer this time of year is Tropical Green Organic Fertilizer: Fruiting/Blooming Cakes. This high phosphate fertilizer encourages rooting and budding for spring. Any of our line of bonsai fertilizer would do as well if suited for the plant.


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Using new, clean bonsai soil, cover the cakes with about an inch of soil and water well. Place the trees back in the sun and leave undisturbed for about 2-3 months.


Check back in June to see the progress of the air layer. Now it is your turn. Try your hand at air layering.


By Martha Goff

 Basics: Getting Ready for Repotting Season
 Air Layering for Bonsai
 What is Kokedama?
 What is Kusamono

 March 2014
 February 2014
 January 2014