This is a partial update on the last air layer post (go here).
Partial because the podocarpus has not pushed roots yet (though it is beginning to callous); the smaller hackberry air layer has roots but the larger does not; and the winged elm has little nubs but not long roots; and the neea doesn’t have anything yet.
I’ll post an update on those (hopefully) soon.
My friend Mike Rogers had an air layer on a bucida spinosa for two years once. As long as the top is still healthy it is fine to keep the layer on.
This post will deal with the Brazilian Raintree and the ficus microcarpa.
Lets begin with the Raintree.
The different color bark is from the tree exfoliating.
It means its growing.
I put three layers on this tree. All three made it
I didn’t have to peel the aluminum foil back at all to check. The roots were all poking out of the bottom.
And inside
they were full of them.
The process is simple.
Saw off the layered branch
And put it in a pot (tie it down to reduce movement)
Some people recommend combing out the roots. I don’t. At this stage the roots are like bean sprouts. Thick, juicy, but brittle. You can comb them out next year.
And I do a topiary trim on top just to spur more growth and reduce the foliage surface area, cutting down on the transpiration stress so many leaves may impart on the new plant.
That was the one tree I knew would work easily.

Now the ficus.
If you remember, this was an experiment to compare air layering to just striking a big cutting.
There’s lots of growth on top. That’s a good sign. And a single root snaking out.
Lets look underneath.
Well….I was expecting more roots from a ficus.
Lets dig underneath and look.
No roots on this face. In fact, the tree is healing back over, bridging the cut we made.
Which gives me an idea on how to heal big wounds but it doesn’t help with this air layer.
Walter was right. Air layering a ficus is counterproductive.
There are only roots on these two areas
The top will survive but I’ve wasted two months on this tree now.
If you can recall, in my experiment I took a similar ficus and made a trunk chop and made a cutting of the top.
Here they are today
The roots on this one are already coming out of the drain holes on the bottom of the pot.
The bottom
It has branches. It’s well on its way to bonsai hood.
The air layered bottom has just one lonely limb
And the air layered top has but those two areas of roots so I tie it in place
A family photo
So what did I learn?
Don’t bother with air layers on ficus.
Brazilian rain trees like making roots.
And don’t believe Dave when he says he removed all the thorns on those same Brazilian Raintree
Well, iron is good for plants I guess.

15 thoughts

  1. I may have to try the air layering to get another (larger) Winged Elm specimen. I’ve been working with a small (1″ OD) seedling for a couple of years, and my progress is questionable – it’s still alive and healthy, but not very cooperative. I’ve been trying to direct the growth thru pruning alone. My questions: Will continually topping it out eventually kill it? Can you defoliate to make it bush out and fill in better? If so, do the leaves come back smaller? Thanks


    1. The only way a tree can make food is through photosynthesis. It can store food but if you are continually pruning it it may not have any extra. Pruning should be done at certain times of the year and other times the tree should be allowed to grow and gather that energy. I would cut back on cutting back in the late summer as the tree needs energy to reemerge in the spring.
      Defoliate now and again in late July. But no more after that. It will improve ramification and you’ll have smaller leaves.
      Hope that helps.


      1. Thanks; I’ll try your suggestions and see what results, Maybe you could do an elm styling in the future? (hint)


  2. I have a chance to get some elm cuttings (just regular old ubiquitous in Colorado elm, not Chinese elm or anything) and I was wondering what the chances would be of my being able to get them to root and grow? I’m really enjoying my tea tree that you answered some questions on for me a while back and it’s still kicking, but I think you’re right in saying that having a few different trees to play with helps keep a new bonsai-er from picking one tree to death. I’d like to have more trees, I just can’t afford to run out and buy them, especially since I think it would be very easy to get excited and go completely broke.

    So, I’m hoping that the elm might be a free alternative, since I already have a bunch of big pots and plenty of soil. There’s also a possibility that I might be able to get a whole tree if I could figure out how to get it out of the ground and support it in a pot without killing it. It’s about twenty years old, but has been cut back to the ground every four or five years, because it’s in a bad spot, right near the house. They tried to kill it several times but it kept coming back, so they settled for just periodically cutting it down as a nuisance.

    So, I’m hoping for some advice on which would be the best way to go, or if it’s even a good idea. A lot of the information in bonsai forums are for Chinese elm, and I don’t know if there are any critical differences or not. Is it harder or easier with larger cuttings? I can get some up to about 2 inches across, or all the way down to twigs. Or, like I said, that whole tree, if I can pull it off by myself.


    1. Stem cuttings from elms are a bit tricky. In summer you take softwood cuttings. In the fall you take hardwood cuttings. Most people say to use an intermittent mist to keep the cuttings from drying out. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried elm cuttings yet.
      If you want to dig up that very promising sounding elm wait until February or march. Just before the buds open.
      Whatever treatment a Chinese elm gets would be the same for the American elm.
      Maybe I’ll do a post next winter on collecting.


  3. If the tree gets cut back now, would it be bad for collecting it later or sort of irrelevant? They need it cut back so if I don’t dig, they’ll cut. Just wondering if I should figure on going ahead with it or letting it slide a year or two.


      1. Awesome, that’s what I wanted to know, whether it might be ready this February/March or if it should wait a year or two after getting cut back.

        I’d just like to mention again how fantastic I think it is that you’ll answer these stupid newbie questions! I know to people who have done it for years a lot of the new person questions seem dumb, or so common-sensical that they shouldn’t need to be asked.


      2. Thank you for reading. I won’t use the cliche that there isn’t such a thing as a dumb question because there is but yours are not. There are professionals who don’t know how to propagate or collect trees.


  4. Adam, I just wanted to follow up with another “Thank you”. I took your advice in June on pruning and defoliation (leaf snipping) of only the dominant top and gangly branches on the winged elm. This seemed to slow down the growth of the entire tree for the Summer to a much easier rate . It caused the overall growth to be more compact and noteworthy – smaller leaves and shorter, more delicate new growth – not nearly as wild and out of control – a pleasure to follow. Even the large inner leaves dropped out one by one, and the entire tree was more uniform with smaller leaves. I’ll prune back this Fall and try the same thing next year. There may be hope for the l’il guy after all. I suppose I just need more patience, because I hate to see this year’s growing season come to an end. But things like this give us more to look forward to in the future. Maybe I can catch a sale between now and next Spring on insecticide, knowing that the aphids will return in 2014, too – they “love”the new growth! Keep the posts coming – I think that I’ve learned “something” from every one (and I can’t/don’t try to grow tropicals in SC)


  5. On the ficus that you chopped and got the top to take root; could you explain a bit about how you treated it while it was taking root? How deep did you plant it? Did you do anything special in terms of watering or adding humidity, covering it, keeping it in the shade, etc.? This spring/summer in Austin I’m going to go for it on a ficus benjamina about 1.25″ diameter and want to give it a good chance to take root.


    1. When I do ficus cuttings I tend to plant them pretty deep, almost to the bottom of the pot. I tend to keep them in the shade but not much else. Fertilize it when you see new growth but not before.
      Benjamina ficus are the easiest to root so you should have good luck. You may want to water more in Austin, I’m not sure how humid you are but I don’t have a need in Florida to give ficus mist.
      Good luck!


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