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Air Layering

Spring has long sprung, and we are reminded that it is the time for propagation.

In ancient China, gardeners used a method of propagating plants called layering. That's where you get the branch, pull it down while still attached, and secure it somehow to the soil.

We want to do a cutting from this Ficus benjamina, but the branches are too high off the ground. So what we're going to show you is air layering. It's a simple process and involves making a wound in the plant.

First, trim away some of the growth so you can see what you're doing. The areas where the branches and leaves come through — called nodes — are where the roots will come from when we attach the sphagnum moss.

Making the cut Clear away an area of plant. You need a reasonable amount of bare branch. Don't worry that it bleeds a little. That's what rubber plants do. It's not going to hurt the plant.

Then make your cut. This can be a little tricky, so make sure you use a sharp knife.

Cut about 5 mm in. You're actually after a tongue of wood immediately below the node — just slice upwards to it. The roots will emerge from the gap where it is cut.

Applying rooting hormone You can help the process along by using rooting hormone for semi-hardwood cuttings. Brush it on quite generously.

Meanwhile, soak some sphagnum moss in water for about 30 minutes.

It needs to absorb plenty of water because once you've sealed it in its plastic bag, it won't get any water for about three months.

Sphagnum moss Pack the sphagnum moss around the cut branch so that it's keeping the two bits of the branch separate. That's because the roots need room to come out from the cut.

Take a piece of plastic and wrap that around the base of the cut branch and sphagnum. The whole point of this is so that water cannot get out or in.

It has to be properly sealed, so make sure you have a reasonable piece of tape. Wrap the tape around the plastic to secure it tightly.

Wrapping plastic around sphagnum If necessary, pack in a wee bit more sphagnum moss through the opening at the top.

With the plastic, although the white is unattractive, at least it has the properties the plant needs. If it were black and the plant was in sunlight, it would overheat inside. Although the rooting hormone has fungicide, black plastic isn't recommended.

Nor is clear plastic because algae may build up, and you then find yourself opening the bag in great excitement two months later to find it's rotted.

Securing the plastic with tape Secure the plastic at the top.

Check the way the plant is progressing after about eight weeks or so.

You need to be patient because it takes at least two to three months to root. Some plants like rhododendron and camellia might take the whole growing season.

Cutting off branch once rooted Once the plant has rooted, take a pair of sharp secateurs and snip it off. Peel away the plastic and you will have the roots there — and a new plant.

There's all sorts of plants you can do that with, including the New Zealand or Australian tea-tree. Try experimenting with different plants.

Reproduced with permission from NZOOM Home and Garden content,
from the previous website of  TVNZ News

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH

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Last updated: March 1, 2021