How to Aerial layer or Marcot

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How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby taffyman » Fri May 04, 2007 12:06 am

Aerial layering (air-layering or marcotting) is another way of propagating new material. It can be used for most types of trees and shrubs.
What I explain below is the way I do air-layers. It isn't the only way but I find it works for me.
The material in the photos is a narrow leaf Ficus Benjamina.
To start with, select round about where you want your layer to be and find a node near that position. In the first photo you can see where I have removed a small branch - that is a very suitable place for the layer.
Next, with a very sharp knife (stanley or similar) and just below the node, push the blade into the bark till you feel a lot of resistance. Don't saw at the bark, push the edge of the blade in. When you come up against that resistance, and keeping the pressure on the blade, slide it right round the trunk to where you started. Do the same about 3 cm further down the trunk. You now have two rings round the trunk. Do one cut from the top ring to the bottom one and lever the bark off all the way round the branch. It may not come off all in one piece so keep peeling till it is all off - photo 2.
Congratulations - you have now 'ring-barked' your branch or trunk! If you just left it like that, the upper part would die.
The new roots will shoot from the top of the cut section, so put some rooting gel or power all round this area. My preference is one of the gels because it is wet so doesn't draw any moisture from the cut.
Now you need a piece of clear plastic sheet - doesn't matter how thick or thin it is. Cut it wide enough to extend way above and below the ring barked section and long enough to go round the area with plenty of room, then put it round and join it with some tape - gaffa or duct tape cut into strips is fine. Make sure you have enough overlap to be able to seal the join completely - photo 3.
In photo 3 and 4 you can see the ring-bark inside the plastic.
Photo 4 shows where I've used some tape to hold the lower plastic into the trunk - you don't need to do this, you can just wrap a piece of wire round it. I find it easier to put the tape on first though - it hold it in place while you are putting the wire round it.
Now you need some sphagnum moss (available at the B store or nurseries). Sphagnum moss is completely sterile and inert - but don't try eating it - it is toxic so be a bit careful with it. Dip it into some water and gently squeeze out the excess but don't wring it out completely - the new roots need something to drink. Put the moss in the plastic tube you've created and make sure it goes down below and up above your ring-bark and fill the tube with it. Then seal the top the same way you did the bottom - photo 5. Wrap a piece of wire round the top and the bottom and twitch it up as tight as you can without snapping it - photo 6. The whole thing needs to be as watertight as you can get it otherwise you will be continually unwrapping it to add water to the moss - if the moss dries out, your air-layer will die off.
Finally, wrap a piece of black plastic sheet round the whole thing and tie it in place with a nice little bow - that's so you can undo it easily to see how your layer is going. Again, this step isn't mandatory - you can just leave the clear plastic as it is. I do it because my reasoning is that roots grow naturally underground in the dark so I try and replicate that by covering it with the black plastic.
That is now a completed Aerial Layer. All you have to do now is watch it and make sure it doesn't dry out. If you do need to add water because it is leaking somewhere it is better to use a syringe pushed through the clear plastic rather than undoing the layer. Undoing the layer runs the risk of breaking off any new roots that are forming - they are extremely brittle.
When you see the tube is full of new roots - they will be round and fresh as against the sphagnum moss dull creamy colour and flat and ragged - it is then time to remove the layer completely. Have your pot ready with some potting mix in the bottom. Take off the black plastic but leave the clear plastic alone, and if the branch is too thick for a branch cutter or secateurs use a pruning saw and cut just below the bottom wire. Take the wire off the top and the bottom and then remove the tape - be very careful how you handle it now because the roots are extremely fragile and delicate. Cut the clear plastic up the side and take it off. Now, without disturbing the roots or the moss, put the whole thing into your pot and fill with potting mix to above the moss level. At this stage the roots will be a tangled mess, but don't worry about that - they will be sorted out on the next re-pot and root prune. Some may stay tangled but others will venture out into the potting mix - those you will keep, the others will be removed. Dunk the pot into a bucket of water and leave it for an hour or so to completely soak the potting mix. Let it drain then put it into a semi shady position for a couple of weeks to allow the new roots to develop. After about a month it can be put out in spot where it gets a few hours sun per day and a month or so after that it can go out in the full sun.
As I said, this is my way of doing it. Others have their own way. One person I know doesn't use plastic at all. He uses Alfoil. He wraps the alfoil round the trunk to make a cone, fills it with sphagnum moss then seals the top. In our heat up here I don't think I'd like to leave that one out in the sun - I think it might just cook the whole thing.
Different trees take different times to set roots. Figs are relatively quick. Pam had a full rootball on her variegated fig in less than two weeks. Pines can take up to three years to put out new roots, so don't worry if you don't see any roots within a short time, just make sure it stays moist, and if the foliage above the layer is still healthy then everything is fine. I taught my next door neighbour how to apply aerial layers and he has been layering his lemon tree with great results. Even though the original tree is a grafted one, the air layers are growing just fine on their own - we even have one of them growing in our garden and it has already produced some nice lemons.
One of the advantages of air-layering is that if it is a mature tree that sets fruit that you are working on then the planted layer will fruit as well as opposed to using seed that might take up to five years or so to produce its first fruit.
Try it people - but don't use your prize tree for the first couple of attempts just in case.

Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Last edited by taffyman on Sun Oct 07, 2007 7:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Mister Wisteria » Fri May 04, 2007 8:31 am

You are a wealth of knowledge Taffy and you explain yourself very well. What I find at times things are explained to me but I just don't pick the thread up, maybe its just me, but I doubt it. Must be other people like myself (I hope) :oops:
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Postby Pam » Fri May 04, 2007 12:06 pm

Your pictures are SO much better than mine Taffy (thank goodness). One thing I found that you haven't mentioned, is that once roots do begin to form on the marcott, they will such moisture from the spagnum moss (or whatever medium is used) and it will dry out MUCH more quickly than before, so an eye needs to be kept on it to make sure the new roots don't dry out..
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Postby guzzigirl » Fri May 04, 2007 12:24 pm

my ficus benjamina is quaking in its boots already :twisted:
“Although you’ll find our house a mess, come in, sit down, converse…
It doesn’t always look like this! Sometimes it’s even worse!”
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Postby Luzy » Fri May 04, 2007 5:52 pm

Taffy, that is fabulous - thank you. :D I think that your style of writing makes it so much easier to visualise as you read (pics make it better, of course). And, it makes sense! 8)
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby taffyman » Fri May 04, 2007 6:22 pm

taffyman wrote: Sphagnum moss is completely sterile and inert - but don't try eating it - it is toxic so be a bit careful with it. Dip it into some water and gently squeeze out the excess but don't wring it out completely - the new roots need something to drink.


Hey Pam - I did briefly mention it - but not enough :cry:
Thanks for your encouragement people. I try to explain things in a way that I would like it explained to me. I did those aerial layers yesterday and took the photos as I went through it. When it came to explaining it I went through every detail in my mind and wrote it down. It is much easier to actually show someone how to do it and explain as you go along. Even though the post was rather long, the whole process should take less than 15 minutes as long as you have everything ready before you start. Give it a go, it's very rewarding when you finally sever the layer, plant it up and watch it grow and develop - a lot quicker than cuttings. I haven't tried any of our Natives yet but I intend to in the near future starting with LillyPillys. Any of the fig species are the easiest to do, and the quickest to produce new roots. Benjaminas are pretty cheap at most nurseries, so even if your first attempt doesn't take don't lose heart - try it again. Don't forget, even if it doesn't take, you still have the lower part of the tree to work on. Pam kindly gave me her air-layer from the variegated Benjamina but she has the lower trunk part - the best part (for now - watch this space :twisted: ). Don't be afraid to attempt it, have a go - you have nothing to lose - and everything to gain.
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Postby lmrk » Sun Oct 07, 2007 5:15 pm

Hi Taffyman

What a wonderful description and accompanying photos!!!

I was wondering what time of year is best for air layering, or can it be done anytime? I was thinking that maybe now, with all the new growth, may be the best?
Does a watched bonsai ever grow?
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Postby taffyman » Sun Oct 07, 2007 7:22 pm

Best time for Air layering is Spring/Summer when the sap is in full flow, in particular in your areas in the southern states. Up here I did those layers in the photos on 3rd May and I removed them about a month ago - so they went right through our winter with no problems. If I were to put one on now, I'd be removing it round about pre - Christmas or possibly earlier.
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Postby lmrk » Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:39 pm

Hi Taffy. My parents have a fantastic Manchurian Pear, which they said I could have a go at air layering - it's huge so it won't matter if one limb dies off (I hope it's only one limb and not the whole tree! :shock: ). I've read and reread your instructions and even printed them off!

Just wondering, is a Manchurian Pear a suitable bonsai tree and secondly, how long do you think it would take for sufficient roots to grow before cutting it off?

Wish me luck - doing it tomorrow :shock: :shock:
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Postby taffyman » Sat Oct 27, 2007 9:32 pm

Yes it is Leah. A Manchurian Pear (Pyrus Ussurensis) has a reasonably small leaf to start with. I have one but not in a Bonsai pot - yet. With regards to how long it would take for sufficient roots to form, I've no idea, but if you apply the layer and cover it with clear plastic then black plastic over that, then you can keep checking it by taking the black plastic off and having a look at the Sphagnum moss. You'll know when there are sufficient roots by the rootball being full of them. Just make sure it never dries out - that will just about kill the roots right away.
Just by applying one layer, it couldn't kill the whole tree. Even if you applied layers to every branch and none of them 'took' you still wouldn't kill the tree - it would just send out new shoots below the failed layers. Have a go Leah, you get a great sense of achievement when you see roots growing in the clear plastic. Let us know how you get on with it.
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby FLgarden » Sun Dec 30, 2007 7:49 am

Taffy, I'm very interested in approaching this aerial layering approach on either an orange or tangelo tree in my backyard (who am I kidding?! Add several palms, the large evergreen, and maybe another evergreen from up front, that's my list haha!).


Anyways, as everyone's said, amazing write up. I've read that method several times, never felt up to it, read your blurb this morning, and am now holding a sack of sphagnum, some IBA powder, clear tarping, and ready to get my layerin on :mrgreen:

I've got some questions though, sorry for so many!!

- you mention sphagnum is sterile, yet is toxic. My understanding was sphagnum isn't sterile, and that only toxic worries would be from a bacterial infestation (which wouldn't be sterile). I'm kind of confused here. If in doubt, would you advise microwaving/baking the peat? How important is sterility in there, I mean even the handling of it and not sterilizing the branch before the procedure would negate sterility.

- IBA is new to me, and from what I read on wiki, it's *not* water soluble. My general understanding on something of that nature makes me wonder how it would do anything if it's not water soluble. It is ethanol/alcohol soluble though, but that'd be tough to keep in place on the ring as it's not a gel. Any thoughts on this? The directions for the powdered IBA say to just wet the tip of the plant and dip in the powder. But knowing it's not water soluble really makes me wonder how it's getting from the outside of the plant to where it needs to be.

- Just how crazy can you go when doing this, in terms of size of branches? I'm getting into propagation and bonsai, and for some reason have a feeling that maybe, just maybe, if I were to take a thick branch off one of my citrus trees, that I could quasi-bonsai (just larger pot, thick trunk citrus, maybe do some espallier training on it to just have a tiny, thick, fruit-bearing citrus tree - not quite bonsai per se I don't think, but cool nonetheless :D

- are palms a special endeavor here? Or could I do this approach on a regular palm tree with woody branches? << I'm not meaning to try layering a green palm frond or anything, but rather the palms, if they are even palms - just assumed they were, that have a thick base and then like several 5' tall branches coming out of them - would these work the same?

- had you ever considered tweaking your method to include more rooting hormone? I haven't looked into it as thoroughly as I would have liked, but it doesn't seem to be the most stable of compounds. Given how long the plant makes that root ball, and the likelihood of a second application of water if needed to keep it moist, perhaps a supplementary root hormone app would be beneficial?
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby boylesg » Tue Jan 01, 2008 7:04 pm

Root hormones only last long enough to stimulate the production of callous around the wound and it is from this callous that the roots eventually develop. So it doesn't really matter that the hormones are not stable and I can't see it being necessary to re-apply them in an aerial layering situation.
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby FLgarden » Wed Jan 02, 2008 2:46 am

aha I see!!

Perhaps then some <phosphate?> of that nutrient for rooting would be of benefit mixed with the peat? :-?

I just setup an attempt for this yesterday, boy is it a pain the way I did it!! I did it on a ~45 degree, maybe more horizontal than that, limb of my orange tree. Probably 4-5' long and 1.5" thick where I made the layer. I used very thin plastic sheeting and, upon adding the peat, I couldn't keep the peat in place!! I had to actually brush the hormone on twice because the first app rubbed off when I was trying to keep the peat in place. Luckily duct tape was able to wrap it up real tight :mrgreen: .

One thing I did notice was the bark didn't peel in any real big chunks, I got a couple thick chunks, but it was mostly a square millimeter at a time lol :wink:
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby Pam » Wed Jan 02, 2008 5:04 am

FLgarden wrote:

One thing I did notice was the bark didn't peel in any real big chunks, I got a couple thick chunks, but it was mostly a square millimeter at a time lol :wink:


FLgarden, I had the same thing happen recently with my first attempt at doing a fig. I was told (by someone very knowledgeable :wink: ) that it was because I hadn't cut deep enough.
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby FLgarden » Wed Jan 02, 2008 9:40 am

that does make sense, I actually realized I had to re-score it, apparently even 2 passes wasn't enough!


I was just reviewing the pics and noticed something - taffy's spaghnum peat moss looks really, really light - the stuff I get (miracle grow spaghnum peat moss) is extremely dark. Is that normal?

Another question, given how ignorant I am of plants in general :wink: . Taffy, you say some things take years to root, others had a rootball in a couple weeks. Any rough, rough, rough estimate on an orange tree one like I did? I know impatience and gardening aren't the best mix, but I'm trying! Would be cool to have a rough idea if I'm gonna see something visible in 3 weeks, or in 8 months :mrgreen:
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby Sam » Wed Jan 02, 2008 11:25 am

Hey FLG - don't suppose it was you that found that gorgeous pearl in the clam, was it?
“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian, wine and tarragon
make it French, sour cream makes it Russian, lemon and
cinnamon make it Greek, soya sauce makes it Chinese, Garlic
makes it good.” Alice May Brock, Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook.
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby taffyman » Wed Jan 02, 2008 9:45 pm

Have a look at this post Flg. It's a continuation of this post and on it I mentioned the difference between Sphagnum Moss and Sphagnum Moss Peat.
http://www.gardenexpress.com.au/forum/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=9702
The peat isn't really suitable for Aerial Layering - it's too dense and boggy, and in that situation tends to be rather anaerobic, whereas the 'light, fluffy' Sphagnum Moss has a lot of trapped air in the ball. The straight Sphagnum Moss will still hold a huge amount of water - plenty to carry the air layer through its job. There are very few trees used in Bonsai that are happy growing in boggy conditions - one exception is your Swamp Cypress (Taxodium Distichum). Most trees require air circulating around the roots (as in normal garden situations).
We put a couple of air-layers on a Tahitian Lime in my next door neighbours garden, and they took about six weeks to produce roots.
When you strip the bark off for an air-layer, you need to sink your blade right in till you hit the hard wood in the centre (heartwood). If you don't cut through all three outer layers (Phloem, Cambium and Xylem) the wound can heal over without putting out new roots. I've seen where a 1 1/2 long ring bark has completely calloused over without growing a single root, because the cuts weren't deep enough.
As I said in my original post, this is the way I do Aerial Layering, but there are other ways of doing it and maybe I could do another write-up on some of them. I find this way the best for me, but others might be interested in trying some alternative methods.
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby FLgarden » Thu Jan 03, 2008 3:37 am

Sam wrote:Hey FLG - don't suppose it was you that found that gorgeous pearl in the clam, was it?

hahaha nope - but how'd you know about that? <<read fark? >>
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby FLgarden » Thu Jan 03, 2008 3:40 am

taffyman wrote:Have a look at this post Flg. It's a continuation of this post and on it I mentioned the difference between Sphagnum Moss and Sphagnum Moss Peat.
http://www.gardenexpress.com.au/forum/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=9702
The peat isn't really suitable for Aerial Layering - it's too dense and boggy, and in that situation tends to be rather anaerobic, whereas the 'light, fluffy' Sphagnum Moss has a lot of trapped air in the ball. The straight Sphagnum Moss will still hold a huge amount of water - plenty to carry the air layer through its job. There are very few trees used in Bonsai that are happy growing in boggy conditions - one exception is your Swamp Cypress (Taxodium Distichum). Most trees require air circulating around the roots (as in normal garden situations).
We put a couple of air-layers on a Tahitian Lime in my next door neighbours garden, and they took about six weeks to produce roots.
When you strip the bark off for an air-layer, you need to sink your blade right in till you hit the hard wood in the centre (heartwood). If you don't cut through all three outer layers (Phloem, Cambium and Xylem) the wound can heal over without putting out new roots. I've seen where a 1 1/2 long ring bark has completely calloused over without growing a single root, because the cuts weren't deep enough.
As I said in my original post, this is the way I do Aerial Layering, but there are other ways of doing it and maybe I could do another write-up on some of them. I find this way the best for me, but others might be interested in trying some alternative methods.




I'll check that link out in a minute.

Unfortunately, I only know of 3 brands of peat and all 3 I've gotten at one point, and all look like that.... What to do!!! Do you think that perhaps making like, I dunno, a 50/50 of that stuff + perlite would be efficient? I presume I need to get out there and remove that asap!!! You are right, I guess I was just ignoring my instincts putting that up, because anaerobic city is all I could think of given the density/moisture in there... Having worked with aquariums pretty extensively I know what no movement, no oxygen, and lots of moisture can do to something! Ewww!!!
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Re: How to Aerial layer or Marcot

Postby Lets Plant » Thu Feb 07, 2008 3:00 pm

Ah ha, that's how you do it. I actually just add what I thought was an air layer today. Well I did it all wrong. I will have to redo it tomarrow. Thanks for the explanation and the pics were the icing on the cake.
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