Creating a Bonsai by Layering

Layering is a very good way of starting a tree. The technique of layering can be split into two types.

Ground layering

Where you fix a low growing branch into the ground (or a container). Anchor the branch to the ground with a steak, or cane to stop the tree moving, and mound soil over the area to be rooted.

The tree is usually left alone until the following spring when it may be dug up, and potted. If the tree is a conifer the best course of action is to carefully remove the soil around the cut to see if adequate roots have formed, replacing the soil if not. The tree should then be left for another year.

The trunk should be treated with a rooting compound as shown in the following section.

Air layering

This tree is being Air layered, the top part will be grown on to thicken it up, the bottom part will produce shoots, one of which will form a new leader that will eventually give a good tapered trunk.

The layering is wrapped in clear plastic, which will have a layer of black plastic put over it, as roots grow best in the dark. The black plastic can be opened when you wish to inspect progress, or check that the moss is still damp.

With both ground, and air layering, the technique below should be followed, noting the difference between deciduous, and coniferous trees.

The 'Ringing' method works well with deciduous species, however for conifers an alternative way is best. This involves wrapping a piece of strong wire around the trunk, and twisting it until it bites right into the bark. Then cut a number of small nicks in the bark just above the wire, and apply hormone compound, then wrap in moss.

Conifers take longer to root by layering, and may not show roots until the following year.

On the whole most species will root but pines are pigs, and may take up to five years to do so. Air layering should be your preferred option as it produces a good radial root formation.

The moss in the bag must be kept moist at all times. There is a tendency for the water in the moss to be absorbed into the trunk, and out through the leaves. You may have to open the top of the bag, and pour water into it.

When it's time to separate your tree, try to create a balance between the volume of root, and the amount of foliage present. This may mean reducing the foliage, but a tree that is 'out of balance' like the one on the left may find it difficult to survive.

When planting the tree, choose a deep pot, and put the root ball deep down into it, filling the pot with soil. This will stop the tree rocking in the wind, and damaging the new roots.

Under no circumstances should you try to remove the moss, as this will damage the soft new roots. The moss will decompose in a short while, and any left can be removed when the tree is next repotted.

Allen. C. Roffey 00:06 20/01/2003