Air layering my fig tree

It’s not news that The King (desert king fig tree) is getting too tall for us to easily bring into our garage for the winter. It has grown approximately four feet taller this year, but there is a significant gap between the first junction of branches, and the new growth – 22-inches of space!

I managed to come across some videos on air layering, so I decided to reach out to the most fig-knowledgeable person I know – Steven Biggs. I’ve only met him once, but I’ve sent him numerous email questions throughout the years since our first meeting at one of his fig talks, and he always answers my questions. This time, I asked him if he had heard of air layering, and if he’d ever tried this technique with his fig trees. The answer was yes, and that it works! He recommended I try it now in hopes that roots appear before it gets too cold.

Air layering is a method of propagation for woody plants that allows you to root branches while still attached to the parent plant. It should be done earlier in the season, and definitely when your tree is active. According to the YouTube video below, it can take up to 3 months for roots to form.

I have rooted fig cuttings by sticking the cutting into a pot of soil, but I chose to try this method because I’m basically cutting off the top of the main stem. Rooting takes time and for such a large cutting, I feel this might be a better method to allow the to-be cutting to establish itself. Also, I’m just curious.

On Saturday, I decided to tackle this project. Of course it was not difficult to convince hubby to help me out as he takes an interest in our fig trees more so than any other of our plants. In fact, in our household, he’s the one that takes great pride in successfully rooting fig cuttings. He does a great job!

I gathered my materials:

  • small bucket
  • potting soil
  • watering can, filled
  • swiss army knife
  • rooting hormone
  • plastic fruit bag from grocery store
  • cling film
  • aluminum foil
  • electrical tape

After deciding upon where we wanted the extraction point to be, we moved up a few inches and hubs started removing the outer bark. I poured out some potting soil into my bucket and added a healthy amount of water.

The guy in the video mentions that it’s important to scratch up the layer underneath, otherwise the tree will simply heal itself rather than grow roots. But while writing this post, I found more detailed information about the removal of the the bark, the cambium, and the phloem layer – so hopefully we removed enough. For a visual of the makeup of a woody stem, visit here and here.

After roughing up the stem, we took a clear plastic bag (the ones in the produce section at your local grocery store) and cut it open. As per the video, we used electrical tape and secured the sides of the bag together, and closed the based of the bag around the stem. 

Although not suggested in the video, I decided to swab some rooting hormone on the cut area since the product I have also contains a fungicide. 

With the rooting hormone applied, I then started forming fist size balls of soil and dropping them into the encasing bag we made. Hubby was holding the bag and reforming the soil balls into one large ball as I dropped them in one-by-one. We did not have to add a small slit to squeeze out any excess water as our bag has sprung a little leak on its own. We did have to do some reinforcing during this process by adding more electrical tape at the base, and once the bag was full and sealed at the top (with more electrical tape), hubs wrapped the tape one time around the bag, just under the midway point. We then took a couple long pieces of cling film and wrapped it around our bag for added security.

 

We then followed the youtube instructions of wrapping the foil around the structure. In the comments, the author of the video explains that the foil is used to reflect the sun and to prevent the air layer from water loss due to sun direct heat. It is also used to create dark conditions and preventing the light from reaching the roots because roots naturally grow better in dark conditions.

His reasons for using foil make sense to me and much to my surprise, when I touch the foil in the peak sunny period, it’s cool to the touch.

After we were done, we stood back and admired our work and both our heads tilted in the same direction as the stem. It has always leaned a little, but now with this bag of soil attached to the stem, we both had the same concern – what happens during a storm? Our solution? Insert a 6-foot support pole. 

It’s been two days and it’s still standing! This photo (above) was taken today, and as you can see, the leaves up top are still alive. I’ll give it a few weeks before I take a peak under the foil to see if any roots have started growing. I am hoping roots will have established before October.

Stay tuned!

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