Air Layering With Another Bald Cypress

Another nice Saturday means that I am finding something I can do with my trees in training.  That can be a good thing if the attention is applied properly.  Too much fidgeting with the trees themselves can be a negative thing. Remember, they grow nice and healthy completely by themselves in nature.  We can have a lot of input on how they grow and progress, but just remember to apply that in the right way.

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You may recognize the one on the left from my post when I prepped it for an upcoming raft. (Raft post – http://wp.me/p3pRJl-2f)

I should preface this with my knowledge that the Bald Cypress is an extremely tough tree and can take a lot of punishment.  Other species of trees need an entire growing season, sometimes two, before doing more significant work like this.  You need to know what you are working with and plan accordingly.  I know that has been mentioned in my previous posts, but it is worth repeating.

I decided that since the tree is obviously very healthy and responding well to the recent work and heavy feeding, I could go ahead and prep the top to be removed later this year by air layering.  Air layering is a simple (relatively) process to propagate new material from existing material.  You can apply the technique for many reasons, but for me, I just want an extra tree and my future plans for the bottom half (raft) doesn’t include the top.

First step is to gather your materials.  This seems like a simple idea, but it rather important. Once you start working on your tree, you don’t want to scramble around finding what you need.  Have it all handy so you can work quickly and limit the stress on your tree. I have pictured below everything I used for this process.  I am using my soil mixture of turface, pumice, and pine bark in equal parts.  I have already prepared the small plastic pot by cutting a hole in the bottom, making a single cut from the top rim to the bottom hole I cut, and drilling two holes on each side of the slit.  The small jar is rooting hormone in powder form. The two small wires are used to hold the pot together and the grafting knife was used to prep the tree.  I also used a small piece of Vet Wrap under my pot, but I forgot to get it in the family photo. Last but least was my speaker for tunes.  Metal and the heaviest of sorts.

Bear with me, if you are not familiar with this technique, it will make sense in a few minutes.

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Select where you want to layer your tree.  I chose the area right around the center of the picture where you can see three small nubs where small branches were growing.  This area has subtle movement that will become exaggerated as the tree grows larger.  You can also notice that the tree begins to taper off into a smaller diameter as you go up the trunk.  Air layering is a great tool that allows you to create a larger tree instead of starting from seed or a much smaller seedling.  

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We are skipping forward a bit with the pictures, but it is a bit difficult to do the work and take pictures at the same time.  I need to grow a new hand or ask the boys to give me hand.  They would rather play in the mud and chase bugs.  I can’t fault them for that.  You need to make two deep cuts completely around the tree.  Don’t be shy with the cuts as you need to go through the bark, cambium, and into the hardwood.  Make sure the knife is very sharp and you are precise, especially with the top.  If your cuts are not clean the roots will not develop as easily.  Once you make your circular cuts, remove all the bark and cambium in between.  The distance between the bark is about 2-3″.  If you don’t remove enough or don’t go deep enough, the tree can heal over and won’t push roots.

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I just dumped some hormone powder in a plastic tub and added some water to create a paste.  This is simply to make it adhere to the tree better.  If you just dust it on the tree, it can wash off after watering the tree a few times.  A good consistency is similar to glue.  If you decide to use the gel hormone, you can skip this step as it is thicker.

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Smear it on heavily.  There is actually a bit more on there than this picture shows.

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Again, I skip ahead a bit here.  That third arm never grew.  Spread the pot out and wrap it around the tree.  I used the piece of Vet Wrap directly below the base of the pot to keep it from falling down.  Thread your wire through the holes you drill and close the pot.  Once it is tightly closed, fill your pot with soil.  Water it very well and make sure to keep it moist.  This soil is fast draining so I water at least twice a day to make sure it is damp.  In a few months, I should see roots poking through the holes in the bottom of the pot.  Once I see that, I will probably wait a couple more weeks to make sure there are plenty of roots to support the top of the tree when it is removed.  Pot your new tree and enjoy your scientific material.  

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I will update with a new post once I open it up and repot the top.  My plans are to use this new top as a part of forest planting.  The other tree pictured in my first photo will endure this same process so I will have a total of 3 trees.  Wish me luck!

Nursery Japanese Maple

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I saw this tree a few months ago in the above condition. It had an awesome base and a pretty decent price tag so I picked it up. I couldn’t wait for warmer weather to come around so I could work on it. As far as raw nursery stock, this guy has the best potential of any in my small collection. The base is the most important feature in bonsai and this type of base on a Japanese Maple is rare for your average nursery.

I initially started with a chop (a significant reduction in trunk height/length) during the dormant winter season. (Micah is making a guest appearance in his PJs for this post.)

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I had stopped here and had planned to keep all 4 of these trunks to rebuild my canopy. After I chopped it, I realized that the damage on the back side wasn’t just superficial, and wouldn’t likely heal over since most of the rear trunks were dead.

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I decided it would be better to completely remove them and go with a twin-trunk design.

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Fast forward to yesterday and after a lot of staring and chin rubbing, I decided that when I repotted the tree, I would have to remove that lateral root on the right side. It is elevated from the soil line and just doesn’t fit. There is also a smaller root directly below the problematic one that will fatten up nicely in a few years and fill up the gap left by removing the one in question.

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I have a hard time throwing anything away so I decided to try a little experiment with this root. It had smaller roots going into the rootball so…..

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This might turn into a cool little tree just to play with. It might also die. Oh well…I just couldn’t throw it out when I had a perfectly good mac and cheese bowl (thanks to my boys) to put it in. Anyhoo, back to the tree.

The rootball was more like a concrete block than roots. They were completely compacted. About 2 hours later, I finally made it to this point:

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It was an insane amount of work getting the roots reduced down to this point. Think I’m exaggerating?

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Those are carbon steel knob cutters. Or I should say they were. I removed A LOT of thick and hardened roots. It will take a year or two for this tree to fully recover from that much being removed. It is better to just get it out of the way now instead of dealing with it a little at a time. Maples are pretty tough and it should be fine. If it were a pine, it would be a 5 year project to get to this point.

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I placed a flat piece of wood in my grow box to pot the tree on top of. This will prevent any roots from growing downward and will encourage lateral growth.

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I removed the Oil Dri mixture from my soil blend because it tends to break down too fast. This is potted in equal parts pumice, turface, and pine bark fines. Hopefully, I will have many fresh shoots to wire at the end of the growing season!