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  • Writer's pictureLucelle Pillay

Air-layering Bay Trees

The Bays at Redbrick

The beautiful Bay tree (Laurus nobilus) , has been serving us well gastronomically for many years. It’s leaves added either dried or fresh to stews and curries adds a deep fragrant note that cannot be duplicated by any other herb. I am lucky enough to have three mature trees in the garden, their upwardly sweeping branches of dark green foliage reminds me of my visit to Italy. Through most of Europe, Bay trees can be seen growing in public gardens as ornamental hedge trees or just wild along side country paths. The Bays aesthetic appeal is matched only by it’s culinary versatility.

Of the three mature Bays at Redbrick, a multi-stemmed tree, wasn’t as healthy or strong as the other two. This was due to it growing too close to a giant Privet, the shade cast from the Privet and creeping Ivy made the Bay tree leggy as it reached toward the light. I thought this would be a good candidate to air -layer and eventually re-plant to a sunnier spot. So what exactly is air-layering, and how did I even come across this process?

While indulging my interest in Bonsai on YouTube, I came across the most knowledgeable and charismatic guru of Bonsai, Mr Peter Chan. Owner and founder of Herons Bonsai in the UK, he shares his lifetime of expertise regarding ‘all things green and diminutive’. Please subscribe if you are into Bonsai, as Peter provides real skills for beginners and demystifies this ancient art into practical projects. After watching Mr Chan air-layering a few trees, I felt confident to attempt the process myself. Peter also offers advice and suggestions in the comment section of his channel.

The Process of Air - Layering

Basically air-layering is using mature trees to provide mature off-cuts with thick trunks in only a few months. If you have ever grown a tree from seed, you would know that it takes 10 to 20 years to develop a thick trunk, whereas air-layering provides this in about 3 to 4 months.

I started to air-layer in early spring of 2019, and harvested the off-cuts in late summer of the same year, the roots took about 4 to 5 months to appear. The process entails cutting out a circular strip of bark from around the truck. The depth of cut should be about 5mm in order to remove the cambium (tissue layer that provides water and nutrients). Once the layer of bark has been removed, wrap a piece of thick plastic bag around the base of the cut to create a pocket. I use insulation tape to fix the plastic, but wire would do as well. Fill the pocket created by the plastic with wet sphagnum moss. Pack the moss tightly around the area of cut-away bark. I find it easier to place the moss and then use a spray gun to add water. Seal the top of the plastic pocket using insulation tape or wire. It’s important to make a few slits in the plastic pocket for drainage to avoid rot setting in during heavy rains. Leave the air-layered tree for 2 to 3 months, then check to see if roots have appeared. If no roots emerge, the process may have been ineffective, in some cases the bark heals over the incision. You could try to leave the air-layering for a longer period. If roots are visible, the branch is ready to be removed from the parent tree. Cut use a sharp, clean saw or loppers, ensure the off-cut is planted immediately in a suitable potting mix. I usually plant it with the sphagnum moss from the air-layering as it protects the root ball.

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