Harvesting & Potting Air Layered Plants

After doing the steps for air layering on your plant, you wait until the adventitious roots start to appear. For the Chinese Bell flower plant, sometimes called Chinese Lantern, this can be as early as one week. For bigger plants with thicker stems, the time to root would typically be longer. Four to six weeks seem to be the usual range for most plants.

So what do you do while you wait? Nothing.

Shown below are the air layers I made on the Chinese Bell flower plant.


If you wet the potting medium as instructed and squeezed out the excess water, then the marcot should be moist enough. You might notice droplets of water forming on the plastic sheet and that's normal. It only means the marcot's cover is tight enough and is still moist. Don't worry about the marcot getting wet from your normal watering or the rains.




Occasionally, do check for the sprouting of adventitious roots. There's no need to actually loosen the tie wires and look inside the air layer or marcot. That's the reason we used transparent plastic sheet to wrap and pack the marcot. Imagine having to inspect all the marcots you made on a single plant.


When to Harvest a Marcotted Branch

When a marcotted branch roots, the root will appear pressed against the plastic sheet. So, once you see a single root appearing, do you harvest the marcot? Actually, you could, but the chances of the seedling of surviving once potted may not be as great as when it has developed more roots.

Shown below is one of the marcots that has developed a tiny network of healthy roots. This is the stage that I'd be more confident of harvesting the marcotted branch. Notice the new roots young have a milky white color.



How to Determine a Failed Air Layer

If there are no developing roots after a long wait (typically 4 to 6 weeks) then the air layering most likely failed. But one obvious telltale sign of a failed air layer is a wilting branch. You'll notice the leaves drooping at first and then the stem turning brown. Eventually, the stem and leaves start to die.




The air layer ball also looks dry on the outside. The potting medium inside appears to be loose and isn't firm when slightly squeezed.

The photo below shows a failed air layer.


Notice the wilted branch. The air layer wound did not develop any roots at all and has become brown in color.

So, if you do get a little network of milky white young roots showing, then congratulations, your air layer is ripe for harvesting.


How to Harvest the Air Layered or Marcotted Branch
  1. Without removing yet the plastic sheet, cut the branch BELOW the marcot ball with a pair of pruning shears.


    Be sure to first inspect the branch and that you are indeed cutting below the marcot ball. If the plant has thick foliage or there are multiple marcots, you might accidentally lose your orientation and cut above the marcot ball which may become fatal for the air layer.




    Shown below is the cut air-layered branch.


  2. Carefully untwist and release the tie wires that seal the marcot ball, by turning the tie wire ends counter-clockwise.

  3. Slowly and gently peel away the plastic sheet that wraps the marcot ball. Avoid tugging or pulling the young roots in the process.


  4. Cut off the excess branch, if any, that extends beyond the bottom of the marcot ball.

    At this point, the temptation is too great to pry open the coconut husk and inspect more roots inside. This is NOT necessary and you would risk damaging the tender roots.




    The marcotted seedling is ready for planting and the roots will continue to grow in the new potting medium.


How to Pot an Air Layered or Marcotted Seedling
  1. Prepare the seedling bag containing your new potting medium. I use a mix of coco dust and compost. Poke a hole in the middle of the potting medium with your finger as shown below. The hole should be deep and wide enough to contain the marcot ball of the air-layered seedling.


  2. Carefully insert the marcot ball of the air-layered seedling into the hole. The top of the marcot ball should not be visible on the surface of the new potting medium. If the hole is not deep enough, pull out the marcotted seedling and make a deeper hole with your finger.

    Do NOT force down the marcot ball into the hole.


  3. Gently tamp on the potting medium soil that surrounds the marcot ball as shown below. Avoid pressing down on the marcot ball.


  4. Pour a little water on the potting medium soil. The soil will then sink and settle. If the soil is still loose, tamp on the potting medium again to keep it firm.


  5. Shown below are 8 seedlings harvested with the air layering propagation technique. All these came from one mother plant.


    The leaves are still misoriented but will orient themselves correctly in the next few days.

  6. Place the air layered seedlings in a portion of the garden that is a partly shaded by nearby plants. Avoid placing the air layered seedlings where there is strong sunlight and strong winds.




  7. After a week, carefully place the air layered seedlings in the garden where they could gradually receive more sunlight.

After a couple of weeks, here are two of the seedlings propagated by air layering. The one on the left had a bud that has flowered and one on the right is sprouting new flower buds. The leaves on both plants are now correctly oriented.


Here is the photo of the mother plant minus the air layered branches that were harvested.


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