PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Air Layering Fiddleleaf Fig

Early in September we decided to tackle the fiddleleaf fig that was touching the 15 ft ceiling in number 1 greenhouse. It took both of us to drag the monster outside where it got a much needed shower before surgery (there is a faint omnipresent haze of dust in the air here, even on the stillest of days--hence the shower). Aly and I made about 10 layers, each about three feet long, not counting a number of small cuttings we took. And there's the advantage to airlayering a tropical that makes cuttings easily--a much bigger plant.

We began by girdling the limb we were going to layer. A small box cutter with a new blade makes this the easiest part of the procedure. I made two cuts that sliced through the bark and cambium about an inch apart completely encircling the stem. I can then draw the blade from upper cut to lower cut without danger of overshooting and leaving a ragged edge or flap.

It took several days of soaking to get the peat hydrated--New Mexico. We firmed a handful of very wet peat completely around the cut--this is where two sets of hands are useful. It's not easy holding onto the stem, while keeping the peat in place until it's securely wrapped.

There are a number of commercial gadgets out there to accomplish this part, but foil has always worked fine for me. In Florida, the land of perpetual trickling sweat, foil was enough. Here in New Mexico, keeping the peat wet until roots emerge is tricky; I used a layer of plastic wrap, enough to cover the peat with a lot of overlap, with the ends twisted tightly around the stem.

The foil is wrapped over that, again tightly squeezing the ends shut to seal in moisture. I tied both ends snugly with twine just to be safe. Then we dragged the monster back inside.

Fast forward to mid-November. Roots have developed nicely, and none too soon; despite two layers of protection, the peat is drying out.

We've just finished potting up all the layers that we made in September. Although houseplants are not really our thing, we'll sell these next season when Mountain Gardens opens. For someone who considers herself an outside gardener, I seem to have acquired a lot of houseplants in sore need of division or cutting back.

Speaking of which--the monster was unfazed by our surgery. Maybe this time we'll use two layers of plastic.

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