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I found a big Chinese Holly growing wild by the reservoir near my home. It’s surrounded by brambles on a steep hill — not in an easy-to-reach spot. 

I had removed some branches before taking the photo above, but even before it had that long extension through the middle. I decided to air layer the top this year with plans to dig the rest next spring. 

Despite success in the past with air layers started in May, members of my bonsai club assure me you can start air layers as early as February, so I gathered my tools to get started. 

In addition to a sharp knife (not shown), I brought pre-soak sphagnum moss, a couple of pruning tools to remove any branches in the way, a newspaper bag, wire and cutters to hold the bag in place, rooting hormone, a soft brush, 1/3 of a roll of cling wrap (cut with a utility knife), and some aluminum foil. 

I like to cut away a section of bark and cambium 1 1/2 to 2 times longer than the width of the branch being layered. This branch is about an inch and a quarter thick. 

Then I scrape the white sap wood with the knife to make sure all hints of the green cambium are removed and make a fresh, clean cut at the top. The new roots will grow from that top cut edge. 

Here are the next steps in case you’d like to try this yourself. 

  • Cut the plastic bag into a large rectangle, wrap it around the branch, and secure it with wire below the cut.
  • Brush rooting hormone onto the top cut. I also took a strip of wet moss brushed with more hormone and wrapped it directly against the cut edge. 
  • Stuff the bag with wet sphagnum moss and close it with wire above the cut. 
  • Next I use that short roll of cling wrap to tighten down the bag of moss by wrapping it thouroughly like you would with an Ace bandage. 
  • Once the bundle it tightly secured in place, wrap it with a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side out, to reflect the suns heat and create a dark environment for the roots to grow. The foil is just squeezed into place and can easily be removed and replaced to check progress. 

I will check on this periodically through the growing season and add water if needed. 

Look for an update in the fall.