Saturday, 1 September 2018

Mulberry Air Layer's First Spring

When I wrote about my first mulberry air layer in February 2016 I received a little criticism for wasting my time on air layering such a skinny tree when I could probably have got the same result by growing a cutting. With the benefit of hindsight my critics were probably right, though I learned a few lessons that proved helpful for my second attempt. Most important was the realisation that working too close to the ground becomes tricky when severing the air layer from the parent tree. While that wasn't too much of a problem with such a skinny tree, it would have been a major issue with a thicker one.

Happily, after removing that air layer, the bottom of the parent tree continued to grow strongly in its inappropriate location, so in November 2017 I decided to see if I could propagate a better tree. Using my favoured tourniquet method, I wrapped a piece of wire around the trunk about four feet above the ground and made my parcel there.

Fast forward to February 2018 when I decided my air layer was ready to lead its own life, separate from the parent tree. That's when things got difficult. With my limited strength I found it really hard to saw through the tree, a job complicated by the fact that the parent tree is so close to a wall that I could only saw from one side rather than working towards the middle from both sides. It was a battle, but I did it.

Once I'd removed the air layer I was distressed to see that the root ball was a lot smaller than I expected and that, due to bad positioning of my soil parcel, most of the roots were growing below the tourniquet, something I felt sure would cause styling problems later on - if the tree survived.

But my first concern was getting it through the winter and, due to its size, I was unable to put it in my greenhouse as I'd done with the previous air layer two years earlier. Perhaps I should have covered it with frost cloth, but in the end the only protection I gave it was a position against the side of the house where I hoped it wouldn't get too cold.

Perhaps if we'd had a colder winter it wouldn't have made it, but I was lucky. And after an unusually warm August it's already covered in leaves... and some fruit.

August 2018

For this summer my plan it to let it grow as much as possible, pruning only what's necessary to restrict it to a manageable size. When the time comes to cut it back to a more appropriate size, however, I feel certain that I'm going to need a lot of help.

Lower trunk with drink can to show size

A final note for my critics - I know that this tree doesn't have the features one would normally look for when trying to create bonsai from an air layer, but sometimes one has to work with what's available.

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