I would have to say that this is the first time in my life that I have ever quoted a portion of Shakespeare, at least while sober! Long story short the meaning behind Shakespeare writing, written in 1600 from his Romeo and Juliet was: What matters is what something is, not what it is called. This story is about a rose, but it will also someday be a bonsai.

Three years ago I moved into a new house and when the tenants of this dwelling left, they left behind an hour glass shaped ugly rose.

I call it that because that was the shape that it was in.

This plant of course was on its last leg, and had been pushed into a corner with a bunch of plants that looked like someone forgot to throw them away. I discovered this Rose, if we can call it that hidden amongst those plants and did nothing but water it every once in a while for a good year and a half.

It was well; just plain ugly, there were dead pieces sticking out of it, holes in it, and the back side I could tell was dead. It also had terrible reverse taper just to name a few of its problems.

I thought this would make a great student project on ground layering someday. I thought if for some reason if this didn't work, I really hadn't lost anything. After sitting in my yard in a big ass black plastic bucket for some time, I decided to put it in my bonsai mix and put it in a growing pot.

Now that is reverse taper!


I can’t remember exactly when but last year it bloomed a few times. I should have taken pictures.

At the request of some of the students in a few foundation classes, they asked to do a hands on air layer project. So maybe 7 or 8 months ago, I believe sometime in September we, my students and I cut the cambium all the way around the old gnarly rose trunk, right where the reverse taper began and right where I wanted new roots to form. I understand this was a little late but since where I live it rarely gets to cold I thought I would chance it.

The next thing we did was take a cotton swab and get some dip and grow and dilute it to the right amount. We did 7 parts water to one part dip and grow in the vile they provide. We dipped our cotton swabs into the solution and then rubbed it into the exposed cambium layer.

Next we designed a nifty little cage out of drainage mess to hold the drainage rock and layering mix on top of the growing pot. We fastened the cage to growing pot and added drainage to the bottom layer all the way around the base of the plant. We then used sphagnum moss and small sifted pumice to place around the area where we cut. We topped it off with more sphagnum moss and watered it and put it on the shelf in full sun.

During our second class of Foundation training on February 15th, 2015 we had a little extra time at the end of a class so I suggested we separated the Air Layer project. I first slowly broke down the mesh walls and very gently combed away the moss and pumice mixture. At first I thought, oh no it didn’t t take. Then the more I combed the more small roots began to appear, which a wonderful thing when you have students watching!! I have done a few air layers in the past where only a portion took and I had to re-cut into the cambium layer to start the plant over. Then other times the air layers had full on roots all the way around. But low and behold we had ROOTS! We had roots all the way around except on the dead portion that I mentioned before.

Top and bottom roots

More roots appearing as we comb away the bonsai mix

Time to separate the top from the bottom…The rest of the blog will be in pictures. We had an added bonus. When we separated the trees a small piece of the original root mass broke off. Loren Stirling asked what he should do with that piece, I said plant it. It too is growing and will one day be made into a Mame bonsai. So we got a total of three plants out of one small air layer.

All hands on deck! You would think it was trying to get away

Separating the top from the bottom

Top portion ready to be planted, in the background you can see the mesh wall we built out of drainage hole screen

Bottom Portion

Bottom portion two months later

Top portion two months later, the wing tipped elm next to it is an air layer i did last year

Bonus little tree from the broken off root


Thanks for reading

Written by Ron Anderson — April 30, 2015