There are several ways to propagate camellias, today I’m sharing the air layering method with my readers. Air layering isn’t exclusive to camellias. Just about any woody shrub or tree can be air layered. This process involves producing a genetically identical plant from a parent plant. This can also be accomplished by taking cuttings and rooting them, but that method can take much longer to produce the same size plant that you would get within the year by air layering. By air layering a branch from your camellia, you can easily have a multi branch plant that is a couple of feet tall.
Here’s how you can air layer camellias yourself
- Start with a healthy plant. Examine the plant you want to air layer. Are there any visible signs of disease? Are there yellowing or browning leaves, or does it seem to be a well hydrated, established specimen? Do you notice any pests such as scale or mites? These are just a few things to look for before making any cuts. Once you have established that your parent plant is a healthy specimen, you can move onto the next step.
- Gather supplies. Once you have chosen your parent plant and are sure it is a healthy specimen, you’ll need to gather all of your materials. You will need: sterilized razor blade, rooting hormone, small paint brush, bowl of water, sphagnum moss, plastic wrap, packing tape, aluminum foil. Later, when your new plant is removed from the Parent Plant you will need: clippers, a pot (terracotta preferred), and quality potting soil.
- Make the cut. With your sterilized razor blade you want to carefully make two shallow ring cuts about an inch or two away from one another approximately 18″ to 24″ from the tip of the branch. After that you carefully shave off the outer layer of bark between the two rings until you remove all of the cambium (green layer). At this point you can add a rooting hormone powder with a small paintbrush if you want, but it is not required.
- Apply Sphagnum moss. After soaking your sphagnum moss in water, remove from water and squeeze out any excess. Wrap the sphagnum moss around the cut area of the branch and wrap a layer of plastic wrap around it to seal. At this point I like to wrap each end with a clear packing tape that won’t fall apart if it gets wet. Some people like to wrap string around either side, but I just prefer tape it’s really just your preference.
- Protect from elements. You’ll want to protect your plastic wrap with a layer of aluminum foil to seal out any elemental interference.
- Wait. Depending on the particular circumstances (season, temperature, plant vigor), it can take weeks to months for your camellia to grow roots in the cut area. You can check your progress periodically by pulling back the aluminum foil. You should be able to see roots through the plastic wrap without having to remove it. If you started your air layer in the Spring, it should be ready by late Summer or Fall. If you start later in the year it may take longer, as the plant won’t be in it’s prime growing phase.
- Cut from parent plant. When your roots are well formed, you can remove it from the parent plant by cutting it at the bottom edge of the moss. Once removed from the parent plant you can more easily remove the tape and plastic wrap. Do not attempt to remove the sphagnum moss as you may damage the new delicate root system.
- Plant it up. Congratulations! You now have a brand new camellia. I like to pot my new air layered camellias in terracotta pots with a quality potting soil. Terracotta allows excess moisture to escape and cuts down on the possibility of root rot. You can plant them directly in the ground, but the American Camellia Society (of which I am a member) recommends potting them up at first for best results.