Air layering is a great way to clone your favorite tree, but what is the best soil to use to promote root growth? What if I told you that the best soil to use is not actually soil at all? The best results have come from using non-traditional medium to help promote strong root growth.
By far the best medium to use when air layering is sphagnum moss, hands down the winner. Sphagnum moss is harvested as it grows on top of water and dried whole. It kind of looks like braided rope a bit, because of that, the sphagnum moss is great at absorbing water. Air gaps easily form allowing air to flow, so it's the perfect combination of airflow and moisture for root growth. Combined with rooting hormone gel, sphagnum moss is really the perfect medium to use for air layering.
Sphagnum Moss is hands down the best medium to use when air layering Japanese maples. Great combination of thickness to retain moisture and gaps to create airflow to promote root growth.
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When you can't get your hands on good old sphagnum moss, you can look to use peat moss. Sphagnum peat moss is much finer, still fibrous but with a ground down feel to it, like ground coffee. Because it is finer, it tends to become rather solid when over watered, not allowing great airflow. It is best to keep an eye on the moisture of the air layer when using peat moss, that is really the only drawback on using peat moss.
Peat Moss is a great back up to Sphagnum Moss. Excellent at retaining moisture, very easy to use and a great back up to use for air layering.
Pictured below is an air layer on a Shishigashira Japanese Maple that failed several times until using Sphagnum Moss. Some Japanese Maples can be very hard to air layer. Potting soil and peat moss were used before trying Sphagnum Moss and ultimately producing roots.