How to Propagate Plants With Air Layering - Backyard Boss
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How to Propagate Plants With Air Layering

Do you have a plant at home that has grown too tall? Maybe you’d like to propagate it but don’t want flasks of water cluttering up your countertops. Or, maybe you’ve tried clippings and they didn’t take. Air layering could be the answer. This old method of propagation is perfect for rejuvenating mature plants.

Instead of putting clippings in water, the new plant stays attached to the parent plant until roots form. This promotes health and proper growth until it’s ready for potting. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds or looks. This guide will show you exactly how to propagate plants with air layering.

Why You Should Try Air Layering

Propagation plant by air layering
Image credit: panupongkitti via Shutterstock

Why is it called air layering? Literally, because you are propagating a plant in the air rather than in the ground. To differentiate, layering, or ground layering, is a natural process that many plants do on their own. Spider plants, for example, are fantastic houseplants that propagate by layering all on their own. If allowed to, the offshoots will root into the soil and continue growing, attached to the parent plant. With air layering, you are bringing the dirt to the plant.

Some benefits of air layering over other propagation methods include a stronger root system and a larger plant, more quickly. Plus, air layering has a high success rate.

Materials Needed

Gardening tools in pot near gloves
Image credit: Gary Barnes via Pexel

Here are a couple things you need to get started:

  • Pruning knife
  • Toothpick
  • Scissors
  • Clear plastic film
  • String
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Pot
  • Soil

Step 1: Cut

woman sitting plant leaf
Image credit: Rocketmann Team via Pexels

The first thing you need to do is decide where you are going to cut. Pick a stem with a few nodes that you would like to make into your new plant. This could be an offshoot from the main stem, or the top of the plant if there is only one central stem. For tall plants, this is a perfect opportunity to trim a few inches off. If you are picking an offshoot, be sure that it is well-established.

Depending on the type of plant you are propagating, there are two methods of cutting. For stems that are easy to slice through, such as a philodendron, use method one. For plants with bark, such as the fiddle-leaf fig, use method two.

Method 1

Using a clean pruning knife, slice upward and at an angle into the stem just below a node. Only slice halfway through the stem, leaving it attached to the parent plant. Place a small piece of wood into the wound to ensure it stays open. A toothpick or matchstick will work.

Method 2

For woody plants, you will need to peel away a ring of bark. With a clean pruning knife, make two circular cuts around the stem, just below a node, about 1 inch apart. Only slice part-way through the bark, leaving it attached to the parent plant. Remove the bark between the two cuts.

Step 2: Layer

Grab your clear plastic film and cut it to size with scissors, if needed. It needs to be large enough to wrap around your plant, and cover the wound and moss surrounding it. Use clear plastic sheets or film, not cling wrap. If you are re-using plastic wrap, ensure it is clean so bacteria is not introduced.

Below the cut, wrap the clear plastic film around the stem and secure it with string. Alternatively, you can use zip ties or tape to tie the bag. 

Press damp sphagnum or peat into the wound, and layer it around the plant, ensuring the bottom of the bag is full. You can also soak the moss in water for about an hour and then squeeze out excess water. Then, tie the plastic above the cut, securing it to the stem with string. The bag should be as air-tight as possible to keep the moisture in. If located outdoors or in direct sunlight, wrap the bag in aluminum foil so it doesn’t dry out.

Step 3: Wait

Close up the roots from propagating figs tree by air-layering.
Image credit: Kobkik via Shutterstock

Wait and watch for roots to form. Depending on the plant, location, and time of year this could take a few weeks or a few months. To speed up this process, you can also use rooting powder. Dust it onto the wound before layering. Check on the plant regularly and mist the moss if it starts to dry out. It must stay moist until the roots can form.

Step 4: Plant

planting in a brown ceramic pot
Image credit: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

Once the roots have filled the bag, it’s time to separate the new plant from the parent. Cut through the stem, just below where the new roots have formed. If needed, further trim back the stem on the parent plant.

Pot the new plant right away in the appropriate soil medium. Trim off lower leaves as needed and don’t forget to water. You should now have a second beautiful plant to love or gift to a friend.

Try Air Layering!

Air layering is a fantastic way to propagate plants and encourages success and new healthy plants. This versatile method can be used indoors or outdoors on a wide variety of plants, trees, and shrubs. It’s especially great for plants that are hard to propagate from cuttings, such as the money tree, fiddle-leaf fig, rubber fig, and roses. For the highest success rate, you will want to try this in spring or summer when your plant is actively growing. You can propagate plants in the fall or winter months, but it will take a lot longer.

Have you tried air layering before? If not, give it a go! All your friends and family will be impressed with your newfound skills.