Introduction: Propagating Plants by Air Layering

Air layering is a propagation method for woody plants that allows you to root branches while still attached to the parent plant. It is useful for plants that are hard to propagate by cuttings or if you want your new plant to have a larger size than could be accomplished by taking cuttings.

I've used this method successfully for
- Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
- Long-Leaf Fig (Ficus binnendijkii)
- India Rubber Tree (Ficus elastica)
- Fiddle-Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata)
- Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola)
- Elephant Yucca (Yucca elephantipes)
- Cornstalk Dracaena (Dracaena fragrans - pictured below)
It should work for most, if not all, woody houseplants, and even for outdoor plants.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

- the plant you want to propagate
- a sharp knife
- Sphagnum moss (should be available at garden centres)
- a piece of (preferably transparent) plastic foil (an old plastic bag will do fine) (about 30x30 cm)
- string
- a piece of thin, hard plastic (I used a piece of a plant tag, a piece of a plastic bottle or yoghurt tub or something similar would work just as well. Basically, you just need something thin that will not decompose if it's damp for a couple of weeks). It should be just a bit longer than the width of the branch you want to root.
- scissors for cutting string and plastic foil
- water
- a bowl to soak the moss in

A couple of weeks later, you will also need:
- a flower pot
- potting mix
- maybe a stake and more string.

Step 2: Preparations

- soak the moss, then squeeze out the excess water. You need enough to make a fist-sized ball if you lightly press it together.
- cut the plastic foil/bag and hard plastic to the proper sizes (about 30x30 cm and slightly larger than the width of your branch, respectively).
- cut two pieces of string, long enough that you can wrap it around your branch a couple of times and easily tie it, about 20-25 cm)
- choose the branch you want to root, and the place where you will cut it (preferably just under a  node - that's the place where a leaf is/was attached). If necessary, remove some leaves - you'll need about 10-20 cm of leaf-less branch.


Step 3: Cut the Branch

Make an upwards-slanted cut about halfway to two-thirds through the branch. Take care not to cut so far that the branch breaks.
The way I've learned it, you support the branch with your thumb, then pull the knife towards it with your fingers (as seen in the picture). Place your thumb so that the knife blade would, if you cut all the way through, move past it rather than directly towards it - that way, if you accidentally cut too far, you minimize the danger of cutting yourself.

Step 4: Insert the Plastic

Take the small piece of plastic and insert it into the cut. This will keep the cut from closing up again, encouraging the plant to grow roots instead.

Step 5: Wrap With Moss

Take your damp moss and wrap it around the cut. Like I said in step 2, it should make a fist-sized ball, all around the cut. Don't press it together too tightly, it should feel... how to describe it? ... sponge-like.
Given time, the plant - encouraged by the moisture and the cut - will grow roots into this moss.

Step 6: Wrap With Plastic Foil

Holding the moss in place with one hand, wrap the plastic foil around it. It might be good to have a helper at this stage - this is a bit tricky the first couple of times.
Tie the plastic tightly below and above the ball of moss.
If necessary, tie the branch to a stake to support it (being halfway to two-thirds cut, it may be in danger of breaking).

Step 7: Cut the Rooted Branch

After a couple of weeks or months (depending on the plant and its growing conditions), you should see roots growing through the moss. This is why I prefer transparent plastic to wrap around the moss - makes it easier to check the progress.
If it takes longer than a few weeks, you might want to open the plastic foil, and make sure the moss is still damp. Otherwise, just leave it alone and wait.
When you can see well-develloped roots, cut the branch below the moss ball.

Step 8: Potting Up

Remove the plastic wrap, but leave the moss ball alone so as not to damage the roots. Pot the new plant up using good-quality potting mix and a smallish pot - I prefer not to go over 15 cm diameter for that first pot, smaller than that if the plant is little enough to stay upright in a smaller pot.
The reason behind this is that if the pot is a lot bigger than the still-small rootball, the soil will stay wet for a long time, because the plant can not yet take up so much water, and this can cause the roots to rot.
So you should also take care with watering during the first few weeks, keeping the soil moist enough that the plant doesn't wilt, but never, ever truly wet.

Comments

author
maashaad (author)2017-05-11

Hai should we watering in air layering part or just we leave it. Then it will be grow own

author
moslit (author)2016-06-17

Hello, daft question maybe, but do you remove the plastic insert before applying the moss and seal?

author
Ivynettle (author)moslit2016-06-18

No, you leave it in, to keep the cut from healing up again. (Since the cut is what "motivates" the plant to grow roots.)

author
moslit (author)Ivynettle2016-06-18

I see. Thanks very much for the tips!

author
tushar naudiyal (author)moslit2016-12-08

thanks want more such experiment

author
mrsfootnick (author)2016-06-24

I am SO STOKED about this method!! Doing it to-night!!

thank you thank you thank you. (i have a fiddle leaf fig that needs pruning but wasn't sure about propagating from woody stem.)

so..... you moss-rock!!!! (sorry... bad gardener humor) :)

author
tushar naudiyal made it! (author)2016-06-12

hey i did it on guava and it worked. I made it! Thanks to the author

2016-06-12 09.20.22.jpg
author
RoyB45 (author)2016-02-28

I wonder if adding a little rooting liquid to the water prior to soaking, will increase success here. Anyone try this? Especially for outdoor tougher to root plant types.

author
Emi_Lee1004 (author)RoyB452016-03-13

Hey. I'm actually doing a project on Air-Layering and yes, by using rooting liquid/powder it increases success. I'm not sure about the outdoor plants tho. I suppose it should be able to work as well.

author
Akin Yildiz (author)2014-09-21

out of all the cool things one can do with plants, air layering must be my favorite, and most interesting aspect of growing. thank you for sharing your knowledge, i am still yet to try this one day :)

author
canucksgirl (author)2011-12-11
Thanks Ivynettle for this Instructable! I have the same umbrella plant and require air layering to deal with a loss of leaves. There are 3 branches coming from the soil in the same planter and all 3 branches suffered defoliation. The top half of the branches are healthy and full of leaves, and there is frequent new growth, making the poor plant a bit top heavy and vacant looking in the lower half.

I have 3 questions for you:
  1. Can I perform this air layering method on all 3 branches at once or is that not advised?
  2. What should be done with the branches after the air layering process is complete and the branch is cut below the new root ball? (i.e., does the "stump" have to be discarded, trimmed or will it continue growing after the upper portion is detached?
  3. Can I begin the process now (December), or do I have to wait for Spring?
Your advice is appreciated.
author
Ivynettle (author)canucksgirl2011-12-11

1. I think doing all three branches at once shouldn't be a problem.

2. It might take some time, but the lower part should resprout. Depending on how long the bare branches are, you might want to cut them back some more, and then it's waiting, waiting, waiting. :-) Don't forget to reduce watering until the plant grows new leaves - without leaves, it will need very little water, and keeping it too wet means the roots might rot. (I usually lift the pot to see how heavy it is.)

3. Generally, plants grow more strongly the more light there is. You don't necessarily HAVE to wait, but it's probably a good idea.

author
canucksgirl (author)Ivynettle2011-12-11

Thanks for the reply. (on Q3, that's what I thought, so I'll have to mull it over.)

author
headoiltycoon (author)2010-06-25

Thanks for that going to try it on a Japanese Maple that has had failed cuttings from.

author
dwoloz (author)2010-06-12

There's also a method where you cut a ring of the outter woody material away leaving the "core" exposed. Depends on the type of plant

author
logikly (author)2010-06-07

This was very instructive! Thank you for sharing that, I have a tree that I have never been able to clone.. hopefully this will work!!

author
TheWomanMonster (author)2010-05-30

A great walk through on the technique.
I'm the 'plant lady' of my friends and family.
Whenever we have plants that need a little extra love they end up at my house.
I've used this method on a lot of varieties with great success.
<3

author
xhellabentx (author)2010-05-29

i love the idea that someone is out there experimenting with other methods of propagation i have learned about using honey recently and i really enjoy anything i can do without having to spend money or drive all the way to town to spend money and gas THANKS ALOT and KEEP POSTING

author
ChrysN (author)2010-05-29

This is cool, I'm going to try it!