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Air Layering Technique
Do you have an old houseplant that lost many of its lower leaves and you want to give it a new lease on life? Or maybe your houseplant has reached the ceiling and you don’t know what to do with it?
If so, the air layering technique would be a perfect way to save and propagate your plant! It is easy and quick to do, and only requires a few simple steps.
What is Air Layering?
Air layering is a propagation technique that is often used on older plants that have become woody and would be difficult to propagate otherwise.
This technique allows your cutting to actually form roots while it is still attached to the parent plant! This technique minimizes the shock that your cutting will endure while it is rooting, and maximizes your success!
Materials You Will Need
A bowl with water
A sharp knife
Garden twine or a thick string
A toothpick (you’ll want the sturdy round kind with pointy ends)
Clear plastic wrap
And of course, your plant! Below, I will show how I air layered this Ficus elastica (rubber plant) at Agnes Studio in Cleveland, Ohio.
Step 1: Prepare the Sphagnum Moss
Take a handful of sphagnum moss and soak it in warm water for at least a couple minutes.
You will be using this as the medium that the roots will be growing into.
Step 2: Make an Incision
Take your sharp knife and carefully cut about halfway into your stem. I don’t think it really matters what direction you slant your cut.
Some people do it perpendicular to the stem, but I chose to do it on an angle as you can see from the picture below.
You can see some latex oozing from the cut and this is normal if you are air layering a rubber plant.
Step 3: Prop Open the Incision
Before you prop open the incision, the next step is optional but I like to use it to ensure the most success.
Take the tip of a toothpick, dip it in water, and then dip it in a rooting hormone.
I like to use the following rooting hormone, available on Amazon: Garden Safe Take Root Rooting Hormone.
This will speed up the formation of roots. Then take the toothpick and gently apply the rooting hormone to the incision that you’ve made.
Then take the toothpick and gently insert the center of the toothpick horizontally into the incision so that it can hold open the cut while the roots are growing.
Then take your scissors and cut off both ends of the toothpick. You’ll want to do this so that the points of the toothpick don’t pierce holes into the plastic wrap once you wrap it in Step 5.
Step 4: Wrap with Sphagnum Moss
Take your sphagnum moss that you have soaking in water and squeeze out all the excess moisture with your hands.
You want it damp, but not dripping wet otherwise your plant may rot. Then gently wrap the moss around where you cut the stem and gently squeeze it into a ball so that there is proper contact between the moss and the cut that you’ve made.
Step 5: Wrap the Moss With Plastic Wrap
After you have a nice ball of moss surrounding your cut, take some clear plastic wrap and wrap it around the moss a few times.
Step 6: Secure the Plastic Wrap
Finally, firmly tie both ends of the plastic wrap with garden twine. I like to tie it like I’m tying my shoe laces. This way, you can easily remove it when the cutting has rooted.
Step 7: Wait!
This is the hardest part…waiting! It may be a few months before your cutting roots, so it’ll require a little patience on your part.
Step 8: Separate your Cutting and Pot It Up
After a few months, you should be able to see the roots growing through the moss inside of the plastic wrap. At this point, you can cut the cutting off of the parent plant and pot it up. This actually has two benefits:
- You’ve propagated a whole new plant!
- The stem on your original plant should grow a new branch (or maybe even two) and your parent plant will get more full.
I will update this blog post later on with what the rest of the process looks like after the cutting has rooted.
So try it out! What plants do you have that you would like to try air layering? Comment below!
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OHIO TROPICS PLANT CARE STOREFRONT
Tuesday 27th of September 2022
Good Morning, I have a Dama de Noche or Night Blooming Jasmine and it is very leggy and drooping. Would it be advisable if I cut it? It has small, thin and long stems. Sometimes it blooms and it does smell so sweet I don't know how to make it lush . Its stems have not gone bigger or thicker. It once was attacked by aphids. I thought it would die but it survived and new leaves replaced the curled and mangled leaves from the aphids attack.
I hope to see it grow to a more healthy plant.
Monday 3rd of October 2022
It sounds like it's not getting nearly enough light. True jasmines like a lot of direct sun.
Thursday 4th of August 2022
Thank you for all the wonderful information!
My rubber tree lost most of it's leaves before we realized it had to move to a sunnier spot, and now it's very top heavy with large leaves. The bottom 2 feet has no leaves.
Is it possible to Air Layer it down low - will the bottom part grow new branches if there are no leaves there? I worry about creating the "bush" part of it up so high when the trunk is so thin. Thank you!
Friday 5th of August 2022
@Raffaele, Thank you for your reply!
I think I understand... if I try air layering say just above the bottom 2 leaves, then when that is ready, remove it and plant the top in another pot.
Then what is left with the trunk and 2 leaves... do I just cut that low, or try air layering again low down? Have I got that right?
I'm so grateful for your help!
Thursday 4th of August 2022
You're very welcome! You could try air layering the top portion where there are still leaves. After that roots, you can cut it off and plant those portions...and then you can cut the trunk down lower in order to encourage branching lower down. Does that make sense?
Friday 8th of July 2022
Hi my rubber plant lost ALL it's leaves, and is just a stalk. I've been away for a few weeks and there appears to be a new baby plant growing at the base! How do I care for this? Will it have its own root? Do I need to separate it?
Friday 8th of July 2022
Hi Sarah, sorry to hear about your plant! I would not try to separate the little baby. It may be really tricky, and will fare much better if you just leave it. Assuming the leafless trunks are not too far gone and dried up, you may want to take this opportunity to prune them a bit. This can help the plant branch out more. Check out this blog post so you can see what I'm talking about, and good luck: https://www.ohiotropics.com/2021/09/06/how-to-make-a-rubber-plant-bushy/
Sunday 2nd of January 2022
Hi, thank you for the detailed instructions. I have a sub tropical plant (Elaeocarpus ganitrus/rudraksha/blue marble) planted from a seed from Kwai that is now touching the ceiling. It is extremely difficult to germinate from seeds. I was nervous to do anything about the plant touching the ceiling but now the leaves are falling off & most of the top is bare. Leaves have edge/tip & patchy brown burnt areas & fall off. Do you think it’s OK to do air layering at this point in the winter? Would I harm the parent plant? Really appreciate your guidance. Thanks Aruni
Monday 10th of January 2022
Hi Aruni! I'm not familiar with that plant, but it's worth a try to air layer! It's a good technique to use when your plants have woody growth. Depending on where you live, you may want to wait until late winter to air layer.
Monday 3rd of May 2021
This was a great post, very well explained. I wanted to know if there is any alternative to the moss. Would normal soil work?
Monday 3rd of May 2021
Glad you enjoyed the post! It's traditionally been done with sphagnum only. I've never tried it with soil so I can't really comment on it.