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Save Your Leggy Houseplant – Air Layering Technique

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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

Sphagnum moss

A bowl with water

Scissors

A sharp knife

Garden twine or a thick string

Rooting Hormone

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.

Air layering your houseplant

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.

Air layering your houseplant

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.

Air layering your houseplant

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.

Air layering your houseplant
Air layering your houseplant

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.

Air layering your houseplant

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.

Air layering your houseplant
Air layering your houseplant

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:

  1. You’ve propagated a whole new plant!
  2. 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!

Please do me a favor and share this post to social media because it will help me spread the Ohio Tropics houseplant care tips to the masses! Also, check out my shop on Amazon for all your houseplant care needs:

OHIO TROPICS PLANT CARE STOREFRONT

Shiny

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?

Raffaele

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.

Vibhuti Jain

Thursday 31st of December 2020

I have a huge Monstera which is an old mature plant, it is growing in all directions. can I share a picture to take your advice?

Raffaele

Saturday 2nd of January 2021

Sure, you can email me using the contact form on my website. When I respond, you can reply and attach photos.

Jenn

Monday 14th of December 2020

Just discovered your site, and I am loving your clear, detailed posts--kudos! New plant mum here, a Canadian expat in Saudi. I have two questions (right now, ha!):

1. Are there any houseplants you know--or suspect--this method won't work on?

2. We are still in the northern hemisphere here, but in our area of Dhahran, KSA, the tree leaves seem to shed in Dec-Feb... which also seems to be when people sell and do a ton of planting outside, from petunias to frangipanis. It's ridiculously hot and humid from about Jun-Oct, and quite lovely from Nov-Apr. So my question is: WHAT would be the dormancy period here, or "winter" when it comes to the plants? Because while this is considered winter to us humans in Saudi, to the plants it looks like prime growing season. Any thoughts?

Thanks!

Raffaele

Monday 14th of December 2020

Hi Jenn! Those are great questions. You can do various methods of air layering on a lot of different plants. But the one I showed in this post is best suited for plants that have woody stems. As far as winter in your area...just pay attention to if your plants are slowing down at all. Maybe most of your plants may not have any type of rest period, depending on what you're growing. Are you asking mainly for fertilizing?

kyra dale

Wednesday 20th of May 2020

I tried this with a hoya that I received in the mail that had an injured limb. It's working! I see a root in the little spag moss pocket I made for it.

Raffaele

Tuesday 26th of May 2020

That's great Kyra! :-)

MC

Tuesday 12th of May 2020

Hi! Can you air layer the main stem/trunk of a variegated rubber plant? Or can you notch (is it the same thing)? Mine lost all the leaves in the lower 2/3 (prob due to fungus; treating currently with copper fung.) so it looks like a tree now. It still puts out new growth from the top/apex.

Also, would you know why the new growth of the tineke is significantly (at least 2-4") smaller than the older leaves? And do you remove the leaves with fungal spots, even if I think it's currently under control?

Thanks!

Raffaele

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Yes you can absolutely air layer a variegated rubber plant as well. It is no different in that respect. As far as the growth being smaller, you have to keep in mind that your home environment is providing less than ideal conditions compared to where the plant was growing before in a greenhouse...and by this, I primarily mean light and there are other factors too (fertilizing, etc.). I wrote a long blog post on rubber plants that you may want to check out as well! If you suspect the fungal issue is under control from your treatment, leave it.