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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

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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.

kyra

Saturday 2nd of May 2020

Great information! I just received a long hoya vine which sustained an injury in shipping and I remembered your post! It's not completely broken off but has a clear split area. I only hope I added enough moss. Since it's a small vine, I went with a smaller portion of moss and plastic wrap.

Raffaele

Monday 4th of May 2020

Good luck! :-)

Holla

Tuesday 2nd of April 2019

Do you need to water the moss while it’s taking root or dies the parent plant provide enough moisture?

[email protected]

Wednesday 3rd of April 2019

All you would do is pre-moisten the moss before you use it, like I indicated in the blog post. Just be sure to squeeze excess water out. When it is all wrapped up with the plastic wrap, it will not dry out.

Laurie S.

Wednesday 26th of September 2018

Fantastic-thanks for sharing! I can't wait to try this

[email protected]

Tuesday 2nd of October 2018

You're welcome!