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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

Fonda

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!

Fonda

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!

Raffaele

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?

Sarah

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?

Raffaele

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/

Aruni Weerasinghe

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

Raffaele

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.

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.