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Get the Inside Scoop About the Air Layering of Plants

Posted on August 22 2021

Get the Inside Scoop About the Air Layering of Plants

We’ve all heard about stem cuttings and root division as propagation methods. Chances are, however, Air Layering sounds either (1) unfamiliar, (2) daunting, or (3) like the new kid on the block. Actually, it’s none of the above! What is it? And how can you Air Layer propagate your plants?

The Origins

Air Layering got its start as a method for propagating Bonsai plants in ancient China and Japan. The modern-day invention of plastic cling wrap (the #1 tool for Air Layering!) has made this an easy and achievable method for all plant parents.

Why Air Layer?

Stem cuttings and division are so easy: so, why would you rock the boat? There are plenty of slow-growing plants that don’t easily root when propagated. These less-than-ideal qualities make them perfect candidates for Air Layering! Looking for some examples?

  • Ficus, including the Fiddle Leaf Fig and Little Fiddle.
  • Crotons
  • Rubber Trees
  • Schefflera (aka Umbrella Trees)

Can You Air Layer Propagate Any Plant?

Success rates differ, but you sure can try! The good news? With Air Layering, you do not entirely sever the stem of your plant. So, even if your roots never fully develop (i.e., a failed attempt), your plant will still live happily ever after!

The Science Behind It

Are you wondering how and why Air Layering works? The stems of your barky plants consist of several layers. You interfere with your plant’s nutrient flow by removing the first three layers (called the outer bark, cork cambium, and secondary phloem).

Typically, your plant has an up-and-down flow of nutrients. However, after removing those layers (aka “girdling”), nutrients pool at the cut site instead of traveling down to the plant’s base. 

Why is this a good thing? That clump of nutrients contributes to “adventitious buds” developing at the cut, eventually transforming into roots. 

Another perk? The upward climb of nutrients is uninterrupted. Unlike cuttings, which have to fend for themselves, your Air Layered propagation’s health is maintained by the bottom portion of the plant.

How to Air Layer Plants

What You Need

First thing’s first: get your supplies!

  • A plant
  • A sharp, sterile knife
  • Plastic wrap
  • Sphagnum moss
  • String
  • Small piece of hard plastic.
  • Scissors
  • Water
  • Bowl

Does this sound like too much fuss for you? You can also purchase an Air Layering kit containing all the needed supplies!

Step-by-Step Instructions to Start the Process

  1. Soak your Sphagnum moss until it’s damp.
  2. Cut a 1"x1" square of plastic wrap. Lay it somewhere handy!
  3. Pick the stem you would like to propagate. For the best results, select an area 4-6 inches below the node.
  4. Make a cut in your stem at a 45-degree angle, severing ½ the stem’s width. Don’t go further than ⅔ of the way through.
  5. Place your piece of hard plastic into the cut, which will prevent the stem from healing over.
  6. Lightly pack the moist Sphagnum moss around the cut. Eventually (hopefully soon!), this will be the growing medium for your new roots.
  7. Wrap the moss in plastic.
  8. Tie the string around the compress, holding it securely in place.
  9. Care for your plant as usual.

Are things looking a little wobbly? If your cut has made your plant unsteady, give it the extra stability it needs with plant stakes.

What about Rooting Powder?

Many plant parents put rooting powder on the cut to speed up the process. Is it a requirement? No. Nature will eventually kick in and grow its own roots. 

Is this a good idea? We will let you decide:

  • The upside: Speed. Chances are, you’re Air Layering, a slow-growing plant. You probably don’t want to grow old waiting on your Fiddle Leaf Fig to root, right?
  • The downside: Speed. That’s right; that unnaturally fast growth rate can compromise your plant and slow down the overall process.

In a nutshell: During your plant parenting journey, try out both methods and see which you prefer!

How to Finish the Job

Depending on your plant species, it will be at least a week or two until you start seeing signs of roots. And in some cases, months! So, be patient!

Once you have a moss ball filled with roots, it’s time to pot your propagation. How?

  1. Cut the stem 1 inch below the incision.
  2. Unwrap the string and plastic.
  3. Do not remove the moss. (This stays with your plant!)
  4. Pot your plant in a small container with suitable soil.
  5. Place it in a location that receives bright, indirect light.

Remember, pot size matters! You don’t want to overwhelm your newly propagated plant with an abundance of soggy soil. Upgrade the pot later when it has fully rooted.

In Summary

Air Layering is an ancient propagation technique that is especially suitable for slow-growing, barky plants. With this method, you partially sever the plant’s stem, causing it to grow roots while still attached to the ‘mother’ plant. It’s a fun, achievable method to propagate a large stem vs. a small cutting. Happy propagating!

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