What Is Air Layering?
Air layering is a propagation method (meaning it's a way of creating new plants) that is very easy to do and involves the use of few resources. Air layering creates a new plant by causing a branch of the mother plant to create its own roots, allowing it to be separated from the original plant and grown separately, thus creating a new plant.
By very easy, I mean that you won't require a degree in horticulture. It's important to do it properly, however, so as to not harm the plant and generate as many healthy new plants. It also requires some resources you'll likely have to acquire.
This guide aims to give you all the knowledge needed to use air propagation in your own home setting without any special training.
Note: This article is based on the writer's own experience and does not aim to present a professional explanation on the subject. When in doubt, contact a professional gardener!
Advantages of Air Layering
- The main advantage of air layering over other propagation methods (such as cutting) is that your new plant won't need to rely on its own resources until it sprouts roots.
- Since this method allows it to remain attached to the "mother" plant during the root development, this greatly reduces the chance of your new plant dying through the process.
- Air layering also creates a genetically identical copy of the original plant, or a clone, if you want to call it that. This means that if you have a strong, healthy plant, it's very likely you'll get another strong and healthy plant! This is advantageous in comparison to seed propagation, as plants generated from seeds may diverge genetically from the mother plant quite a bit, introducing defects that may be hard to deal with.
When to Use This Propagation Method
As with many things in gardening, knowing when to do it is almost as important as knowing how to do it, but thankfully air layering is also simple in that regard.
In general, you'll want to do air layering at the time your plant is most active in its growth, meaning spring for most plants. It's also good to do it right after a monsoon season, so doing it after a day or two of rain is also a good idea. At these times, your plant will have more vitality and be able to handle the process better, reducing the chance that your new plant will die during the rooting and ensure that it will have an easier time once it's separated from the mother plant.
Its not a good idea to use this method (or pretty much any other propagation method) during times in which your plant is more dormant, like in winter or during a very dry season.
What You'll Need
Here's the rundown of what you'll require to perform air layering on your healthy plant:
- A bucket of water or some other recipient full of water.
- A rooting agent, which usually comes in the form of a powder, a gel or a liquid, and can be bought in pretty much any gardening store.
- A cutting implement such as a pocket knife.
- Sphagnum or peat moss, which is pretty cheap and can be bought in small or large quantities online. You can also use sand, rice husks or straw as a substitute, but sphagnum works best.
- Plastic wrap of some sort. Any regular kitchen plastic wrap will do. A clean plastic bag can also work.
- Thread or twine to tie with. This can be cotton yarn or any sort of thread you have available, as long as it can resist exposure to sunlight and the elements.
Step 1: Choosing a Branch
It's important to choose a healthy branch from which to create your new plant. This means that the branch will need to have leaves and be free of plagues, insects, and other blemishes.
It must have its own sub-branches, which must also have leaves and be healthy. It must be able to produce its own flowers and fruits (if your plant bears fruit, that is).
Do not choose branches that have spots without bark and/or have insect infestations such as cochineals, as these will greatly hinder the growth of the new plant. Also, do not choose a branch that is overly thick. As a general rule of thumb, the branch must be considerably thinner than the thickest branch of your plant, but also fully formed (with its own leaves and flowers).
Step 2: Cutting
First, sterilize your cutting implement. This can be easily and quickly done by exposing it directly to a small flame, such as with a lighter.
Now make a cut on the branch, making sure that said cut is done at least 30 centimeters from the base of the branch. If you're doing this on a smaller plant, make sure that there is a considerable distance between the area that you cut and the base of the branch.
Note: Do not cut too deep! What you want to do is to remove the bark—the upper layer of material—exposing the "flesh" of the plant below, which usually has a brighter color. Depending on the thickness of the branch, you may have to remove up to 2 centimeters of material.
Step 3: Applying the Rooting Agent
Apply the rooting agent. In general, these usually come in the form of a gel that can be easily applied to the spot you cut on the branch.
It's a good idea to use a brush for this, just make sure to properly clean the brush beforehand. You may also want to sterilize it using alcohol. After cleaning, wait for it to dry completely, then use it to apply the rooting agent.
Step 4: Applying the Moss
Before using the sphagnum moss, you'll want to soak it in water for a few minutes. Take a handful of it and put it underwater for around 3–5 minutes, then take it out and remove the excess water.
What you want is for the moss to be wet, but not completely soaked. It must be clearly humid to the touch, but not dripping with water.
Now take your handful of wet moss and wrap it around the area that you cut, making sure it completely covers the area that you exposed with your cutting implement.
Step 5: Protecting the Area
Wrap the plastic around the moss-covered area, tying the ends with pieces of string. The idea is to protect the area and prevent it from drying.
Make sure one of the ends is tied a bit looser than the other, so you can easily open it and spray some water once in a while. In general, you'll want to give it a light spray of water once or twice a day (depending on your weather), just to keep the moss from drying out.
Step 6: Rooting
Now, this is the hardest part: waiting.
It should take around 70–100 days (depending on your plant and weather) for the roots to fully form. During this time, it's important to keep inspecting the wrapped part and spray it with water to prevent the moss from drying out. This, of course, depends on the weather. If it's dry, you may need to spray it with water several times a day, or not at all if it's humid.
After 70 days, carefully unwrap the plastic and inspect the moss-covered area for roots. If they're long and fully formed, then it's ready; if they're short, you may want to leave it for another month. If they're not formed at all, then something has gone wrong and the process has failed.
Step 7: Cutting and Transplanting the New Plant
After the roots are fully formed, simply saw off the new plant from the mother plant and transfer it to a vase filled with a proper substrate for your plant.
It's generally better to put it in a vase with substrate rather than just planting it directly into the ground, as the new plant's roots still actually need some more time to develop. As such, putting it in a rich substrate will guarantee that the new plant has an easy time adapting to its new environment and grows especially well in the next months!
You Can Create a Garden Full of Fruiting Plants
I hope this article is useful to you, even though it's just a basic guide. Gardening is a marvelous and productive hobby that can (literally) produce many fruits, and air layering lets you easily create a garden full of fruiting plants in a small space for your personal pleasure.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Guilherme Radaeli (author) from São Paulo - Brazil on May 08, 2021:
I got into air layering basically a year ago, and it's easily my favorite method.
Viet Doan from Big Island, Hawaii on May 06, 2021:
This is a great article with wonderful air layering tips and tricks! I often use this method to propagate fruit trees in my garden. And you're absolutely right, the hardest part is to wait for the roots to develop!