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How to Clone Fruit Trees With the Air Layering Method

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I love the idea of being able to replicate your favorite fruit trees with this simple method of air layering.

Air Layering Fruit Trees

Air Layering Fruit Trees

One of the easiest and most reliable ways to create a true copy of a fruit tree is the air layering method. It clones your tree with ease (producing a true to type, genetically identical tree) and helps with the root development. Additionally, with this air layer method, your plants can even be left for long periods unattended, without the roots dying.

How to Air Layer a Fruit Tree

Here are the steps to air layer a fruit tree:

  1. Select a small branch of the tree that you are looking to use to create a new tree, ideally with a 1–2 cm diameter.
  2. Remove a complete ring of bark. Ideally, the cut should be made below a leaf node (below the scar of a leaf).
  3. If you are starting the air layering process in the spring when the sap is flowing, the bark should just slip off.
  4. Lightly scrape the cambium layer. This will prevent the reconnection of the sap flowing tissues (phloem).
  5. Although not essential to the process, if you have some rooting hormone this can be applied to the exposed wood—and this will help speed up the rooting process.
  6. Apply a soil mix to the exposed area. For me, the easiest way is to use a plastic container (such as a butter container) that has already been prepared for the task. Most soil mixes will work. I like to use a rooting compost, and one of the benefits of this method of air layering is that it is not necessary to water again once you have finished setting up the container. So I tend to use a presoaked compost mix.
  7. Once the container is filled, close the lid and use tape or a rubber tie to keep everything closed and tight.
  8. Wrap the container in kitchen film—this will keep the moisture in until the roots have developed, with no need to add any additional water. The amount of time needed to develop roots varies according to the species of fruit tree and the time of year. It could take as little as six weeks or several months. Over time, you will learn how long to leave the container in place to allow a good root system to develop. I found through my own experiences that six weeks was too short, and I much preferred three or four months to allow the root systems to grow. If at six weeks you do decide to look inside the container and find that the root system is not sufficient, you can simply reseal the container and give it more time.
  9. Once the root system is evident, the next step is to cut the branch away from the main tree just below the container and place it in a pot. If the root ball appears dry, presoak the root ball to rehydrate before potting. If the root ball is still moist, it can be potted up straight away.
  10. Once the new tree is in its new home, just take a look at its shape and remove a few leaves if the tree is not balanced or is too top heavy compared to the root ball.

As a final note, I prefer to do my air layering in the spring when the sap is rising, but it can be done throughout the year if the plant is still growing.

Here's a look at the developed root systems from air layering.

Here's a look at the developed root systems from air layering.

What Are the Benefits of Air Layering?

  • Have you ever been to a house that has a truly delicious apple tree growing and the owner has no idea what variety of apple tree they have? Well with this air layering method, you can clone that delicious apple tree to create your own identical apple tree for your own home!
  • You might also live in a country like us where you cannot purchase fruit trees that you moved across from your native country. Now with air layering, you can reproduce identical fruit trees from your existing stock. This can either increase your fruit yields from your favorite trees or provide a safety net in case the mother plant dies.
  • When looking to prune a fruit tree, why not start air layering a branch or two to create gifts for friends?
  • If you are selling your home and have a large, established fruit tree that you love, why not make a clone of that fruit tree with this easy air layering method and take an identical copy to your new home?

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.