Do you have a plant that is hitting the ceiling? Or the bottom leaves have fallen off and the plant has become leggy? Or maybe you just want to make more of the same plant. If you have a plant such as a fiddle leaf fig, rubber tree, or some other woody tree, air layering will be the best way to accomplish what you are trying to do.
What is air layering?
Air layering also called air propagation, is an easy way to shorten or propagate a woody plant. It can be used for other plants, too, but if it is a softer stemmed plant, there are other ways to propagate it. (NOTE: If you are cutting a ficus, there is a white sap that will bleed out of the plant. It does contain latex and can be an irritant to some. It may be best to wear gloves and make sure you do not get it in your eyes. Read more about that here.)
The tray above has all the supplies that are needed to air layer a plant. I used long-fiber sphagnum moss commonly used for orchids (the package was actually labeled orchid moss) pictured in the lower right corner. The moss must be moistened before using it, so at the upper right is some soaking in a bowl. A small amount of twine, plastic food wrap, toothpicks or a match stick, clippers, and a sharp knife are also needed. (Note: the following pictures are from my first book, taken by Chelsea Steinkopf. You may see them and read these instructions in my book, but will not see the green nails on my fingers, as they photoshopped them out.)
Cutting the stem
Decide how tall you would like your plant to be when you are done air layering. Usually, a good size is 1-2 feet. So, dropping down from the top of the plant to the desired spot, use a sharp knife and carefully, cutting in an upward manner away from your body, slice approximately 1/2 way through the stem. Insert a toothpick or a matchstick into the wound so it will stay open and not heal back together.
Applying the moss
Using the moistened moss (with gloves if you prefer), wrap a generous amount around the cut area. The moss wrap will be anywhere from the size of a lemon to the size of a grapefruit depending on the thickness of the stem or trunk you are air layering.
Wrap the moss with plastic
Using a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it around the moistened moss.
Tie the plastic wrap
The top and bottom of the plastic wrap need to be secured with twine to keep the moisture in. Make sure the twine isn’t tied so tight that it harms the stem of the plant, especially if it isn’t a woody stem. The roots will grow from the cut area in a few months. Untie the twine at the top once in a while and check the moss making sure it stays moist. Add a small amount of water if it is dry.
The finished air layer
Below, is the finished air layer all tied up and ready for roots to grow.
Roots will appear
In a few months, if the moss is kept moist, the roots will appear. At that time, cut the stem right below the moss. Take the plastic wrap off and the rooted plant can be potted up in moist potting medium. At this time, choose a pot that accommodates the roots without too much extra room. The pot may be unproportionate to the plant at first, but if you surround the small root ball with too much potting medium, it may rot the roots. As the root system grows you can up-pot as needed.
Have you ever tried air-layering a plant? How did it work for you? Tell me in the comments.
I’ve never tried air layering a plant but I’m inspired to try air layering my rubber plant now. Also, can one air layer long stemmed roses in order to root them? I’ve been told they can be rooted but I’ve had no luck.
I’m glad! It’s fun to try different techniques. I have also heard you can root roses, but have never tried air layering. I would try it! Let me know how it works for you.
Awesome. Could this be done with a schefflera? Mine is about 7 feet tall and wonky!
Yes! I should have mentioned that plant. Thanks!
Hi, thanks for the detailed instructions with pics.! I have a sub tropical plant (Elaeocarpus ganitrus : rudraksha / blue marble) that I planted from a seed in a NYC apt. It’s now touching the ceiling. I’ve been nervous to do anything but now the top leaves are getting brown tips/edges/patches & dying off. Most of the small branches at the crown is bare without leaves. Do you think it is OK to try air layering now during the winter while the plant isn’t doing very well? I have searched all over the internet for reasons why the top leaves are dying but not able to find any info.
I looked it up and it is a very cool tree! Do you get it to fruit in your house? I would air layer it and you could start it now and when it wakes up in the spring it will send out roots. Or wait until spring. It is up to you. Do you think the top leaves are getting brown and dying is because they aren’t getting enough light at the ceiling level? Sounds like a perfect plant to air layer.