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.

Rubber tree

Variegated rubber tree

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.)

Supplies for air layering

Supplies needed for air layering a plant

Supplies

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.)

Toothpick to keep wound open

The toothpick is keeping the cut open so the roots can grow

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.

Trim the toothpick

Trim the toothpick or matchstick even with the stem

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.

Applying the moss

Using the moistened moss, wrap it around the cut area of the stem.

Wrap the moss with plastic

Using a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it around the moistened moss.

Plastic wrap around moss

Wrap the moistened moss with plastic wrap

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.

Tie the twine around the stem

Tie twine around the top and bottom of the plastic wrap

The finished air layer

Below, is the finished air layer all tied up and ready for roots to grow.

Air layered stem

The finished air layer that the roots are growing in

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.

Roots growing in the moss

There are roots in there growing

Have you ever tried air-layering a plant? How did it work for you? Tell me in the comments.

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