Air Layering Propagation in 9 Easy Steps

Some plants are easier to propagate than others. Snake grass, elephant ears, and aloe vera are green, leafy plants that are constantly putting out new buds, making them great candidates for beginners. Even classical flowers like roses aren’t too difficult to propagate once you feel confident in the basics. However, when it comes to woody plants, propagation is tricky, even for the experts. Transplanting directly from a woody cutting will often result in failure if you use traditional methods of cloning. Instead, use a method known as air layering.

Traditional propagation requires that the cutting is detached from the parent plant. Air layering differs from traditional plant propagation because the stem remains attached to the plant you are cloning from during propagation. While air layering is commonly used to propagate woody plants, can also be used for large cuttings or older plants that are less likely able to survive the stresses of transplanting.

Air layering isn’t too difficult once you get the basic steps down. Like traditional methods of propagation, air layering takes time. After you complete the outlined steps, you will need to wait at least 4 weeks for roots to form in the stem you’re looking to propagate. 4 weeks is the minimum amount of time—you will likely need to wait at least 6 weeks, and possibly up to 8.

A Simple Guide to Air Layering

  1. Choose a healthy stem or branch that is at least 1/2 inch in diameter. When selecting this stem or branch, look for a node.
  2. Make a shallow cut around the circumference of the bark approximately 1 inch below the node. You are not cutting through the bark, so don’t use too much force here. Make a second, identical cut 1 inch below the first cut.
  3. Create a vertical cut between the two horizontal cuts to assist in peeling back the bark to expose the cambium layer. Cambium is the “skin” of plants that exists beneath the bark. It is composed of stem cells, which we are hoping to force to develop into roots.
  4. Apply rooting powder to the exposed cambium. For a rooting powder specifically designed for difficult to root plants, use the #8 and #16 rooting powder by Hormex.
  5. Pack the cut area with sphagnum moss, peat moss, coco coir, or your choice of growing medium. Moisten the growing medium.
  6. Place the growing medium into plastic wrap then secure it to the branch around the exposed cambium with zip ties or specialized plant twine. If you’re using zip ties, make sure that you do not overtighten the tie.
  7. Wrap a cloth around the plastic wrap. The growing medium should not be visible.
  8. Keep the cloth regularly damp.
  9. After 4-8 weeks, check the area for roots. Once roots have formed, cut the branch from the parent plant then repot or replant the branch. Your roots have already been established so the transplant should go smoothly!