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How to propagate houseplants by air-layering

Air-layering is a simple way to grow a new plant without cutting it from the parent plant right away. In contrast to more familiar methods, such as taking cuttings or separating plants, air-layering offers a really unique approach. Instead of cutting or dividing like other methods, you let the plant grow roots while it's still attached (and then you cut it).

This is great for rare or expensive plants because it's safer. We don't want to put our rare green friend's life at risk, right? When air layering, you will cut it from its mother plant once it has established a good root system so it won't stunt the growth. That way, risks are minimised!

What is the best time to air-layer houseplants?

The best time to air-layer houseplants is during their active growth season, typically in the spring or early summer. This period offers the optimal conditions for roots to develop on the layered section. Successful air-layering during these months ensures a healthier and more robust new plant once separated from the parent. However, you can air-layer houseplants in autumn or winter, but it might be more challenging. The plants are in a slower growth phase during these months, so the development of roots on the layered section may take longer.

What houseplants can I propagate with air-layering?

Air-layering is best suited for houseplants that have woody stems or those that don't root easily from simple cuttings. If you notice that a particular plant has a thick stem and isn't branching out or producing shoots at the base, it's a potential candidate. Plants that grow tall and leggy, losing leaves along their stems and leaving behind long, bare sections, often respond well to this method.

Ficus houseplant

Easy step-by-step guide on how to propagate your houseplants by air-layering

Step 1. Prepare your tools for propagation and houseplant

Start by gathering all necessary equipment, ensuring they are clean and sterile. You will need:

  • Sharp and sterile knife or pruning shears
  • Spaghnum moss or soil
  • Clear plastic wrap or empty plastic bottle or plastic pot
  • Rubber bands, string or tape

Alongside your tools, select a healthy houseplant that exhibits strong growth. Its stems should be mature but not overly woody and free from any visible signs of disease or pests. Having both your tools and plant ready will facilitate a smooth and effective air-layering process.

Step 2. Hydrate your sphagnum moss or soil

If you are using sphagnum moss, fill the bucket or bowl with water and let the moss soak for a few minutes. This will allow the moss to absorb the water and become saturated. Once the moss is fully hydrated, squeeze out the excess water so that the moss is damp but not dripping. If you are using soil, you can mix in some water.

Step 3. Look for a perfect spot for air-layering

Pick a spot where you can see some aerial roots and nodes. A moist environment will encourage roots to grow out of these nodes, which is why the sphagnum/soil must be kept wet. If any leaves are in the way, you can cut them carefully. However, if they are not bothering you, you can leave them on.

Step 4. Wrap this stem part into a moist medium and secure it with plastic

Take your hydrated sphagnum moss and ensure it's damp but not sopping wet. Place a piece of plastic wrap on a table and put some sphagnum moss in the centre. Lift the wrap with the moss and gently wrap this around the plant stem, ensuring the moss covers the node, and then secure it in place. Secure both ends of the plastic wrap using twist ties or rubber bands, ensuring it stays in place and the moisture is locked in.

Expert tip! If the plastic wrap isn't sealed well, it can allow moisture to escape or external contaminants to enter. This can disrupt the rooting process or introduce pathogens. So, ensuring a tight seal with twist ties or rubber bands is really important!

Now, you should see a decent moss ball around your plant's stem! This moss will act as the rooting medium, providing the necessary moisture and environment for root development. If your plastic wrap and moss look dry, add a little water to keep it moist. Use a small amount, not too much!

Expert tip: you can also use an old plastic bottle or a plastic pot. You’ll need to cut from the bottom to the top of the bottle/pot, so that you can open it and place it around the stem of your plant. Then you just have to fill the pot/bottle with sphagnum or soil! It will also be easier to humidify again if it dries.

Airlayering ficus

Step 5. Wait and observe its roots

Once the stem is securely wrapped, the waiting game begins. Position the plant in a location with consistent indirect light and monitor the moisture within the medium, ensuring it stays damp.

Over time, you'll notice tiny white roots beginning to form and grow within the clear plastic wrap. This can take a few weeks to several months, depending on the plant species and conditions.

Expert tip! The roots might first appear as small nubs, but with patience, they will grow and extend, signalling that your air-layering technique is working. The visual clarity of the plastic wrap allows you to track this exciting progress without disturbing the plant's rooting environment.

Step 6. Cut the plant and repot it into the pot

It's time to take the next big step once the root system has formed within the plastic wrap. Gently remove the moss or soil around the stem. It's fine if some of it remains, just make sure you don't damage the new roots. Next, cut this propagation just below the rooted node and separate it from its mother plant.

Expert tip! You can leave a short piece (1-2 cm) of stem below the roots so it is easier to hold and handle it! Plus, if ever the tip rots for some reason, you’ll be able to remove it without losing your new roots.

Now, get a pot and fill it with the right soil for your specific plant. Insert your new plant gently into the soil by making a hole in the middle. Make sure the roots have space and aren't squished. Cover the roots with soil and press down a bit. Give it a good drink of water, and your new plant will be super happy!

With this method, roots can take a few weeks to months to grow. The exact time depends on which plant you choose; some take longer than others. While air-layering might be more complicated and messy than other propagating methods, it's also a fun and unique way to propagate!

Lisa G
Lisa G

Lisa is a true plant enthusiast at heart, and her passion for greenery knows no bounds! Her apartment is a lush oasis, filled with the most unusual and exotic plants. So, if you're ever in need of plant-related guidance, she's your girl!

Hi, I'm Emma, your guide!

Hi, I’m Emma, your guide!