Air Layering

Air layering involves persuading suitable plants to send out new roots from their upper stems. Once enough roots form, you can cut the stem just below the roots and pot up the new plant separately. Air layering is the best way to take cuttings from slow-rooting, woody-stemmed house plants such as Rubber Plants and Swiss Cheese Plants. It is also very easy to do.

Air layering is also a form of pruning, especially good for woody, single-stemmed house plants that have lost their lower leaves and look bare and unattractive. When you cut off the upper part, as a fully rooted new plant, this encourages the parent plant to send out new leaves and shoots lower down the stem. The end result is two compact plants for the price of one old one!

How air layering works

In the wild, many woody plants, such as rhododendron and bramble, send out roots wherever their branches touch the soil. This is called layering, and is one of many ways new plants are made. It often takes longer than other methods.



If a woody plant is too stiff to bend down to the soil, you can make a small cut part-way through the stem, or remove a small ring of bark, at a point where the stem is most likely to form roots. By surrounding the cut stem with damp sphagnum moss, you can encourage the stem to grow roots. This technique is called ‘air layering’.

  • You will need hormone rooting powder, sphagnum moss, a rectangular sheet of clear polythene about 20cm (Sin) wide to make a ‘sleeve, and cellotape.
  • Choose a point 2.5-7.5cm (1-3M) Le behind a healthy leaf, and not more than 45cm (18in) from the tip of the stem. Remove leaves within 10cm (4in) either side of this point.
  • Using a sharp knife make a slanting incision 2.5cm ( lin) long and about halfway through the stem. Dust the cut with hormone rooting powder and pack it with sphagnum moss.
  • Alternatively, score two rings round the stem 15mm (1/2in) apart and peel away the bark between them. Dust with hormone rooting powder and surround the cut with damp sphagnum moss.
  • For either method, wrap the polythene around the cut to form a cup shape, sealing it with cellotape at the bottom. Pack the `cup’ with damp moss and seal tightly at the top.6 Support the moss and polythene parcel on a shelf if the weight is liable to cause the stem to break, and keep the plant somewhere warm and lightly shaded, and safe from knocks.
  • In about two months you should see little white roots appear through the moss. When this happens, you can cut the stem just under the sleeve and remove the new plant carefully.
  • Lay the new plant down gently on a flat surface and unwrap the polythene from the rootball. You will see there is still some of the stem of the old plant projecting under the new roots.
  • Taking great care not to damage the new roots, tease away enough of the sphagnum moss to reveal all that remains of the old stem left beneath the new plant.
  • Cut off all the remains of the old stem before potting up the new plant in peat-based compost, in a pot 2.5cm ( lin) wider than the rootball. Stake the new plant and water lightly.

Is there a right and wrong time of year to air layer?

When a house plant is actively growing – usually mid-or late spring – is best. This also gives the newly rooted plant plenty of time to get established before the period of winter rest sets in. You can air layer until the end of summer, but after that it is better to wait until next spring.


I never seem to have any luck with air layering, as the bit above the cut always dies before it roots. What am I doing wrong?

You are cutting too deep into the stem or you are using stems that are too old. Choose younger growth and try removing a thin ring of bark instead of cutting the stem.

My friend uses a matchstick to wedge the cut stem of his plant open. Will this work?

Yes. You can use a matchstick or even a piece of grit.

Plants to try

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