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Trees | Air layering

Published on September 7th 2020
Air layering on trees
Air layering is a technique that has been around the block and yet still manages to capture the attention of budding gardeners. The method consists of an easy 2-step process whereby one can trigger root formation along a branch or stem.
In this short tutorial, we will have a look at how to apply this at home with household products.
Bonsai Othonna tree
The technique can be applied to old trees or new branches. Remember that the process is faster with branches of 1-2 years.

How does it work?

When a tree or shrub has undergone damage to the outer layer of a stem or branch, the plant triggers a set of events. This allows the damaged area to go through the process of creating a ‘scab’ if you will, that will protect it against disease. Air layering makes use of this process by triggering the cells to create root instead of cambium cells.

Why use air layering?

The process of air layering can be applied to old and new trees/shrubs. It can allow Bonsai enthusiasts to sculpt a tree and its roots or create a clone from a rare tree. Some trees have difficulty sprouting from seed or take longer to root with other methods, which makes them ideal candidates for air layering.
Here is a list of plants that fair well with air layering:
  • Azalea
  • Camellia
  • Ficus
  • Rhododendron
  • Magnolia
  • Honeysuckle
  • Fruit trees: Apples, pears, citrus.
This list is not exhaustive as you will find that several trees are amenable to air layering.
Necessities for air layering
Most of the items you require might already be in your possession.

What You Will Need

You can perform air layering at home with a few simple household items. I have compiled a list of the items you will need as well as some substitutes (in case you are missing an item).
  • Sphagnum moss (Or an equally high moisture-retentive media)
  • Rubbing alcohol or a lighter
  • Knife or scalpel
  • Rooting Hormone Powder/gel (for hardwood cuttings)
  • A brush or an ear wick (to apply hormone)
  • Plastic wrapping (Black or clear)/ Plastic bottle
  • Black plastic wrapping or foil
  • Waterproof tape or string
The most important step is to sterilise your hands and the knife/scalpel you use on the bark (this also applies to the covering/sphagnum). Non-sterile media and wrapping can contain mould which would negatively affect the mother plant.
Stripped branch
Removing the cambium, outer layer is very important to achieve success.

Step-by-step guide

Once you are sure you have all the items ready, the next step is to prepare:
  1. Soak sphagnum moss in boiled water.
  2. Sterilise hands (or wear gloves) & sterilise a knife with rubbing alcohol
  3. Remove the outer layer of cambium from around the stem between 2 nodes
  4. Apply rooting hormone powder with a clean brush to the exposed region
  5. Wrap in sphagnum moss & cover with plastic wrapping or bottle.
  6. Cover with tin foil or black, waterproof covering
  7. Fasten with string or waterproof tape.
Here is a collection of air layering techniques by Candide gardeners:


Air layering ‘Albo Monstera’...


First attempt of Air layering. Started process in October and seen first roots appearing in January. Hoping to use air layered buxus for bonsai.

Remember that using a blackout cover or tin foil will stop algae from growing inside the container. Depending on the species of your choice, you may need to wait a couple of months. Ficus species are notorious fast rooters and a great way to experiment if you are a beginner.
Air layering using a plastic bottle
You can recycle household items or buy a complete kit online.

Readymade kits

Some vendors have compiled readymade kits (see link here) for you to buy and use. These include size variations on containers that clamp around a branch.
Note that not all the containers will always fit around the branch you choose, therefore, take this into account when purchasing. Some containers will come with one side blacked out (facing the sun) and one side clear (facing the shade. The latter will allow you to view the progress without opening the container.

Have some fun trying out new propagation techniques! Remember to leave us your thoughts. Maybe you have a success story of your very own?

Othonna tree
Erasmus, T. (2020, 1 Sept). Hennie Nel Air Layers a Chinese Elm.
Eganathan, P., Rao, C. S., & Anand, A. (2000). Vegetative propagation of three mangrove tree species by cuttings and air layering. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 8(4), 281-286.