Air Layering | The Fast, Easy Way To Multiply Plants

If you want to clone your trees or shrubs in a safe and affordable manner, you need to learn all about air layering.

With air layering, you can easily and efficiently propagate even the woodiest of plants.

The air layering method is a form of propagation in which a wet growing medium is used to promote root growth on the plant you wish to clone. A weather-proof sleeve is attached over the growing medium and target area. Once roots begin to develop, the clone is removed from the parent plant.

Read on below to learn everything you need to know about air layering propagation to get started today!

Air Layering Propagation: The Basics 

The air layering method of propagation is one of the most straightforward techniques for propagating trees, bushes, shrubs, and plants with woody stems. It’s a tried and true form of propagation, but it takes a bit of time and patience to perfect.

When To Use Air Layering

Air layering of trees and shrubs is best performed in the early spring or autumn. However, depending on climate zones, weather patterns for the year, and other factors, air layering may be successful during the summer or winter months as well.

Advantages of Air Layering

Air layering has several advantageous benefits in addition to being an easy way to clone plants:

  • There is far less work involved with air layering than other propagation methods
  • Clones and parent plants both benefit from new growth
  • Full-size trees are able to be created within weeks or months rather than years
  • No damage is caused to the parent tree or plant
  • High success-rate of plants and trees cloned via air layering
  • You are able to create identical copies of parent plants
  • Quicker and stronger root development than other methods

Disadvantages of Air Layering

There are only a couple of real disadvantages associated with air layering:

  • Air layering involves a learning curve
  • There is more work involved in the beginning phase than with other propagation methods

Common Problems When Air Layering 

If applied correctly, there are very few known problems with air layering. The main problem occurs when you use clear sleeves while attempting the air layering technique on a slow-growing species. 

In this case, a dark solid colored sleeve should be used in place of a see-through type. That is because various forms of algae tend to grow in damp environments that are exposed to light, which could in turn slow down the growth rate of new roots or even kill them entirely.

The only other real problem associated with failed air layering is creating wounds that are too shallow or leave too much cambium (cellular plant tissue) on the target area. Both of which result in slow growth or no growth of new roots.

How To Propagate Using the Air Layering Method

Propagating trees, plants, and shrubs via air layering is a breeze. But, before you get started, you’ll need a few things.

Supplies for Air Layering:

  • Sphagnum moss (or an alternative growing medium)
  • Polyethylene film (or plastic bag)
  • Waterproof tape (or adhesive, twist ties, and twine)
  • Snippers
  • A razor knife (or another sharp instrument)
  • Rooting hormone (optional)

1. Select a Proper Branch for Cloning

To propagate a plant or tree by using the air layering method, you must first prepare the parent tree. Start by selecting a proper branch or shoot that is roughly two or three years old. A proper branch or shoot will be flexible, but strong, and show signs of new growth from bottom to top.

2. Trim and Wound the Target Area

Next, start where the branch or shoot stems off of the mother plant and trim off all the leaves, stems, and knots that occupy the 12 to 14 inches. 

After trimming it up, create a shallow wound by peeling back a one or two-inch section of the shoot or branch as close to its base as possible. 

Creating the wound on a bud, or side-shoot is preferred as it is already growing out of the new branch and is more easily converted into roots than producing new roots from scratch.

3. Apply a Wet Growing Medium

Using a wet growing medium, like moss, slip a bit under the wound and then cover the entire base of the branch’s base with a couple of inches worth of the same wet growing medium. 

Cover the medium with a see-through plastic sleeve (or bag) that will keep out rain and dew and seal it up with waterproof tape or glue.

4. Cut the Tree/Plant Off After it Roots

Keep a close eye on the growing medium inside the sleeve for the next several months. Once root tips appear through the medium your clone is ready to be cut away from its parent and transplanted into the soil or a container.

What Plants CAN Be Air Layered? 

A large majority of trees, shrubs and bushes, ornamental plants, tropical plants, and house plants that are harder than average to grow, and more can be air layered.

Air layering also works on many plant varieties that are otherwise often slow to develop new growth, lack shoots for rooting or are generally considered hard to clone.

What Fruit Trees Can Be Air Layered? 

Nearly any fruit tree is able to be air layered. Below, we list 18 of the best fruit tree types to air layer:

  1. Almond
  2. Apple
  3. Apricot
  4. Avocado
  5. Cherry
  6. Citrus
  7. Fig
  8. Kiwi
  9. Loquat
  10. Mango
  11. Papaya
  12. Peach
  13. Pear
  14. Persimmon
  15. Plum
  16. Pomegranate
  17. Rambutan
  18. Starfruit

In addition, pecan, walnut, and many other trees that produce nuts can also be air layered.

Can You Air Layer Roses? 

Air layering roses is one of the easiest ways to propagate rose bushes. The biggest difference between air layering roses and many types of trees and other woody plants is that new roots appear quicker on roses. 

Also, using clear sleeves to cover and seal the wet growing medium is highly recommended when air layering roses. Clear tape also works well in place of sleeves or bags.

Can You Air Layer Blueberries? 

Blueberries are another great option for air layering due to how slow they grow compared to other berry plants. As with roses, blueberries are best air layered with clear sleeves or even tape.

Can You Air Layer an Avocado Tree? 

Avocado trees are not the easiest fruit trees to clone via air layering, but it is possible. That said, if you attempt it, air layering is best applied to avocado trees in the early spring. 

In addition, you’ll have to practice a bit of patience as it may take several months for new roots to occur. Further, if it’s your first attempt to air layer something, it may not be a successful operation.

Can You Air Layer Grapes?

Grapes are another unlikely plant to consider performing an air layering attempt on. But, they actually tend to react quite well to air layering. Even more, air layering is one of the best methods for propagating grapes quickly.

Pro tip: many gardeners have successfully air layered grapes by packing a wet medium over notched grow sites and sealing the target section of vine with a soda bottle and tape.

Can You Air Layer Lilacs? 

Lilacs are an easy to air layer plant, despite the rumors you may have heard. To do so, simply select a healthy shoot and make a small slice through approximately ⅓ of the width of the stem. Place wet moss over it, tape it up, and come back in a few weeks.

What Plants Can NOT Be Air Layered? 

There are a few species that can not be air layered, despite the fact that most plants can be. Conifers, for example, are one of the hardest plants to air layer. Most of the time, they don’t respond well to air layering, but with a green thumb, a bit of luck, and just the right conditions, even conifers can be air layered successfully.

A few of the plants that are not typically able to be successfully air layered include:

  • Azalea
  • Camellia
  • Chaenomeles
  • Daphnes
  • Ficus
  • Forsythia
  • Jasmine
  • Philodendron
  • Rhododendron

How Long Does Air Layering Take To Root? 

The amount of time that passes between applying air layering techniques to trees and plants and when the first roots appear varies drastically from species to species. Also, the time it takes for roots to develop enough for the new clone to be removed for the parent plant also widely varies from tree to tree and plant to plant.

That said, many trees take as much as an entire year to root via air layering. Others may shoot out new roots in just several weeks. 

Likewise, when air layering certain plants and vines like lilacs and grapes, roots may grow in as little as two to three weeks. 

Do You Need Rooting Hormone for Air Layering? 

Rooting hormone may be applied during the air layering process, but it is not required. Some gardeners swear by it, while others report little difference between air layering with rooting hormone versus with pure moss.

What Time of Year Is Best for Air Layering?

Air layering is best practiced on a vast majority of plants during the early parts of spring. But, some plants are believed to react better towards the end of the year, in autumn. 

As a general rule of thumb, the best time to air layer a plant is when it is going through a major growth phase. Never attempt air layering while a tree or plant is dormant because no growth will occur.

Do You Need To Water Air Layering?

If you apply it correctly, there is no need or purpose to water an air layering once it is applied. When applying air layering techniques to clone trees and plants, a wet growing medium like moss should be applied and covered in a sleeve that keeps the moisture from escaping.

Polyurethane film is highly preferred for covering air layerings because it allows the grow site to breathe while simultaneously keeping the majority of the moisture trapped inside.

Can You Use Potting Soil for Air Layering? 

Potting soil can be used for air layering but it isn’t nearly as effective as moss. That said, mixing 75-percent peat moss and 25-percent potting soil (with perlite) is a great alternative to using straight sphagnum moss for air layering.

What Can You Substitute for Sphagnum Moss? 

There are very few genuinely suitable substitutes for sphagnum moss for us in air layering. As mentioned above, peat moss is one substitute but it needs mixing with another growing medium.

Potting soil is another substitute for sphagnum moss, but it too needs mixing with perlite, peat moss, or another alternative that is fibrous, breathable, and yet has a high water retention ability.

Is Air Layering the Same as Marcotting? 

Marcotting and air layering are indeed interchangeable names for the same propagation technique. That said, the term Marcotting may have been around longer as the technique is said to have originated in China over a millennia ago.

What’s the Difference Between Air Layering and Grafting?

Tree Being Grafted
Apple tree being grafted.

 

Air layering involves cutting one tree or plant and causing it to root. Once roots develop, the “new” plant or tree is removed from the parent. 

Grafting on the other hand is a technique that involves cuttings from two separate trees or plants that are joined together and encouraged to grow into a single plant or tree.

That said, air layering and grafting are similar, in that they both involve cutting and rooting trees and plants.

Why Did My Air Layering Fail? 

If your air layering failed to take root, you most likely didn’t use enough growing medium, used the wrong growing medium, or used a clear sleeve when a dark sleeve should have been used.

Another common reason your air layer could have failed is that your “wound” wasn’t deep enough or was poorly placed.

What Are Air Layering Root Pods? 

Air layering pods are a newer type of gardening product that takes the place of classic plastic sleeves, tape, and adhesives. They typically consist of a hinged polyurethane body with foam inserts on each end. 

Rose Bush Being AirLayered With Pod
Rose bush being air layered with rooting box.

To perform an air layering with a root pod, the only difference is that you place the root pod over the wet growing medium after you make your wound and cover it up.

Best Air Layering Propagation Kit 

If you want to ensure a successful air layering, we suggest giving one of these layering propagation kits consideration:

Mosser Lee Air Layering Grow Kit

This air layering propagation kit from Mosser Lee comes with everything needed for air layering 10 trees or plants. It’s an affordable alternative to purchasing all the items you need separately.

The kit includes long-fibered sphagnum moss, rooting powder, ties, picks, and plastic wrap.

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Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Works within weeks
  • Complete kit
  • 224 cu. in. 
  • Larger packs available

Cons

  • No root pods included; you still need to twist or tie your air layerings

Root Booster Plant Growing Box

The Root Booster Plant Growing Box is a quick and easy way to produce successful air layerings. The kit includes everything necessary for creating six air layerings.

This kit utilizes root pods/growth boxes, rather than traditional plastic wrap and ties.

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Pros

  • Quick and easy to apply
  • No damage to plant
  • Roots in 6 to 8 weeks
  • Root pods have locks; no need to twist or tie

Cons

  • The growth boxes may not be large enough for certain trees

Final Thoughts About Air Layering

Air layering is an easy, affordable, and extremely effective way to propagate most types of plants, trees, and shrubs. If you’re looking for a great DIY method for cloning trees or plants at home, air layering is one of the best techniques to practice.