Air layering is a useful method of producing roots on the stem of indoor landscape plants that have become leggy through the loss of their lower foliage.

Adopted centuries ago by the Chinese, air layering is a method that has been used successfully as a way to propagate plants, including those that are more difficult to root. One of the great things about air layering is it doesn’t need any special tools or controlled environment to facilitate rooting.

Layering techniques allow desired shrubs, vines and indoor plants to be propagated using less space. The propagated plants that are hard to root have been known to form roots more quickly and with greater overall success than when propagated from cuttings.

Some gardeners may have an heirloom shrub, vine or houseplant they want to propagate to have more plants for their home garden or to give away to friends. 

The procedure is to wound the stem or branch of the plant and enclose the wounded stem with moist sphagnum moss or similar rooting medium until roots develop from the wounded area. Your success will depend on your ability to keep the rooting medium moist until the roots are formed and large enough to support the new plant.

Air layering typically isn’t used on plants that root easily by other less complicated methods, but it’s very useful for rooting indoor plants such as ornamental figs, dieffenbachia, croton, Norfolk Island pine, dracaena and schefflera. Woody plants frequently propagated in this manner include magnolia, holly, camelia, rose and azalea.

Start by removing a ring of bark on the stem that’s about 1.5 inches wide or making a 1.5-inch to 2-inch upper cut in the stem. Insert a wood sliver or toothpick into the wound to hold it open and prevent the cut tissue from reuniting. At this point you can dust the area with a commercial rooting compound to speed up the rooting process.

Next, apply a handful of damp sphagnum moss so it encloses the wounded portion of the stem. To dampen the moss, soak it for several hours prior to use to ensure it is thoroughly moistened. Squeeze out the excess water before using to avoid decay and deterioration of the plant tissue. After the moss is applied, wrap the ball of moss in polyethylene film and secure each end with electrical tape.

After new roots are visible through the moss, the rooted branch can be removed from the parent plant by severing with a sharp knife or pruning shears. Make the cut just below the ball of moss and roots. Remove the film and then carefully, without disturbing the roots, remove the ball of moss. Now the new plant is ready to be placed in a container filled with a good potting mix. Keep the plant under a light shade and avoid direct sunlight until the new root system is well developed.

David Hillock is a consumer horticulturist with OSU cooperative extension.

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