Air Layering? Ever Heard Of It...... Learn More Here!

If you’ve ever seen a tree that you would really like or perhaps you have an indoor plant that has become too tall, resulting in a bushy top and a thinned out base and stem, then Air Layering may be your answer. I learnt this deep in the middle of lockdown as gardening became my passion and escape from the tech world. 

What is air layering?

In short, air layering is the process of propagating new trees or shrubs, without having to take a physical cutting. The propagation takes place on the “mother” plant itself, which in turn means that the section being cloned will still receive moisture and nutrients from the main plant while growing a new root system for transplant later. One of the advantages to air layering is that if you are using fruit trees (I’m a sucker for Mango’s) as your clone base, the wait time before first fruiting is dramatically reduced.

How to air layer:

What you need to get started -

  • A bucket of water or some other recipient full of water.
  • A rooting agent, which usually comes in the form of a powder, a gel or a liquid, and can be found here at
  • A cutting implement such as a pocket knife or scalpel.
  • Sphagnum or peat moss, which you can find at
  • Plastic wrap of some sort. Any regular kitchen plastic wrap will do. A clean plastic bag can also work.
  • Thread or string to tie with. This can be cotton yarn or any sort of thread you have available, as long as it can resist exposure to sunlight and the elements.

Step 1:

The first step is to choose a branch. Try to choose a branch that bears its own fruit or flowers, and look out for black spots, insect infestations or any other abnormal fungus growth. The healthier the branch, the more likely your clone will survive the process! 

As a general rule of thumb, the branch must be considerably thinner than the thickest branch of your plant, but also fully formed.

Step 2:

This step is one of the most important parts of Air Layering, this is where cutting takes place. Before I start on the method, it is imperative that you sterilise the cutting tool. There are a few easy (and cheap!) ways to do this. Post COVID, I think we are all pretty good with santising!

  1. You can spray or dip the tool with / into a solution containing at least 70% alcohol, wiping down after with a clean cloth or piece of kitchen towel.
  2. You can clean with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
  3. You can use a lighter or open flame to super heat the cutting edge, then wipe with a clean wet cloth.

Now that the cutting tool is clean, you will need to make the first cut at least 30 centimetres from the base of the branch. If your plant is smaller, just ensure that there is ample room between the base of the branch and the cut.

To make the cut, you will need to scrape away the top layer of material, mainly the bark. Please do not cut too deep!. This scrape should be around 2 cm and will need to be close to a node (a node is where new leaves would normally shoot from). This strip will need to be around the circumference of the branch.


"05184351" by jeremy_norbury is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Step 3

The next step involves applying the rooting hormone. Although not entirely necessary, I would suggest that you wear some form of protection on your hands. Often sap, bark or even rooting hormones themselves can cause irritation to the skin. stock two of my favourite rooting aides, these being ROOT!T Rooting Gel and Striker Cloning Gel. Gels are easier to work with however sprays and powders will work too.

At this step, you will need to cover the exposed area cut in step 2 with the gel. My suggestion would be to use a small paintbrush or an earbud to ensure that the area is completely covered.

Step 4

To get your grow medium ready, take a handful of sphagnum moss and soak this in the bucket of water for 3 to 5 minutes. Once this is complete, remove the moss and squeeze to remove excess water.

The moss must be wet, but not dripping wet. It should be clearly “humid”. Now take the wet moss and wrap it around the area that you cut, it must cover the exposed area in its entirety.


"05077497" by jeremy_norbury is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Step 5

Once the rooting hormone and moss is applied, you will then wrap this with the clear plastic. Enclose the moss and the cut area quite tightly, leaving the ends on either side slightly loose. Tie a piece of string around the ends, securing the wrap to the branch. The goal is to keep the moisture in but protect from the elements.

Try not to tie the ends too tightly, you may need to spray water in from time to time.


"05184357" by jeremy_norbury is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Step 6

This is by far the hardest part, the waiting…

The rooting phase can take anywhere from 30 to 100 days depending on the type of plant, time of year (Best time for air layering is spring to mid-summer) and moisture availability. Before you saw your branch from the tree / shrub, unsure that you can see the roots through the moss. Ideally the roots should be at least 4cm long.

Step 7

Once cut, you can place the cutting into a vase or pot to allow further root growth and to stabilise (The plant will now draw its own nutrients as opposed to relying on the mother plant.). After this, you can then transplant your happy and healthy clone into your garden or pot of your choice!

Just to close off, as with all things air layering takes patience but you will reap the rewards with a lush and healthy garden!

About the author

Duncan Colville is the Director of Development for TDMC SA, The Digital Media Collective LTD and TDMC LLC (USA) with a passion for gardening, dogs and his family. Duncan’s late mother passed on her knowledge and passion for all things indeginous and this is something that he is passing on to his children and anyone else that takes an interest in urban horticulture.