Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
During winter some of your houseplants may begin to look leggy. While they may not be in poor enough shape to discard, they do need something. Plants in this condition are often good candidates for air layering.
Many house plants can be air layered--dumb cane, croton, Chinese evergreen, philodendron, rubber plant, fiddle leaf fig, oleander, and camellia to name a few. In fact, almost any plant with a woody or firm stem can be propagated using this technique.
Developed by the Chinese, this age-old propagation technique induces roots to form on the stem. Instead of taking a cutting and putting it in a rooting medium, you take the rooting medium to the plant. The plant stays intact during the entire rooting process.
Air layering is not difficult, but you will have to work quickly once you begin. The incision you make in the plant's stem can't be allowed to dry out. Therefore, assemble all the necessary equipment before you begin.
Start by removing all leaves three to four inches above and below the incision point, which you should make about 12 inches below the tip of the stem. With a sharp knife, make an upward or downward slanting cut one to one and one-half inches long and about one-quarter of the way through the stem. Insert a toothpick into the wound to keep it from healing over, then dust a small amount of root promoting compound into the incision.
Next, wrap the wounded area with moist sphagnum moss, peat moss, or several expanded peat pellets. The moss ball should be about six inches long and several inches in diameter. If you are using peat pellets, split several vertically to the center.
Hold moss or peat pellets in place with twine, and wrap with plastic to keep the rooting medium from drying out. Seal the top and bottom edges, then seam with waterproof wrapping tape. If your plant is in the sun, cover the ball with aluminum foil to protect roots from sun scald.
Give your plant normal care during the rooting period. After several weeks, roots should be visible near the edge of the moss ball or peat pellet under the sheet of plastic. Then remove the plastic, sever the new plant just below the moss ball, and pot as you would a rooting cutting. Discard the remaining stem.
You have just given new life to an old plant! For healthy growth, provide adequate moisture, light, and fertilizer on a continuing basis as you would for any house plant.
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