Martin Stone is a professor of horticulture at Western Kentucky University and a self-professed plant nerd. His family gardens on a small, hilly farm in Warren County from which they raise and sell perennials, herbs and cut flowers at the local farmers’ market.

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Air Layering
by Martin Stone, Ph.D       #Propagation

Houseplants bring life to our homes and offices, but sometimes they outgrow their welcome. Those with woody stems, such as dracaenas, corn plants and scheffleras, can become too tall and lose their shape or threaten the ceiling. Instead of tossing them out and buying new plants or giving them to a friend with taller ceilings, try air layering. This easy propagation technique will not only rejuvenate your plants — it will reward you with new plants for your efforts.

Air layering can be done any time of year. To begin, select a section of the stem where you want the original plant to begin anew. With a knife, cut a slit through the thin bark about 1/8 of an inch deep and 1 inch in length. Girdle the stem to the same depth at the top and bottom of the slit, and peel off the thin bark to expose the light green tissue.

Squeeze the excess water out of a moistened handful of long-fiber sphagnum moss, and pack it around the exposed plant tissue. Next, cover the peat with a layer of clear plastic kitchen wrap, and secure it at the top and bottom with twist ties or tape. The clear plastic will allow you to see the roots as they form. In a few weeks, after healthy white roots have grown to several inches in length, remove the plastic and peat, and cut the new plant off of the main stem. Put the new plant in a quality potting mix, and keep it well watered until it is established. Some people prefer to cover their new plant with a clear plastic bag for a few weeks to maintain high humidity and reduce stress, speeding its growth.

On the original plant, trim the remaining stump to expose a clean cut with no exposed tissue shreds that can become infected. This is a great time to repot and fertilize the original plant. The original plant will begin to grow a new top when its dormant buds break. Air layering can be performed as many times as necessary during the life of a houseplant. but only one layering procedure should be attempted at a time.


The first step in air layering an overgrown houseplant is to remove the outer layer of tissue.
Next, moist long-fiber sphagnum is packed against the cut to retain moisture and humidity, critical for proper rooting.

After several weeks, the new roots can be seen through the clear plastic wrap. When they are several inches long, the top of the plant is ready to be removed.

After several weeks, gently remove the plastic and peat to expose the newly formed roots.

The old top has become a new plant, and the original plant will grow a new top at a friendlier height.


(From State-by-State Gardening October 2005. Photos by Dr. Martin Stone.)


Posted: 05/09/12   RSS | Print


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