Air layering is a technique that can be used by home gardeners on a wide variety of fruit trees and broadleaf plants. You can experiment with all manner of trees in your yard (some evergreens too)
Steps to Air Layer a Plant
In the “good old days” peat moss would be soaked until it couldn’t hold more water and would pack (like a snowball) when squeezed together. This is still a good recipe although there are some more modern systems on the market (see below)
- Select a branch – roughly a half-inch in diameter. Larger branches do not form roots as easily.
- Carefully stripped away the bark right around the branch – it will leave a ringed wound about one inch wide.
- Dust that area with rooting powder.
- This is where the roots will form. (and yes, it’s a really good idea to use a rooting hormone with this technique)
- Pack the peat moss around the wound – about 2-3 inches above the wound and 3-5 inches below the wound – as thick as you can get it (about 3-4 inches before the darn peat moss starts falling off). Nobody said this was really easy (gravity being what it is) but it is a time-honored system.
In the old days, they’d use burlap but now wrap this with clear plastic. (why you use clear will be evident shortly)
Wrap tightly, you don’t want this coming off – do not scrimp with this layer of plastic wrap. (yes, the kitchen clingy stuff is wonderful for this)
Then wrap this with black plastic (an old garbage bag)
Tightly secure the top and bottom of the black plastic with removeable ties.
Wait 8 weeks. Rooting should be well underway.
But here’s the caution with this old system of air layering.
The peat might dry out and the new roots die.
So every week, you have to carefully remove the black poly and check to see that the peat is still damp inside the clear poly (see why we have clear plastic to hold it all together while we check)
If you’re not comfortable just “seeing” if the peat is damp, you can poke a small finger hole at the “top” of the clear plastic (poking it at the bottom allows moisture to drain out) and feel the peat. If the peat is damp, no problem – cover it back over with the black plastic and get on with your life. If the peat is drying, you’ll have to get some water into the top to wet it down.
We use the black plastic because we want those roots to come right out to the edge of the clear plastic. If we didn’t have the black plastic there, the roots would turn away from the light and we wouldn’t know if they were inside the pot until they got really large and numerous. But it’s not critical.
When the roots have formed, cut the branch off the tree, below the packing, carefully remove the plastic without damaging the roots and plant in a nursery bed or protected area of the garden. It’s a really good idea to protect the newly cut branch from the direct sunlight for the rest of this growing season. Transplant into a growing position the following year or into an appropriate light-level nursery bed the following spring as well.
A More Modern System
There are “pot systems” available through mail order garden shops. (see image above) I got mine from Lee Valley This is the least expensive one I’ve found btw.
Google “the rooter pot” which is the brand name it is being sold under and you’ll see an inexpensive system to do this that eliminates much of the hassle in production.
Amazon has some kits under “air layering”
The process with this kind of pot is the same – it is simply easier to do it with a pot that allows you to add water without the hassle of removing plastic etc.
The “pot” breaks apart and you do the wounding, but then pack each half of the pot with soil and close it around the wound.
There’s a reservoir to keep the rooting material damp and the pot is fairly clear so you can see when roots hit the edge. Transplanting is as simple as cutting the branch below the pot, opening up the pot and transplanting the newly rooted branch into your garden or growing bed.