Article from The Master Gardening Bench, Manatee County Master Gardener Newsletter
by John Dawson

Air Layering

Many low sprawling plants can naturally reproduce themselves by a process known as layering. Layering occurs when a portion of a plant (limb, branch, or vine) makes contact with the ground. Friction with the ground removes the protective portion of the plant and starts the process of creating roots, which initially anchors the contact and eventually provides nutrients for what becomes a new plant. While this is happening, the new plant is still receiving nutrition from the mother plant giving it a greater chance of survival than if it was started as a cutting. Think of it as a plant’s umbilical cord.

 Gardeners can duplicate this process by scraping a portion of the outer protective layer (bark), pinning down the branch, stem or vine to the ground and covering with soil. The leafy portion must be kept above ground. Depending on the plant, the new plant can be separated from the parent plant after several months and replanted.

Air layering or "marcotting" is a process used for plants that have branches too far from the ground to reproduce this way naturally. Instead of bringing the plant to the ground, we bring the ground up to the plant!

Example: You have a small fruit tree you wish to propagate. You’ve tried growing from seed, growing from cuttings, and have had several attempts with grafting fail. Air layering is your next best alternative. Air layering should be attempted when new growth starts to appear (usually in the spring).

Choose a vertical limb that’s one to two years old, about ¼” to ¾” in diameter. Measure from the tip of the branch down 12 to 18”. At this point, clear the limb of any leaves or small twigs, leaving a cleared area about 12” long. At the midpoint of the cleared area, you should use a sharp knife to cut two parallel cuts about ½” to 1” apart around the limb just deep enough to remove the outer bark, revealing the cambium. The cambium layer then must be scraped away, if not, then new bark will form instead of roots.   

A rooting hormone can be applied to the upper side of the exposed woo to promote quicker rooting. The entire exposed area then needs to be covered with moist (not sopping wet) sphagnum (not peat!) moss. The moss is then surrounded by a sheet of clear plastic and held in place by twist ties on each end. The ties need to be tight enough to keep insects out and trap moisture in. To prevent overheating, the plastic should be covered by metal foil.

After several months, check area under the plastic for roots by removing the foil. Roots should be clearly visible through the clear plastic. If no roots are visible, recover and check again weeks later. Some trees may require a year to develop sufficient roots. When ready, the new tree can be removed by cutting away below the new roots. Remove the plastic wrap and carefully remove excess moss while spreading out restricted roots. It is not necessary to remove all entangled moss.

Gently plant it in a right-sized container (big enough to avoid tipping over) filled with moist soil while taking care to avoid breaking tender roots. The new plant should then be moved to (mostly) shaded and protected spot (out of any strong winds.) It is important to keep the new plant moist (misting the leaves) for several weeks. You can also try placing a large plastic bag over the plant (ensure the bag does not contact leaves) to retain moisture. The new tree should be hardened off after several weeks and then planted in its new location.

Step 1 Step 1 magnifying glass
Gather materials – Sharp knife, clear plastic wrap, metal foil, sphagnum moss, twist ties, rooting hormone, water, and basin. Soak sphagnum moss for several minutes.
Step 2 Step 2 magnifying glass
Clear working area and make cuts to remove bark and cambium. Place rooting hormone near top of cut.
Step 3 Step 3 magnifying glass
Wring out sphagnum moss so that it is moist, not sopping wet. Place sphagnum moss around entire work area and wrap with clear wrap and secure both top and bottom with twist ties.
Step 4 Step 4 magnifying glassmagnifying glass
Wrap foil around entire encasement to prevent overheating from sun. Check for roots in a couple of months.
Step 4

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Dawson, John. "Air Layering." The Manatee County Master Gardener Newsletter. Mar. 2017. Volume 16, Issue 3. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.


Dawson John. Air layering. N.d. The Manatee County Master Gardener Newsletter. Mar. 2017. Volume 16, Issue 3. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.

Published 2 Mar. 2017 LR
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