Air Layering Houseplants

Many houseplants don’t age gracefully. Some lose their lower leaves and become tall, leggy, and unattractive. Others simply become too big. Instead of tossing the plants, many old houseplants can be renewed by air layering. 

 
Air layering is a procedure used to induce roots to form on a plant stem while it is still attached to the parent plant. Complete or partial girdling of the plant stem interrupts the downward translocation of carbohydrates and other compounds. The accumulation of these compounds promotes rooting at the point of injury. 
 
There are different ways to air layer houseplants depending on the plant species. The vascular tissues of woody dicotyledons (dicots) form a complete cylinder below the bark. In monocotyledons (monocots), the vascular tissues are organized into bundles that are scattered throughout the stem. Different procedures are required to air layer dicots and monocots due to their differences in plant structure. 
 
Materials needed to air layer houseplants include a sharp knife, sphagnum moss, a sheet of clear plastic, twist ties, and a rooting hormone. 
 
The procedure for air layering a rubber tree, weeping fig, and other woody dicots is as follows. Select a point on a stem about 12 to 18 inches from a shoot tip. Remove any leaves in the immediate area. Using a sharp knife, make a cut completely around the stem. The cut should penetrate down to the woody center of the stem. One inch below the first cut, make a second cut completely around the stem. Finally, make a third cut connecting the previous two cuts. Remove the ring of bark. Scrape the exposed surface to insure complete removal of soft (cambial) tissue. Dust a small amount of rooting hormone on the exposed surface. (The rooting hormone promotes root development.) Place 1 or 2 handfuls of moist sphagnum moss around the exposed area. Wrap a piece of clear plastic around the sphagnum moss. Make sure none of the moss protrudes out the ends of the plastic wrap. Secure the plastic wrap above and below the sphagnum moss with twist ties. 
 
Roots should appear in the sphagnum moss in several weeks. When a good root system has developed, cut off the stem just below the bottom twist tie. Remove the twist ties and plastic sheet and pot the rooted stem in a well-drained potting mix. 
 
The procedure for air layering monocots, such as the dumbcane or Dieffenbachia, is slightly different than that for woody dicots. Select a point 12 to 18 inches from the shoot tip. Make a sloping cut down toward the center of the stem. Immediately below the first cut, make an upward cut. The second cut should be approximately 1 inch below the first. The two cuts should meet in the center of the stem. Remove the cut portion of the stem. Dust a small amount of rooting hormone on the exposed surface. Place 1 or 2 handfuls of moist sphagnum moss around the exposed area. Wrap a piece of clear plastic around the sphagnum moss. Make sure none of the moss protrudes out the ends of the plastic wrap. Secure the plastic wrap above and below the sphagnum moss with twist ties. Roots should appear in the sphagnum moss in 6 to 8 weeks. When a good root system has developed, cut off the stem just below the bottom twist tie. Remove the twist ties and plastic and pot up the rooted stem in a well-drained potting mix. 
 
Once potted, keep the new plant well watered and in bright, indirect light. The plant should be well established within a few weeks and can then be moved to its preferred indoor location. The parent plant can be discarded if no additional plants are desired.

 

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