How to Propagate Houseplants by Air Layering and Simple Layering

Care and How To

For some plants, taking cuttings is not successful as propagules may die before new roots can be formed.  In these cases, layering is another option.

air layering of a houseplant Photo by Adobe Stock
Air layering is a great way to propagate houseplants with lanky stems that don't bend.

Layering is a form of propagation where new roots are formed on vegetative pieces (primarily stems) while the propagule is still attached to the parent plant.

Not all houseplants have the growth habit that allows for layering to be done (rubber tree vs. fern).  For plants without the vegetative structures necessary for layering a different form of propagation, like division, must be used.

There are several methods of layering.  The method best used depends on the species of plant and not all species are propagated by layering.  Many houseplants are successfully propagated by air layering or simple layering.

Large or lanky plants that need to be pruned back are good candidates for propagation by layering.


When to Propagate  |  Rooting Hormones  |  Air Layering  |  Simple Layering  |  Houseplant Species Propagated by Layering  |  More Information


When to Propagate

Early spring is the ideal time to propagate by layering, but most houseplants can be successfully propagated at any time of the year.


Rooting Hormones

Rooting hormones are sometimes applied to stems being layered to promote root formation.  

The two synthetic auxins most frequently used are IBA (indolebutyric acid) and NAA (naphthaleneacetic acid). Various concentrations are available. Consult the label to determine the appropriate concentration based on the species of plant you are propagating.

For layering, use powder forms as liquid forms are difficult to apply.  Start by placing a small amount of powder in a separate container or on a paper plate or towel.  Never return leftover material to the original container or use rooting hormone directly from the original container, as disease issues can easily be spread this way.  

To apply, dust the damaged area with the powder.  Do not over-apply. Too much rooting hormone can sometimes slow root development.

Store rooting hormones in their original containers in a cool, dark location.  After approximately two years, their efficacy drops sharply and should be replaced.


Air Layering

Newly rooted air layered propagule removed from the parent plant.  Photo by Adobe Stock
Once new roots have formed, the propagule can be separated from the parent plant.

Air layering is a procedure used to induce roots to form on a plant stem while it is still attached to the parent plant.  It is particularly useful for those plants without flexible stems and can help improve the appearance of tall or leggy houseplants.  

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.

How to Propagate by Air Layering

  • Select a point on a stem about 12 to 18 inches from the shoot tip. Remove any leaves in the immediate area
  • Wound the plant at this location
    • For dicots (like weeping fig, rubber tree, fiddle-leaf fig, and croton)
      • Using a sharp knife, 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
      • Make a third cut connecting the previous two cuts. Remove the ring of bark. 
      • Scrape the exposed surface to insure the complete removal of soft (cambial) tissue
    • For monocots (like dracaena and dieffenbachia)
      • Using a sharp knife, make an upward-slanting cut into the stem.  The cut should penetrate the stem to about 1/3 its diameter.  Do not cut through the stem or allow it to accidentally break off
      • Keep the wound open using a toothpick inserted into the cut
  • Dust a small amount of rooting hormone on the exposed surface or by pushing it into the cut
  • Place one or two handfuls of moist sphagnum moss (un-milled) around the exposed area
  • Wrap a piece of clear plastic (such as a cut-up plastic sandwich bag) around the sphagnum moss. Make sure none of the moss protrudes out the ends of the plastic wrap. Secure the plastic above and below the sphagnum moss with twist ties. 
    • Aluminum foil or plastic wrap can be used instead of a piece of clear plastic
    • Electrical tape or cotton string can be used instead of twist ties
  • Roots should appear in the sphagnum moss in several weeks. Although for some species it could take several months
  • Monitor the sphagnum moss and add moisture should it dry out (it feels dry to the touch and gets lighter in color)
    • If dry, remove the top twist-tie and pour a little water on the sphagnum moss so that it is fully wetted again
  • When a good root system has developed, it will be readily visible in the sphagnum moss with roots several inches long.  Cut off the stem just below the bottom twist tie.  
  • Remove the twist ties and plastic sheet and plant the rooted stem in a container using a commercial 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 it can then be moved to its preferred location indoors
  • Once established in its new container, begin regular fertilization

The parent plant can be allowed to grow once the propagule is removed.  Most plants will break buds just below the cut and create several new branches.  If no longer desired, the parent plant can be discarded.


simple layering of a houseplant
Houseplants with long flexible stems can be propagated using simple layering.

Simple Layering

Simple layering works well with plants that have long flexible stems.  The propagule is formed by pinning and/or burying a portion of the stem, waiting for new roots to form, and then cutting it from the parent plant.

By bending and burying the stem, it slows and interrupts the downward translocation of carbohydrates and other compounds. The accumulation of these compounds at the bend promotes rooting.

Simple layering is a good alternative to cuttings for houseplants that have long flexible stems because it doesn't require special rooting media or high humidity.

How to Propagate by Simple Layering

  • Bend or stretch a stem or branch down to the soil or over to an adjacent container with potting soil or rooting media such as perlite or sphagnum moss
  • Bury the stem 2-4 inches deep, bending the tip of the branch up out of the soil. Make sure at least one (if not more) node is buried.  
    • Do not bury leaves. Remove any leaves that would be buried in the rooting media
  • Pin the branch with floral pins, hairpins, or a bent paper clip to help hold it in place
    • Try wounding the branch and dusting it with rooting hormone powder before burying it for faster root development
  • New roots should form in 6 to 12 weeks (maybe longer, depending on the species)
  • When adequate roots have formed, the stem will be firmly rooted into the soil.  Cut or separate it from the parent plant
    • If rooting media like perlite was used, pot the new plant in regular potting soil
  • Once potted, keep the new plant well-watered and in bright, indirect light.
    • The plant should be well established within a few weeks and it can then be moved to its preferred location indoors
  • Once established, begin regular fertilization

The parent plant can be allowed to grow once the propagule is removed.  Most plants will break buds just below the cut and create several new branches.  If no longer desired, the parent plant can be discarded.


Houseplants Best Propagated by Layering

  Air Layering Simple Layering
Aglaonema species (Chinese Evergreen) *  
Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine) *  
Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant)   *
Codiaeum variegatum (Croton) *  
Dieffenbachia species (Dumb Cane) *  
Dizygotheca elegantissima (False Aralia) *  
Dracaena fragrans (Corn Plant) *  
Epipremnum aureum (Devil's Ivy, Pothos)   *
Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig) *  
Ficus elastica (Rubber Tree) *  
Ficus lyrata (Fiddleleaf Fig) *  
Hedera helix (English Ivy)   *
Hoya carnosa (Wax Vine)   *
Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plant) * *
Philodendron hederaceum (Heartleaf Philodendron)   *
Schefflera arboricola (Dwarf Schefflera) *  
Syngonium podophyllum (Arrowhead Vine, Nephthytis)   *
Tradescantia species, Zebrina species (Inch plant, Wandering Dude, Tradescantia)   *

A complete list of plants well-suited for propagation by layering can be found in this article: Propagating Houseplants


More Information

Authors: 

Aaron Steil Consumer Horticulture Extension Specialist

Aaron Steil is the consumer horticulture extension specialist at Iowa State University where he works with county Extension offices across the state to answer home gardening questions for all Iowans.  This includes information related to trees, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, herbs, perennials, ...

Last Reviewed: 
December, 2023