Air Layering Old School

About 4 weeks ago, we started doing some Air Layering on Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata). Air Layering is an old propagation technique used on woody type plants that are difficult to root from a cutting.

Detail of a girdle cut where a 1 inch section of cambium has been cut away.

Detail of a girdle cut where a 1 inch section of cambium has been cut away.

Depending upon the plant, Air Layering typically takes about 6-10 weeks before roots fully develop. Even though we knew these guys were not ready yet…we opened up the Air Layer to check out how things were coming along (above). It looks like they still have another 5-6 weeks left to finish making roots.

Black plastic is tightly wrapped around the area of the air layer.

Black plastic is tightly wrapped around the area of the air layer.

Starting with image above, I am showing the process of pulling the Air Layer apart so that we can see what is going on…sort of like pealing apart onion.

SIDE NOTE: In a nutshell, the Air Laying process is as follows:

1) Select a side branch and cut away the cambium layer about one inch around the entire circumference of the branch. This is also known as girdling.
2) Put a couple dabs of rooting hormone on this newly exposed bare wood.
3) Take some damp sphagnum moss, a little smaller than the size of a grapefruit, and wrap it around this girdle section. Make certain that the entire girdle section is covered by an extra inch on both sides of the cuts.
4) Next take some plastic and wrap the moss to the branch trying to make it air tight. Tie off both ends. You do not want any moss sticking out of your tied area so that it does not leak any moisture. You should have something that looks like a big Tootsie Roll (see image above).
5) Wait about 6-10 weeks for roots to form. If it worked, you should have a healthy set of new roots that formed on the branch tip side of the girdle cut.
6) Lastly, you can cut off the the branch with roots intact and pot it up.

That said…let’s continue seeing how ours are doing.

The plastic has been removed showing the moss.

The plastic has been removed showing the moss.

Above, the plastic has been removed to expose the Sphagnum moss. It was a good sign that moss was still as damp as when we started 4 weeks ago. If the moss was dried out…roots will not form.

The moss has been removed showing the girdle cut.

The moss has been removed showing the girdle cut.

Next, we pull off the moss to expose the girdle cut. If you look closely at the middle of the branch, you will see some white specs. Those are the roots forming.

Here is a detail of the girdle.  The roots are forming on the left side of the cut.

Here is a detail of the girdle. The roots are forming on the left side of the cut.

Here is a better detail of those white specs. Technically, those spots where the roots are forming are called callus. The left side of the branch points to the branch tips, and the right side goes to the trunk of the tree.

Those white spots are where the roots are forming.

Those white spots are where the roots are forming.

After our inspection, we wrapped these guys back up and in another 4-6 weeks, they should be fully rooted. At that point, we will prune it off the parent tree and pot it up.

Why does Air Laying work?

I would like to say that there is a lot of technical stuff online…and here is my simplified explanation. During photosynthesis, leaves generate growing hormones and other chemicals that travel down the cambium layer to the roots of the plant. The center of the branch, the non cambium layer, pushes water and nutrition from the roots back up to the leaves. By girdling, you stop the flow and those hormones and chemicals build up at the site of the cut…sort of like a clogged pipe. Now if the conditions are right, those hormones and chemicals tell the tree cells to start making new roots at the site of the girdle and you have a new offspring.

Happy Air Layering.

– Far Out Flora

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