Air Layering Is the Plant Propagation Method You Need to Try

Protect your mother plant, and increase your chance of success

Air layering a golden pothos

The Spruce / Taylor Fuller

Picture this, plant parents: You have a plant you really, really love, and you want to propagate it to create a new plant. Or, you've got a super expensive or rare plant you want to propagate. The mere thought of cutting the mother plants sends chills up your spine. Memories of past failed propagation attempts come flooding back, and you just can't bring yourself to make the snip.

We've been there, too. But did you know you can significantly increase your chance of a successful propagation with another method that doesn't require you to cut the mother plant? Yes, it's called air layering, and we have step-by-step instructions on how to try this method without harming your plant, plus tips from a plant collector and YouTuber, SunnySideUp With Nicole.

What is air layering?

Air layering is a simple process that allows you to propagate your plant while it’s still one plant. Instead of snipping it near a node, you leave it connected and attempt to grow roots while your future cutting is still a part of its mother plant.

Why Is Air Layering More Successful?

When propagating plants via a stem cutting, the end goal is for the cutting to establish new roots so a new plant can grow from it. That doesn't always happen, but air layering method has the potential to increase that chance by a lot.

“Air layering doesn’t guarantee root development," said plant collector and YouTuber, SunnySideUp With Nicole," adding, "but it does increase the success rate significantly.

"Based on my experience, when propagating in water or soil, the success rate is 60-70%, while the air layering success rate is 90% and above. The biggest benefit from air layering is that if the node does not root, it tells me that it might not root in water, soil and/or other medium. I can avoid making this unnecessary cut and causing harm to the mother plant.”

Benefits of Air Layering

No Damage to Plant: Nicole said she uses this method to propagate rare or hard-to-root, such as her Monstera Standleyana Variegata.

Potentially Get Roots Before Cutting: Even if you successfully root a cutting, Nicole explained that's still no guarantee that it will continue to grow into a healthy plant. "Due to many factors, there is no guarantee that a cutting will survive after making a cutting from the mother plant," Nicole said. "However, by using this method, I can ensure that the node will be able to root before the cut. In addition this method helps roots grow faster and stronger," she said.

Less Stress on the Cutting and Mother Plant: "The reason I like to do it this way is it only requires one cut. This means the mother plant and the cutting only get disturbed once. If I do it the traditional way, I will have a cutting that gets placed into water, which can rot (especially if the temperature is not correct).

"Also the fragile roots are going to be moved from the water to the soil which can cause stress. With this single cut via the air layering method, the cutting already has roots and one cut, which is less traumatic and has one less thing that could cause the cutting to fail.” 

Sold on trying this method yet? Here are Nicole's step-by-step instructions:

How to Propagate Using the Air Layering Method

We followed Nicole's instructions demonstrated in this video, in which she propagates a Horsehead Philodendron. Here are her steps, which I followed to try the method on two not-so-rare plants—a golden pothos and a marble queen pothos.

  • 01 of 05

    Identify the Nodes

    Marble queen pothos with nodes

    Taylor Fuller

  • 02 of 05

    Choose and Prep Your Growing Medium

    spaghnum moss and plastic wrap for air layering propagation

    Taylor Fuller

    I chose to use sphagnum moss as the medium. You can choose perlite or any other medium as well. Then I whet the moss.

  • 03 of 05

    Wrap the Node in Growing Medium and Plastic Wrap

    nodes wrapped for air layering

    Taylor Fuller

    Second, I wrap the node with a good amount of moist sphagnum moss and then use plastic wrap to create a protective covering that will retain the moisture in the moss.

  • 04 of 05

    Check on the Node, Water, and Wait

    "Depending on the temperature of the room I unwrap it and check the sphagnum moss once a week to ensure the moisture level and check for rooting progress," Nicole said. "If the moss is dry, I spray it with water and re-wrap it. During growing seasons, it usually takes no more than two weeks for the plant to get ready-to-pot root growth.”

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Check for Growth, Cut and Repot

    Marble queen pothos successfuly rooted with air layering method

    Taylor Fuller

    After a couple of weeks, my marble queen pothos started to grow a root along its node. The golden pothos didn’t. I’m not sure why it didn’t (it could be due to the temperature of my bathroom, which is freezing).

    I’m happy that I didn’t chop up my plant first, as I would have been quite sad if it hadn’t rooted in water since it’s been growing long for ages now. 

Are you ready to try this method? Give it a shot. Remember, it can't harm your mother plant, so you've got nothing to lose.