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Plant Propagation: Do You have to use Moss to Propagate by Air Layering? What else could you use?

Updated on June 9, 2011

Moss Substitute

Air layering is an alternative means to propagate house plants that are larger and possibly overgrown; for example you can air layer rubber plants, croton, or dieffenbachia if have lost most of their lower leaves.

Azaleas and other woody ornamentals, such as, camellia, magnolia, oleander, and holly also are able to be propagated by air layering. For optimum rooting, make air layers in the spring on shoots produced during the previous season or in mid to late summer on shoots from the current season’s growth. For woody plants, stems of pencil size diameter or larger are best. Choose an area just below a node and remove leaves and twigs on the stem 3 to 4 inches above and below this point. This is normally done on a stem about 1 foot from the tip.

Air layering differs, depending on whether the plant is a monocot or a dicot.

If the plant is a monocot, you make an upward 1- to 1 1/2-inch cut about one-third through the stem. Hold the cut open with a toothpick or wooden match stick.

Next you cover the cut with moist sphagnum moss (soaked in water and squeezed to remove excess moisture).

You can substitute well broken down compost for the sphagnum moss if you wish and as you can produce your own compost; this may be the best way to proceed.

The next step is to wrap the moss with plastic using a twist tie, for example, to hold the wrapping in place. The moss must not go beyond the end of the plastic wrap. The ends must be securely fastened so no moisture escapes.

If the plant is a dicot, then you proceed much like you do for a monocot but you remove a 1-inch ring of bark from the stem.

Always use a sharp knife. Make two parallel cuts that are approximately about an inch apart around the stem and through the bark and cambium layer. The cambium layer is the internal layer of living cells between the inner bark and the sapwood where growth takes place.

Use one long cut to join the two parallel cuts then remove the ring of bark; this leaves the inner woody tissue exposed. Remove the cambial tissue to prevent a bridge of callus tissue from forming.

If you wish you can now apply a root-promoting substance to the exposed wound.

Lastly, warp and cover using the same procedure that you would for monocots.

When roots fill the rooting medium you will cut the stem below the medium and pot the layer. Your new plant will need your care and attention for awhile, at least, until the root system becomes more developed.

This technique gets easier to do as you use it and remember that you can use compost instead of moss as the rooting medium.


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  • Lady Guinevere profile image

    Debra Allen 8 years ago from West By God

    I e-mailed you by the contact, but it won't let me send you a picture through that. my e-mail address is and then when you respond I will reply with the picture there.

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

    You could email me a picture.

  • Lady Guinevere profile image

    Debra Allen 8 years ago from West By God

    That is true. There are like six plants in the same pot and none of them have bottom leaves. I wish we could sent a picture in comments so you could see my plant.

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

    Straw is not a good rooting medium unless it is well aged or composted, I do not know whether it would work though as I have never tried it.

    This is late in the season but depending how Autumn goes you may be okay, can't hurt to try.

  • Lady Guinevere profile image

    Debra Allen 8 years ago from West By God

    I knew you would be the one to ask!

    Thank you very much. I have a rubber plant that my cat broke all the lower leaves off of--he didn't eat them he just liked to play with them. I don't have moss but might have some compost that I can use.

    Can you uses straw as the medium or not?n With money gettig tight for some of us and having situations like this I would love to know if there are other things we can do without money to buy things like the moss. I live in the woods on a mountain. Right now we are in Autumn and lots of leaves are falling and it is getting that cold damp and rainy weather. I also noticed that these things need to be done in the spring. Being as we are in the fall, how good of a chance do I have at doing this at this time of year?