Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

How do I air layer an indoor plant?

Air layering is a popular method for propagating indoor plants which have woody stems. Using this technique, which was adapted from the ancient Chinese, roots can be produced on stems above the soil level. Air layering can be done at any time of year, but spring appears to give most consistent successes. This method will give a new plant for each layered stem.

Air layering involves one of two possible procedures depending upon plant species. The first step, common to both, is choosing a healthy plant with a sizeable stem near its top. Whenever possible new wood, one year or slightly less in age, should be used. Somewhat immature wood roots more easily than older stock. Remove leaves for several inches near the point where the cut is to be made.

The first method, which is commonly used with dieffenbachia species, involves making an upward slanting cut about one-third of the way through the stem at a point about one foot from the top. The cut is then propped open with a toothpick laid across the exposed tissue. This prevents the wood from healing which inhibits root production.

The second method gives good results with a variety of plants including schefflera, croton, dracaena, rubber tree, indoor fig, and hibiscus. At a point eight to fifteen inches from its tip cut a ring of outside bark about one inch wide around the selected stem, and remove it completely. Note that with some species, air layering of side shoots does not give satisfactory results. Carefully scrape away any remaining, tan cambium tissue in the exposed area; do not cut into the pale green underlayer.

The rest of the procedure is again common to the two methods described above. Lightly dust the wound with rooting hormone. Moisten some unmilled sphagnum peat moss, wring out excess moisture to get damp tea-bag consistency, and then completely wrap the cut area with enough damp moss to get a baseball-size dressing. Cover the peat moss with waterproof polyethylene plastic, and secure each end in place with twist ties or waterproof tape. The peat moss must remain moist for the duration of the rooting process-anywhere from four to sixteen weeks. Inspect it frequently, and add a small amount of water if required.

When roots can be seen to fill the peat moss ball, carefully remove the plastic cover. Do not remove the peat moss. Cut the new plant off just below the new root area and pot it up, moss and all, using a suitable potting mixture for your species. Before long, expect to see new shoots develop on your new plant.

Unless more air layers are desired, the parent plant can be discarded. In some species, however, the old, bottom portion can often regrow into a rejuvenated, fairly attractive plant; for example-dracaena.