How to Air Layer With a Grafting Knife


Plants that propagate easily as cuttings also respond well to air layering, which produces a rooted cutting while still on the parent plant. With this method, sapwood stays intact, delivering water and nutrients to the branch. The branch responds to the removal of the bark ring by sending roots into the moss applied to the wound. Air layering works well with many tropical plants and trees including lychee, camellia and figs. Many woody northern plants, including common fruit trees, do not reproduce well by either cuttings or air layering.

Air Layering

Step 1

Fill a small bucket with water. Place a few handfuls of sphagnum moss in the water to soak. Give the moss about an hour to thoroughly absorb water.

Step 2

Choose a vigorous branch or side shoot. Select a layering site at least a foot below the tip of the branch. Remove all leaves and twigs from an eight inch section centered on the layering. With a sharp grafting knife make two cuts through the bark and cambium 3/4 inch apart and completely ringing the branch. Place the cuts 6 inches or more from the junction with the main plant to give plenty of working room. Cut down to the sapwood but try not to injure the sapwood itself.

Step 3

Make a third cut connecting the two ring cuts. Insert the point of the knife under one edge of the bark ring and pry the bark loose. If any bits of bark remain attached to the wounded sapwood, scrape the wood clean with the knife. Any green cambium left on the wound could heal the area with new bark.

Step 4

Squeeze a handful of sphagum moss to wring out excess water and wrap the moss around the layering wound. Cover all exposed sapwood and several inches above and below the wound. Use several turns of plastic wrap to cover the area. Black plastic makes a good outer layer--if the air layering receives any direct sunlight, cover the wrap with aluminum foil instead. Tie the wrapping off above and below the air layer with twist ties.

Step 5

Check the air layering after a month to see if a root ball developed. When root tips are visible through the clear plastic layer, sever the branch below the root system. Transplant to a container filled with humus rich potting soil. Allow the plant to recover before planting in a permanent location.

Tips and Warnings

  • Hormone treatments could stimulate root growth, but improper amounts of hormones could affect the entire plant. Use pre-formulated compounds matching the difficulty of the project. Don't mix your own.

Things You'll Need

  • Grafting knife
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Bucket
  • Plastic wrap
  • Aluminum foil
  • Black plastic
  • Twist ties
  • Pruning shears or pruning saw


  • Air Layering Tropical Plants
  • Air Layering Camellia
  • Air Layering Citrus

Who Can Help

  • Methods of Propagation
  • Bonsai Forum Air Layering Discussion
Keywords: air layering, rooting hormone, air layering grafting knife

About this Author

James Young began writing as a military journalist in Alaska and combat correspondent in Vietnam. His lifetime fascination with technical and manual arts yields decades of experience in electronics, turnery, blacksmithing, outdoor sports, woodcarving, joinery and sailing. Young's articles have been published in Tai Chi Magazine, Sonar 4 Ezine, The Marked Tree, Stars & Stripes, the SkinWalker Files and Fine Woodworking.