I received a phone call not too long ago from a gal whose Dracaena had grown too tall for her office and was just looking unsightly. She wanted to know if there was a way to cut it off and repot it. I told her she could sort of do that in a certain way. It was then that I explained air layering to her.
Air layering is particularly useful for propagating houseplants that have grown too big and have lost their bottom leaves. Basically, roots form on the aerial part of a plant after the stem is slit at an angle and then wrapped in a moist rooting medium at the slit. This method allows the top portion of the plant to form roots while it is still attached to and being nourished by the parent plant.
Some garden centers now carry ready-to-use air layering kits, but it is very easy to gather the materials you will need right at home. You will need a sharp knife, a toothpick, some rooting hormone, sphagnum peat moss, twine and twist ties, and plastic wrap. The sphagnum moss must be moist, so soak it in water for about an hour then squeeze it well to remove the excess water before placing it on the plant.
Look at the plant and decide where you want the roots to form. Choose an area just below a node. That is where the leaves attach to the stem. Remove the leaves three to four inches above and below that point. Make an upward slanting cut 1 to 1½ inches toward the center of the stem. Be very careful to not cut through the stem. Brace open the cut with a toothpick to keep it from healing together. Dust a little rooting hormone into the cut and surrounding area, then cover the cut with about two handfuls of the moist sphagnum moss covering an area about six inches long. Tie some twine around the moss to keep it in place, then wrap the moss with plastic wrap to keep it moist, using twist ties at the top and bottom to keep it in place. Plants that have a large top may need to be staked so that they will not break when the cut is made.
After some weeks have passed, you will be able to see roots through the moss. Take the plastic wrap off and cut off the new plant just below the roots, taking care when transplanting as the new roots can break easily. Water well.
Until next time, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.