Airlayer technique using potting soil in a bag

leon_edmond(z7NM)July 16, 2008

Some of you have expressed an interest to learn how to airlayer a fig tree. There are many variations to the technique however the one I prefer to use is a ziplock bag filled with moist potting soil. Some folks will use moist moss wrapped around the branch but I prefer the soil method because I can easily pot this up in a larger container without stressing the plant too much and I can also mail this airlayer to a friend as is, without removing the plastic as you will understand later on in this presentation. I apologize to those who may find this material repeated.

First, cut off the ziplock side of the plastic baggie (In this case I'm using a quart size bag for this size of airlayer).

Next cut off the bottom seam from the bag.

What you end up with is a plastic tube.

I've chosen this branch to become my airlayer. I'm going to remove a ring of bark toward the base of the branch (far right in the photo). As a rule, use the diameter of the branch size to approximate the width of the bark you will remove. The airlayer will set roots just above the ring so try to remove this piece just under a node. In this case, it doesn't matter because the nodes are close together and I can remove the ring from inbetween the nodes.

Make two parallel cuts around the entire branch and then connect those cuts with a line in the middle.

Using the tip of your knife or even your fingernail, it is pretty easy to peel away the bark from inbetween the end cuts.

This photo shows you how it looks once the entire ring is removed.

Next, I pull the plastic bag tube over my forearm and gather up the small branches and leaves in my hand. This way, it's quite easy to thread the plastic sleeve over the leaves and down to the rooting location.

Take a piece of twine or string and secure the sleeve just below the ring of bark that was removed. Make sure that the end of the sleeve is entirely air tight. The reason being, if there is even a small opening at either end of the sleeve, moisture will escape from the rooting medium and the root ball could dry out.

Next, fill the sleeve with moist (not soaking wet)potting soil of your choice. Shake the sleeve so that some of the folded pockets fill with soil. Then leave enough plastic at the end so that you can secure this with string just like the bottom end.

Wrapping the finished product with aluminum foil will help reflect the sun and keep your airlayer cool.

Depending on the fig variety and the conditions of the process, most airlayers will show roots in about 4-6 weeks(some sooner). Here is a photo of what to expect when you see roots forming inside the plastic sleeve. This is the time when the airlayer is ready to be removed from the mother tree and placed in it's own pot.

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axier - Z10, Basque Country (Spain)

Thank you Leon! very illustrative.
I use the same method as you do. However, when the branches are wide and the bag can't be threaded over the leaves, I cut the bag sleeve for one side and after I staple along.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 3:11AM
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peg919(Z6 CT)

Thanks, Leon.

This is an excellant presentation.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 8:24AM
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Thanks Leon for the detailed pictures as well.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 9:05AM
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Thanks Leon:I tried other methods but this one is
very clare and precis.
I will also use it,from now on.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 10:06AM
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Give a man a fish, he eats for a day........


    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 10:40AM
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Great step-by-step pics Leon! Thanks.

I've only tried air layering once last year. I left the zip lock part of the baggie on and I cut down the 2 sides. I'm then able to open the bag flat, place the bag around a large limb and zip it closed. I then can wrap one end, fill and close the other end as you show.

I also read to leave about 1/8" uncut on the branch so a connection to the mother tree exists to feed the branch while roots develop. Obviously with your success, not as necessary a step with figs. :-)


    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 11:57AM
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Leon, excellent job. Absolutely beautiful pictures & illustrations. Just a question, have U done any air layering without taking the cambium off?? I have recently done at least a dozen without taking the cambium off. I have done air layering with cambium off & have been successful. I have read that with cambium off the tendency to have a broken branch is greater & some people have had good success without cambium off. I support most of my air layering with a stick or tie it to a branch. I only use moist wet top soil & instead of using foil, I wrapped a plastic shopping bag over the clear plastic bag.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 9:33PM
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Thanks for the air layer education. I am in the process of air layering some Zumwalt Fig Plants for my friends on this forum. One of those air layers failed because I cut into the hard wood and a stiff wind broke the air layer off. After reading your post I decided to redo my existing air layers and the rooting on all those plants was significant after 2 1/2 weeks. I know it is late in the season to start airlayer but I did about 6 additional today on various fig plants.

Quite frankly I was surprised that you girdled the mother tree before you secured the air layer. You can't argue with your results, they simply are amazing.

Thanks again!


    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 10:35PM
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That is really a neat idea about how you improvised the ziplock. I'll have to give it a try. Thank you.

I've never tried airlayering without girdling the branch but I have heard that they root just as well(wonder if it takes longer?) I'm impressed by your results. Since reading your suggestion, I started two more airlayers without removing the cambium.
Thank you so much. Yes, I also support my airlayers with bamboo sticks so that they don't break with the wind. I just didn't include a photo of it.

It is not late at all to start more airlayers at this time.
I know that girdling the branch can weaken it. Especially on younger branches. However, I do use sticks to support the weaker ones. Paully has a good point in that you really don't have to remove any bark to get these things to root. Girdling the branch has always worked fast for me so I never bothered doing it another way.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 11:33PM
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OK Leon -- I am going to perform 2 air-layers on the same tree, with bark off & without in the morning. This would probably give us an indication which will root faster. Appreciate your prompt feedbacks.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 12:42AM
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OH Yeah,
That would do the job.
George (NJ).

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 2:14AM
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I've tried it. Girdling does help the limb produce roots faster. I use a vegetable peeler and only partially girdle the branch. This minimizes the risk of the limb breaking.


Great tip on the leaving the zipper on... it is one of those "gee, I wonder why I didn't think of that" type ideas.

The inner layers of the limb bring energy from the roots to limb. The layers of the limb that are removed during girdling transfer energy from the leaves to the roots. The energy that is being transferred down the limb builds up at the girdle and is expressed as roots.

In the past, I was discouraged in the past from rooting late in the season. As I am seeing more and more how trees respond to late season root-work (as opposed to the beginning of the next season), I am becoming more and more convinced that late season is the time for air-layering.

The theory is: if after the layer is removed from the parent the roots can be kept warm (above 55F) while the top is asleep, the child will continue to develop roots during the winter months. The child will then be established before breaking dormancy and will have a head start on the next season. Since the tree is in its late season decline, shock issues are minimized.

As Leon pointed out, if you use your regular potting mix to air-layer, the layer is ready to pot with minimal fuss to the root area. Once potted the container can be placed on a heat mat (or out in the sun in Houston) until the weather warms up. This should especially useful on larger layers where you might not get enough root growth to initially support the top.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 10:19AM
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Thanks James. Nice explanation on how this stuff works.

Like you've said, I have had to produce some last minute fig trees for friends and was able to root some better airlayers late in the season.

I first learned how to airlayer figs by reading Everett Jannes article some years ago (I've attached the link). I used to use moist sphagnum moss as illustrated but I experienced problems with the moss. It can dry out real fast if there is the slightest pinhole in the plastic cover. It can only support a limited root ball. That's why the article advises a plastic tent for a week. It gives the airlayer some extended time to grow more roots under a humid environment.

However, I found that by using soil in place of the moss and leaving the airlayer attached to the mother tree a little longer for more root development, a potted tree is created. I almost never have to cover the plants with a plastic tent. Instead, I leave them in the shade for awhile and wean them gradually into some partial sun. The airlayer has already been conditioned to the sun having been attached to the mother tree, so this doesn't take too long.

Here is a link that might be useful: Airlayer article

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 2:10PM
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James - thanks for the feedback on the advantage of girdling.

Leon - Very good info on usage of top soil.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 8:21PM
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Leon, Thank You for the great airlayering info. Will start some tomorrow.

Stay Well,

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 9:55PM
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Is it best to remove the figs form the air layering to promote better root growth since they sap energy.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 1:47AM
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noss(Zone 9a Lafayette, LA)

Leon! This is really great, learning that this is a good method of layering. I had thought to do that many years ago, but had never tried it. It just made sense to me with the Celeste figs. You can't get soil or mulch anywhere near a Celeste trunk/branch without it sprouting roots very quickly, so I thought, why not put some soil in a plastic bag and put it around a young branch and see if it roots.

Great tutorial and photos! It really helps to see things like that and you had the steps done so clearly.

Thanks to you and everyone who added information about this topic,


    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 3:17AM
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Great instructions. Exactly the same way I do citrue and Lychees as well. The only thing I do differently is I use a zip tie to secure both ends instead of twine.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 10:01AM
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I take a pot with soil, bend over a low branch so the stem crosses the soil, place a rock on it, place a drip line under the rock .... and at the end of the season snip off the branch and have a free standing plant. Takes 10 mins to set up and always works ... plus I usually get figs from that branch during that season. Obviously one can only use branches near the base of the tree, but figs are always putting out small branches low down.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 1:13AM
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I have done both. That is, I've removed the little figlets on some airlayers and on others, I've left them on. You know what, it really doesn't matter. The airlayer will root, no matter what. If I had the choice, I'd remove them based on your theory because in the end, most of the figs fall off anyway.
I saw your thread on the airlayers you did on the branches sticking out of the fence. You did very well! The next hurdle to airlayering is nursing the little babies for about a week. That is, I pot them up right away and place them under a tent for a few days in the shade, gradually weaning them into outside conditions.
Attached is the article I used years ago when I first researched the airlayer process. Since then, I stopped using moss and began using potting soil instead.
Pay close attention to the last part of the article regarding the tent process.

Here is a link that might be useful: Airlayering

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 11:19PM
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thanks leon your feedback mean alot to me.
How is the air layer doing that you used in the tutorial?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 3:08AM
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That particular airlayered tree now resides in Spain and is said to be doing well.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 7:53PM
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giants_2007(10 PSL FL Sal)

Great post first of all. My first question is can this be done during dormancy if not can it be done after the figs are all picked before it going into dormancy. Or better yet when is the best time to attempt. Thanks again

    Bookmark   June 12, 2009 at 2:55PM
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amazing tutorial. many thanks.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 10:32PM
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    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 8:09PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

How fast do these root, and how fast can I cut it off? I promised a fig to a little kid in Canada, and I am wondering how long this takes, so he won't get worried waiting for his fig. Our temps range in the 100 to 110 degree area in summer. The kid wants his tree!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2010 at 11:43AM
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"about 4-6 weeks"

What I would like to know is how did the experiment with the girdling turn out?

OK Leon -- I am going to perform 2 air-layers on the same tree, with bark off & without in the morning. This would probably give us an indication which will root faster. Appreciate your prompt feedbacks.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2010 at 9:31PM
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botanicalbill(9b SWFlorida)

Execelent photos and instructions. Thank you.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2010 at 11:21PM
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Old thread, i know, but just had to say thanks. Getting ready to air layer and find that i am out of sphagnum moss. Lucky me because this looks like a way better technique! Thanks again.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 6:36PM
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It is. I like it better than the moss. The root system is already established in the soil medium. It's an instant potted tree so-to-speak.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 8:16PM
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Excellent pictorial Leon. I didn't see any mention of using rooting hormones..?, I use the rooting power when I air layer my plants (several fig varieties and lychee, cinnamon, sugar apple, etc..). My belief is that is does help in stimulating root production, I usually just scrape some of the wood, but if done when it's slipping, it is very easly to just peel a section off.
Again, nice work!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 7:14AM
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Thanks, This is the post I was searching for last week.

I followed these instructions last summer and it worked like a charm..

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 3:24PM
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I've never had the need to use rooting hormones for fig airlayers but if it works well for you, by all means use it.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 11:21PM
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genecolin(Zone 9, LA)

I just had to say thanks for this post Leon. I had done a few air layers in the past with grape vines but never with figs. this past season I air layered about 10 off of one tree that I wanted to share with friends and they came out great. Your pictures are so clear and tell the complete story. The only thing I changed was on horizontal branches I used a water bottle cut in half lengthwise. It was easier to get the soil to stay in place. Below is pictures of one such success. I've shared your pictures with others that were interested and they also found them so clear and helpful. Once again Thanks,

This airlayer was started on July 22 and cut off on Oct. 16. I let it go for 11 weeks because of it's size.

My grandson holding up a very nice one.

The root ball

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 7:32AM
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Way to go grand-dad/son!
One more young nice person hooked to them 'good' figs.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 10:08AM
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genecolin(Zone 9, LA)

Thanks gorgi, let's just hope he stays hook.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 8:50PM
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Great explanation and pics...
Can you ail layer on this years growth...the 2 ft shoots are still green and have no hardened bark.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 8:04AM
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