Air-Layering Technique with Plain Water

It was almost incredible to learn that some gardeners have professed to being able to propagate plants with just plain water. By this, I don't refer to dipping cuttings into a jar of water and then wait for some nubs to form which, hopefully, grow into roots.

That kind of propagation works, but seemingly to just a few kinds of plants - and sometimes, the mortality of seedlings is high.

Propagation Using Plain Water and Disposable Bottles

No, not cuttings. This innovative kind of propagation uses water for air-layering purposes. That's right, just plain water. There's no addtive either like a rooting compound. Tap water is fine.

The traditional air-layering technique steps are simple. I've successfully air-layered plenty of plants before like the Rangoon Creeper, Nong Nooch vine, and many others. 

So yes, I could really vouch for the effectiveness of air-layering with soil or soil-like medium, but this new technique is much simpler. The air-layering technique using plain water isn't complicated at all.

In this article, we'll discuss the air-layering technique performed on a fairly hardy and common plant hereabouts, the bougainvillea. The bougainvillea pictured below is locally known as Bougainvillea Butterfly Fuschia Pink and is recognizable by its slim pointy bracts. We'll use it to perform the air-layering technique using plain water.

Tools and Materials

There aren't any special tools or materials in this project, only common household materials that you're likely to throw away.

  • Disposable Plastic Bottle - For the bougainvillea, I used the common small Probiiotic Drink plastic botlles. These are lightweight and is just right for the plant's relatively thinner branches. For thicker branches though, small disposable drinking water bottles would suffice.

  • Thin wire or Twist Ties - This is for tying to secure the plastic bottle to the branch. In this project, I used a thin copper wire from old wire cables.

  • Aluminum Foil - This is a small scrap piece of foil, roughly 2-inches by 2-inches, to be used for covering the mouth of the plastic bottle. The moldable aluminum foil won't require any tying material to secure it to the bottle.

  • Cutter or Small Knife - Use a heavy-duty cutter for cutting away a piece of the plastic bottle. Use a cutter with a thin blade for cutting the branch of the plant.

  • Pruning Shears - For cutting the rooted branch from the plant and for trimming off excess foliage of the rooted branch.


  1. Find a small disposable plastic bottle like the one below. Notice that the mouth or opening of the bottle has a lip. These bottles do not have the twist or screw type of a cap, but a foil that seals it. The lip, as I'm holding below goes around the opening.

  2. With a pen marker, mark two points on the lip. The points are 3/4-inch away from each other.

  3. Make a cut on each of the two points with a heavy-duty cutter or small knife. The cut should just go through the lip of the bottle. The lip may be thick so use a slicing and sawing motion to get through it. You may have to rock the blade of the cutter a few times to free it from being stuck.

  4. After making the cuts on the two points, position the blade underneath the lip part of the bottle that is in between the points. With a slicing/ sawing motion, cut out this lip part.

  5. With the cuts completed, you can break off the lip part as shown below with your fingers. Discard it the broken part. Be sure the cut left on the bottle is thin and smooth.

  6. Find a branch of the plant that is at least 1/4-inch. You will be making a cut along the branch that is 2 inches long. With a sharp small cutter, cut through the branch diagonally upwards until the blade reaches the center. Then angle the blade so it now traverses along the length of the branch.

  7. Continue the upward cut with a slicing rocking motion. Ensure that the blade moves in the center of the branch along its length. The cutting should be strong yet controlled so as not to break (or totally cut off) the branch. The strip of branch created by the cut should be around 2 inches long.

  8. After making the cut, get the plastic bottle and find the part without the lip. Insert this part inside the branch cut (in between the main branch and the branch strip). Slowly slide the bottle up the cut until you reach the stop or topmost part of the cut. You may have to wiggle it a bit to slide through.

  9. The sliced strip of branch should now be totally inside the plastic bottle as shown below.

  10. Here's how it looks like when the bottle is pushed maximally into the cut. Note how important it is to have that part that slides through the cut branch to be smooth and thin. Otherwise, there may be a risk of breaking the branch strip.

  11. With the branch strip inside the bottle, secure the bottle to the branch. Get a thin wire or twist ties. Wrap it around both the main branch and the mouth of the bottle with it passing under the lip. Twist the wire a few times.

  12. The plastic bottle tied to the branch should appear like the one below.

  13. Pour plain ordinary water inside the plastic bottle until it fills up. Notice that even if the bottle is filled with water, it doesn't slide down the branch.

  14. Cut a 2-inch by 2-inch square piece of aluminum foil. This could be a reused or old piece of aluminum foil. Tear it from one side until the tear reaches the center fo the foil square piece.

  15. Put it on top of the opening of the bottle while passing the branch into the tear as shown below.

  16. Place the foil on top of the bottle opening . Wrap it by molding the foil on, around, and under the lip as shown below. This foil becomes the bottle cover and is reasonably secured from getting bumped off or blown by the wind.

  17. The foil cover itself is not necessary for the branch to root. However, the cover does prevent debris from getting into the bottle.

Debris like leaf particles and dirt may cloud the water. This hampers visibility when checking for roots. The cover also prevents mosquitoes from laying eggs inside the bottle.

(See Part 2 for the continuation of this article)

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