How to Air-Layer Trees and Vines with Just Water

In a previous article, I mentioned how one could easily propagate the Bougainvillea with just water. There was one query asking if other garden plants would respond positively with this approach of propagation. In particular, the inquirer asked about the Gumamela, which is the local term for Hibiscus.

It was rather coincidental that I air-layered a Hibiscus plant with this water technique and sent her photos of the Hibiscus plant I successfully propagated. She was elated to know as she wanted to grow her Hibiscus collections.

It seems that common garden woody plants like the bougainvilleas and hibiscus respond well to air-layering with water. But how about the plants that potentially grow bigger, like vines and trees?

So I put that to the test with a very mature vine of ours which is the Sandpaper Vine or Petrea volubilis, shown below.

It has flowered many times and I've successfully marcotted the Sandpaper Vine using the traditional technique of air-layering. It's a beautiful vine and I sure wouldn't mind having another seedling using the water technique.

Preparing the Water Container

First, you'll need to have the appropriate water container for this technique to be successful. For a heavy vine or tree, a small empty soda pop plastic bottle would be good. Other "drinking water" plastic bottles would also work, for as long as the plastic is clear.

  1. Remove the bottle cap of an empty plastic bottle. With a cutter, proceed to remove also its plastic label. Then with a sharp cutter, punch through below the neck of the bottle. Continue slicing until you create a slit around 1-inch long.

  2. The 1-inch slit will allow you to insert a pair of scissors and continue cutting through around the perimeter of the bottle as shown below. Keep the cut as straight as possible all around.

  3. Shown below is the finished water bottled that we'll be using the air-layer the Sandpaper Vine.

Preparing the Air-Layer

  1. Select a branch that is mature and reasonably straight. It should be at least 1/2-inch thick and is long enough to accommodate a 6-inch length for the cut.

  2. With a heavy-duty cutter or sharp knife, start cutting underneath the branch diagonally upwards. The initial cut would usually be challenging because of the tough bark. Use a rocking motion to make the cut.

  3. Once your reach the centerline of the branch, angle the cutter so you'll be cutting upwards through the centerline. Because of the branch's softer parts, it's much easier to slice through, so do the cut in a controlled mamer. Keep the cut as straight and even as possible. Cut along the centerline up to 6-inches.

  4. Insert the lip of the bottle in the slit and slide it through as far as it will reach. The cut branch strip should now be inside the plastic bottle.

  5. Secure the bottle to the branch by tying it with a tie wire or twist ties ("twistees"). Keep it reasonably rigid with the branch to ensure it doesn't twist sideways.

  6. You may now fill the bottle with ordinary water. Notice though that the water will not reach the top if the bottle is in a slanted position. Try to keep the bottle vertical by tying the branch with a plastic straw rope (pointed by the yellow arrow below). Anchor the rope to somewhere that is fixed or rigid. That may be a trellis, a wall or a bigger branch or tree trunk.

  7. Now you can put enough water into the bottle so that the branch strip inside would be at least partially submerged. The more it is submerged in water, the better.

  8. By having a clear plastic bottle, you're now able to see the branch strip even from the outside. This will make it easier to check for developing roots in the air-layer later on.

  9. Cut a piece of aluminum foil (even used will do) with a size large enough to completely cover the mouth of the bottle and some overlap. Cover the mouth of the bottle and bend the foil overlap to the side of the bottle.

  10. With a piece of thin wire string, secure the aluminum foil to the bottle. The cover, secured the by the wire string, will keep out egg-laying mosquitoes and other debris.

  11. With the bottle in place, just leave it there and wait until roots develop. It will take quite a while but they will develop. So patience here, is key. The good news is, there's practically nothing you need to do other than occassionally check on the water bottle.

  12. After 120 days (or 4 months), the vine has grown thick and is lush. Notice that there is algae growth inside the bottles which now look green.

  13. You will also notice that roots have developed. There's a long one that forks out right where the plastic rounds out at the bottom. I'm pointing to it in the photo below.

Harvesting and Potting the Air-Layer

  1. Retain about a foot of growth for the air-layer. That means cut out all the branches coming out from it. It's been a good 4 months and, with a vine, many of the branches have climbed or twined on to other branches or structures. There's also a much bigger chance for the air-layer to survive with lesser foliage to support.

  2. To cut the air-layer, start with a pruning saw. When the cut is deep enough, you could use a pair of pruning shears to cut it off completely. Hold the branch and the bottle steadily while you start with short quick strokes. Proceed with longer sawing strokes as you cut through the bark.

  3. Once you reach the branch's center, remove the wire string that secures the aluminum foil cover. Then remove the aluminum foil cover itself.

  4. Proceed to remove the tie wire that binds the bottle to the branch. You could do this with both hands without fear of the bottle falling. It is likely that the branch has "grown into" the bottle and has gripped on it.

  5. While holding the branch and the bottle with one hand, take a pair of pruning shears and cut the part that was sawed. You could easily cut the branch now.

  6. The air-layer is now completely detached from the vine (or tree). If you used a plastic straw rope to restrain the branch, now is the time to cut it with a pair of scissors or cutter.

  7. In the photo below, I'm showing the small network of roots that has formed inside the bottle. There's another thick root growing at the right side of the bottle, but not too clearly seen in the photo.

  8. By twisting the bottle a bit sideways and pulling it downward at the same time, you'll be able to detach it from the air-layer. Dispose the bottle immediately as these are easy to make. Notice the green algae that slid off with the roots. This is common, harmless, and there's no need to wash it off.

  9. Prepare a seedling bag with soil beforehand. Dig a hole in the soil. Carefully seat the roots of the seedling into the hole while you position the seedling. Gently backfill the soil with your fingers.

  10. When the hole has been covered, keep adding more soil so the seedling is fully supported. The soil used here is moist so there's no need to water it yet. Gently tamp down the soil.

  11. It will roughly take around 2 months before the seedling becomes established. Set it aside in a shaded spot (not dark) but with bright light around. Avoid direct sunlight. Also, place it somewhere quiet where it is unlikely to be disturbed by roaming animals or strong winds.

Video Tutorial

Show below is the video tutorial of the air-layering technique using water.

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