Air Layering a Fig Tree Root

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15 Steps to Air layering a tree to form roots

Maybe you’re wondering what Air Layering is. When I first heard the words, I pictured wafer cookies with layers of air in them. Air Layering your fig tree is not too far from that concept.

As you know, I love sweet figs and ever since I was a kid, I loved picking the figs off the trees at my grandma’s house in Loxely, AL. It wasn’t until just 17 years ago when I planted a fig tree in New Jersey, USA and once again enjoyed the sweet taste of freshly grown figs. One day, I had a natural desire to propagate additional trees through a method that my granddaddy used to utilize called Air Layering. His green thumb genes were apparently naturally releasing from within me.

air layering

This method allows you to grow roots directly out of a branch high above the ground and then into a complete root ball. The process doesn’t provide any nutrients into the roots to extend the size of the branch. Although not recommended, you can cut it down with all the roots intact and plant it into the ground. You’ll have excellent results if you first plant it into a pot afterward and then plant it into the ground the following Spring season. What Air Layering does is encourage the roots to grow in a space that contains a mixture of air pockets, water and the roots layer upon themselves into a tight ball. Air Layering is 100% successful with cloning fig trees unless you wait too late in the season to do it.

The month of June is the best month to begin Air Layering, because when you transplant it into a pot it will have enough time to establish itself before the Fall season comes around. Any existing figs on the branch will continue to grow, but will not taste good when they ripen. I recommend to not attempt to start this in August. I tried it with two trees and they nearly died.

The number one product you should have for this project is Sphagnum Moss, you can get it through Amazon at Kapecute Sphagnum Moss 34QT Perfect for Plant Propagation, Great Orchid Potting Mix, Help with Maintain Humidity, 10oz (Paid Link). This is a necessity if you want to grow roots in a container where they will have little potential for rotting, plus the young roots will be able to spread freely without a need for fertilizer.

To get started, here are the materials you will need. A plastic bottle, electrical tape (it’s waterproof) and the Long Fiber Sphagnum Moss as mentioned above.

Air Layering Materials
Air Layering Materials

Be sure you have these materials ready along with a pitcher of water and a small bowl. Now, you don’t have to use this same exact bottle, you can experiment with different plastic bottles and different ways to cut them up to fit your branch. The objective is to create a container that will hold damp moss inside of it. Once you’ve created this container, there will be no need to add water to it.

Bowl of moistened (not soaking wet) spagnum moss.
Bowl of moistened (not soaking wet) spagnum moss.

1. Take the bowl and add a handful of the moistened Sphagnum Moss into it.

2. Using scissors or a box cutting knife, cut the 2-liter bottle (or any other plastic container) similar to what you see in the images below.

3. Cut the bottle in such a way so that you can slip it onto a branch. I cut a slot at the sides of the bottle spout and then slipped the bottle horizontally over the branch.

Small bottle prepared for a smaller branch

4. By following the below instructions, you should have two bottle top ends that should fit together.

5. Now look for a branch that looks straight

6. On the branch, you’ll see how the branch appears segmented with leaf node bumps that seem to encircle the branch. This is where the roots will grow from.

Black arrow points to where roots will grow from branch
Black arrow points to where roots will grow from branch

7. Once you have located these leaf node bumps, fasten one of the bottle sections with electrical tape onto the branch in such a way that the container will encase one of those bumps or knots. Just use your common sense on this step as some branches are pointed in other directions. It might require taping both halves onto the branch and then pushing the moss through a hole on a top with step 9.

8. Add water to the moss until it’s soaked and then squeeze out all of the water until the moss is just damp. (remove excess water from the bowl).

9. Pack the damp moss into the bottle half that is on the branch.

10. Fasten the other bottle segment above the lower one using your tape. Carefully taping the two halves together. If you have extra space for more moss, pack some in before you completely seal off the container. Be careful not to leave holes, otherwise moisture will escape and ants will make a home in the container. Yes, I said ants! Small black ants love it for some reason.

Horizontal container (difficult construction)
Horizontal container (difficult construction)

11. Now mark your calendar and wait 6-8 weeks for the roots to grow. I have found that by week 8 the roots are fully prepared for the transplant into a pot.

Upside down water bottle cut in half with fig branch protruding it
Upside down water bottle cut in half with fig branch protruding it
Air layering close shot showing roots inside upside down water bottle
Air layering close shot showing roots inside upside down water bottle

12. Carefully dismantle the plastic container from the root ball. Look at how pretty this is! Have you ordered your Sphagnum Moss yet? Don’t forget to get it here directly through Amazon at Kapecute Sphagnum Moss 34QT Perfect for Plant Propagation, Great Orchid Potting Mix, Help with Maintain Humidity, 10oz (Paid Link)

Dismantling the container
Dismantling the container
Roots freed from containment, ready for pruning shears
Roots freed from containment, ready for pruning shears

13. Snip off the new air layered branch below the root ball at an angle with pruning shears between two “knots” in the branch. I use this tool because it gives a nice clean cut. This photo was taken prior to removing the plastic container, but it illustrates how I cut the branch with the shears.

Showing an example of where to cut the branch with the pruning shears
Showing an example of where to cut the branch with the pruning shears

14. Transplant the root ball into a nursery pot that has holes on the bottom. Loosen the roots a little although not necessary and then fill the pot with pre-moistened grow medium (Paid Link). Although pre-moistening is not necessary, I just found it helpful. For this example, I moistened the potting soil with water with another pot. Notice the stick end below the roots as seen in the above photo, I let this end stand directly against the bottom of the pot.

And finally, transplanting into a pot, filling it with grow medium
And finally, transplanting into a pot, filling it with grow medium

15. Water until the grow medium is wet. The water should pass through quickly. To know when to water it again, insert a clean strip of wood into the soil, wait a few minutes and then pull it out. If the wood comes out dry, then add water. Following this method will prevent from rotting the roots.

I have tried Air Layering using other containers. Plastic wrap stuffed with the moss was an option, but birds pecked at it forcing me to wrap it with aluminum foil. Clear containers are the best, because they are “all window” allowing me to see the roots. If you use plastic wrap, it is necessary to add a little bit of water to it at least once a week.


The example container in the photo with the pruning shears in it was the most complex I’ve made. I cut the bottle in half and used the top and bottom segments. the bottom segment required using a hacksaw to cut a slot and drill a large hole in the bottom. The bottom of a 2-liter bottle is very thick plastic.

Buy your Sphagnum Moss now directly through Amazon at Kapecute Sphagnum Moss 34QT Perfect for Plant Propagation, Great Orchid Potting Mix, Help with Maintain Humidity, 10oz (Paid Link). Getting it right away will be sure you can start rooting in a pot before the Summer season starts.

A photo of roots grown through air layering
air layering a fig tree root
air layering a fig tree root

33 thoughts on “Air Layering a Fig Tree Root

  1. I’ve found that cutting the bottle like a clamshell makes it much easier to put around the branch. Just cut out 2 round shapes across from each other about the size of the branch & bend the bottle back a bit to go around your prepared area.

  2. This seems like an easier way to cut the bottle. The one is the image is great; however, I do not have a hacksaw. I wonder if you would be willing to post a picture or drawing of cutting the bottle like a clamshell and how it fits on the limb. Do you use the neck of the bottle and pouring spout and cap?

    I have always air-layered using the plastic wrap and aluminum foil. I would like to try your method; and an elderly friend of mine thinks it will be easier for her also.

    Thank you very much!

  3. Hello Pat. I am glad you like my method and that you’re interested in trying it out yourself. I include the neck of the bottle for standard method of fixing the bottle to a branch, but not the cap. I only include the cap with the clamshell method. I will create a free downloadable PDF guide that will include more photos and drawings with a thorough set of instructions for how I air layer my fig trees. Prior to using this method, I too used plastic wrap and aluminum foil, but birds decided to peck through it seeking insects, so I needed a stronger approach using the sturdy plastic bottles.

  4. Pat,
    I was interested in your free downloadable PDF guide with photos, drawings and instruction on your air layering method.
    Thank you,

  5. This was fascinating thank you so very much. I live in New Zealand and my Mother had two fig trees before she sub divided and built herself a retirement home on the vegetable and fruit garden. I wish I had known this way then. Incidentally no soil was allowed to be removed from the property and all that rich soil made her own gardens for the last 30 years.
    What else can you use this method of Air Layering propagation for do you know please???
    Thank you very much. I have one fig tree in a pot that needs to be repotted before this coming spring. Not yet large enough to use this method on as yet though.

  6. Hello Margot, It’s too bad that you can’t transplant that rich soil. I know that you can air layer roses. Although here is a North Carolina State University Extension service website that provides additional information about what you can air layer. NC State Extension Service – Plant Propagation by Layering. But keep in mind that they are using an old traditional form of air layering where you cut back the bark to expose the wood beneath, where the roots develop from the edges of the bark. I have not tried my method on the plants that are mentioned on their website.

  7. можно использовать обыкновенный целлофановый пакет, который закрепить ниже и выше среза среза скотчем, а в середину положить мох сфагнум или те же кокосовые опилки.

  8. в России этот способ применяют при укоренении любого фруктового дерева: яблонь груш и другие, когда хотят получить понравившийся сорт, который растёт у соседей или знакомых. а персики и абрикосы можно вырастить из косточки, которую надо стратифицировать, т.е. 2-3 недели, завернутую в мокрую тряпочку, продержать в холодильнике где овощи и фрукты лежат. потом косточку персика расколоть аккуратно, чтобы не повредить ядро и само ядро посадить в рыхлый грунт на глубину 0.5 см. вы можете найти на ю-тубе очень много уроков как это сделать.

  9. Thank you. Margot may find your comment useful for others trees she can air layer. I recently took a look in YouTube and found various other methods in which people are doing this. One thing I know is that when gardening, there isn’t only one method to make plants grow. It’s a community effort to make the world green.

  10. I did try this method one time years ago prior to using the method in this post, but found it to be a little messy and that birds were poking their beaks through the cellophane.


    Excelente publicación. Voy a probarlo con otros árboles. Les comento que soy de Uruguay (América del Sur ) y había probado con una Dieffenbacchia ( arbusto de jardín que en lugares de elevada temperatura llega a tener dimensiones realmente grandes) y lo hice con una bolsa de plástico con tierra. Me dio un muy buen resultado . Tuve suerte con las aves porque era un jardín interior y ellas no llegaban . Agradezco la publicación y ya les contaré mis resultados con otros arbustos y/o arboles.

  12. Happy 2 find your site…
    I have a 12’x12’x70’
    GreenHouse on TheOregonCoast
    and have 20-30 fig cuttings that I
    ‘Pinched’ when they were 50” tall…
    yet the tips began 2 sprout nice new
    thick branches…I saw your note about
    June being the best time 2 Air Layer
    but are there any exceptions 2 that
    I may have 50-60 Air Layers that I wanted
    2 cut -&- pot in May…can you Air Layer a
    Green Branch…
    Is there a way 2 get you pictures that might
    help you see my situation…

  13. It appears that you need not cover the clear plastic bottle, to “fool” the roots; you seem to cover only where taping is necessary to close the bottle parts and to attach to the tree. Is that correct? It’s nice to be able to see the roots developing. Otherwise, maybe dark bottles would do better?

  14. Hi Charles, thanks for reaching out to me and for visiting FiggiRiggi. That’s correct. There is no need to cover the roots. Don’t worry, the roots can’t be fooled into anything since they don’t have a brain and in this state, they are reacting to moisture. Most of the sensitive roots are hidden within the shadow of the sphagnum moss and then they reach out to the clear plastic. At that point you can enjoy viewing the roots and to know it’s time to cut down and transplant into a pot.

  15. Thank you very much for the information
    Could you tell me which is the tastiest fig tree. I had one but had to cut it down and didn’t want a cutting from it as it hardly gave fruit, some years none although grew very big.
    This time I’m growing in a large pot but need to know which fruits and tastiest so that I can buy the tree from nurseries please. Thanks

  16. Welcome Hatice! Although I haven’t tried all fig varieties on the planet, my favorite presently is the Brown Turkey fig. I love the sweetness it provides and it always brings upon some childhood memories. Give it a try and let me know what you think of it.

  17. Hi, it was very useful. I tried different methods for a few years, but your method is very practical

  18. Thanks for the fascinating article and information! I have a fig tree on the property of my mother’s old house and have been given permission by the new owner to take “rootings” from the huge old fig tree. Will I need the full 2.5 pound package of moss for a single root ball, or will the large package accommodate more “rootings”?

  19. Do you know where I can get a Strawberry Jam fig tree? Thanks for your great help and information.

  20. Hi Sheila. Thank you for visiting. It shouldn’t require the full 2.5 pound package of moss for 1 root ball. Buying a large bag is helpful if you intend to create multiple root balls. So yes, the large package will accommodate more rootings.

  21. Thank you Alireza. Thanks for visiting Figgi Riggi. I am glad you like my method. It’s very simple, although there are others who strip back part of the bark. I simply decided to do it the way I do it because naturally roots will form at the bumps of the branches without injuring the tree.

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