I know many ways to propagate fig trees, but my favorite must be air layering. It’sIt’s just so reliable once you get the hang of it. It has a learning curve that I’d like to make easier for you.
It might seem way more complicated than other propagation methods, but if you stick with me for a second, I will show you that it’s worth going through the learning process.
What Is Air Layering?
Air layering is the best method to propagate fig trees, specifically to root mature wood before being planted in the soil. Air layering provides the best survival rate of fig cuttings because they are cut from the tree right before planting, meaning they are out of the natural growth process for only a moment.
There are many ways you can air-propagate fig trees, but for a moment, we will stick to the ones using soil/moss as it is the most favored medium to use.
Air layering heavily relies on timing and proper temperature.
Timing is important because you want to hit the best time to root or plant the cutting in the soil, while the temperature is crucial for consistent rooting and, more importantly, to avoid stressing the tree.
Both timing and temperature are often reasons why people prefer soil, as it is the most consistently rooting wood and easier to insulate.
The Best Soil For Air Layering Fig Trees?
When using soil to air layer fig trees, you need a type of soil that can stay moist for more than a month.
That means standard potting soil mix won’t suffice. From my experience, it accumulates water in its lower parts due to gravity, almost completely drying the upper parts.
That results in only partial rooting.
Instead, you want either small particle soil mixed with moss or a type of moss that can easily root cuttings on its own.
I liked mixing soil with moss the most, but I’ve heard people have amazing success with certain moss types as well.
I use regular potting soil like Espoma AP8 8-Quart Organic Potting Mix that has increased water retention, and Long Fibered Sphagnum Moss mixed at about 50/50 ratio.
If the soil you are using isn’t fine, you can always crush larger pieces until you have small particles. That way, it can retain moisture better.
You can also use sphagnum peat moss, probably even without the soil. Although I’ve never tried it, I only heard about it from others.
How To Air Layer a Fig Tree?
The best way to start is to pick a branch of the right age. You can use younger wood as long as it is old enough to root well, although the perfect wood age is about 3rd to 5th year depending on the thickness and how the tree was pruned.
Maybe it’s best to pick 2nd-year wood for the first air layer attempt. I go for older ones because I like to use those first several years of high fruiting potential before propagating from that branch.
You can air layer thick branches too, but for beginners, it’s best to stick to smaller thin ones because if they die, you won’t destroy a part of the tree for nothing like I did my first time.
Once you’ve picked the branch, remove about 4 inches (longitudinally) of bark from a branch all around. I make sure not to cut too deep into the wood because I could kill it at the very beginning.
Put wet soil in a bag big enough to cover the whole barkless part of the branch.
Make the bag flat so you can wrap it around the branch.
Now cut the bag diagonally on one flat side and place the cut open part on the barkless wood, so the soil makes contact with it.
Wrap the bag around the branch, so the soil doesn’t fall out anymore. However, make sure the branch’s whole width is inside the cut part of the bag in direct contact with the soil.
Once the bag is wrapped around the branch, wrap it with a rope or several layers of an adhesive stretch film, so it holds in position. It’sIt’s important to secure it in place because young roots will get damaged if it moves.
Avoid taping it because you want to be able to open it up and check on the roots.
Some stop at the plastic wrap, but I wrap it all together with aluminum foil. That is the crucial step for a high success rate because the aluminum foil is amazing at the insulation of heat and moisture.
When To Air Layer Fig Trees?
The best time to air layer fig trees is either early spring before leaves form or late-season right before the leaves start to fall out. It’sIt’s generally easier to air layer in early spring, but doing it late in the season means it will be at the optimal time to plant and prevent tree injury.
There is sort of a debate about the timing of air layering fig trees.
Air layering in early spring makes a valid point because if there are no fully developed leaves, it means a fig tree will be able to divert more energy into developing roots.
Although, cutting it off the fig tree when the wood sap is flowing will put a lot of stress on the tree.
I prefer more difficult rooting late in the season because right before the dormancy is the best time to make cuts other than the dormant season itself.
The tree won’t suffer at all because the leaves will fall off by the time roots have grown, and the sap flow will be minimal.
It makes even more sense if you consider that the best time to plant is during the dormant season. More to the end of the dormant season, to be precise, but autumn works as well as long as you protect it during the winter.
I don’t really want to dive too deep into this discussion since I haven’t tried air layering in early spring. I’ve been doing it mid to late-season from the start, and it works great.
How Long Does It Take for Air Layered Fig Cutting To Root?
Fig tree air layering requires one to three months depending on the technique, variety, type of soil used, and how thick is the branch/trunk where the bark is removed. The more bark you remove, the less time it takes to root. Removing lots of bark means the technique must be on point to prevent damage.
With the way I described above, it usually takes 4-6 weeks, and if properly secured and insulated, there is no chance of any damage to the tree.
Will Fig Tree Cuttings Root in Water?
Fig tree cutting will root in water, even when air layered. Water is an alternative to the soil when propagating fig trees. However, air layering fig trees with water is slightly more difficult because it’s harder to maintain proper temperature and protect it from bad weather.
I use water in standard fig cutting rooting off the tree because then I can do it in my home where it’s easy to maintain a proper temperature.
Air layering is much more practical to do with a mix of soil and moss for many reasons.
The biggest problem with air layering using water is cutting the wood, which can damage the whole branch before it roots.
How Do You Air Layer a Fig Tree With a Plastic Bottle?
You can use both soil and water to air layer fig trees with a plastic bottle.
If you are using it with soil, a plastic bottle acts as a holder instead of a bag. I split it open on one side and wrap the bottle around the branch with the soil inside. Everything else stays the same as with the bag.
When using water, it’s a bit tricky. You need to cut the whole upper part of the bottle to take the form of a cup.
The cut on the branch has to be deep enough so you can squeeze the thin plastic in that cut and hold it in place. The cut must be long enough to reach into the water, and the bark should be removed from that side of the branch.
The first problem is the potential injury to the branch, and the second, rooting only on one side.
Those are only some of the reasons why air layering is usually done with soil.
Can I Air Layer Multiple Parts of a Single Fig Tree?
You can air layer multiple branches on a single fig tree. However, air layering too many branches might stress the tree and spoil the fruit that season.
I usually do once per tree if I want to replant a bigger branch or multiple smaller branches on a single limb that I will sacrifice the fruit from and prune once the rooting is done.
If it’s done properly, you can actually time it perfectly with rejuvenation pruning, especially if you want to keep your trees smaller.