Members Learn Air Layering to Clone Fruit Trees

Woman propagating citrus

Garden club members learned a challenging and rewarding new skill: How to air-layer citrus plants — lemon, orange, kumquat — to create offspring that will bear fruit identical to that of the parent.

CJ Reilly, Director of Education and Head of Grounds and Operations at the O’Hara Nature Center and Irvington Woods Park, led us through a process that included:

  • Locating a healthy, straight branch about the diameter of a pencil and selecting a 1″ long area of the branch to work on.
  • Clipping off the leaves adjacent to the area, then scraping of the bark to expose the inner wood.
  • Mixing one part each moss and organic soil into a rough ball, moistening it, and wrapping it around the exposed inner wood.
  • Covering the rounded mass with a plastic baggie and sealing it with tape or twine.

CJ Reilly demonstrates how to strip off an inch of bark without injuring the young tree.

Air layering is an age-old and important skill, CJ explained, because you can successfully clone many fruit trees, including apple, peach, fig and lychee—all of which usually take eight to ten years to bear fruit if planted from seed. And the fruit from seed will often different from that of the parent. With air layering, flowering and fruit typically occur in one to two years for limes and lemons and in two to three years for oranges. This method can also be successful for perennial shrubs like azaleas.

The Nature Center graciously supplied all the materials and most of the plants,

The plants Garden Club members worked on will live at the Nature Center until the mossy spheres in their plastic skins sprout roots. Then the root balls will be transplanted into new containers. The young plants can be left outdoors when there is no chance of frost. “Your air-layered branches should be ready to transplant in two to three months,” CJ said. “You’re all taking them home at the end of December.”


“We all look intense and immersed in what we are doing,” commented Club co-president Linda Azif. “These photos reflect how our members work, learn and support each other.”


For further information, please contact the  O’Hara Nature Center.

Photographs by Edna Kornberg and CJ Reilly.

Filed under Horticulture