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I’m a huge lover of propagating plants because it combines my two passions: house plants and free shit.
I never really believed propagating worked unless you had a massive greenhouse or fancy chemicals, but it turns out any idiot with some scissors and an old sweet chilli sauce jar can do it. Let me show you how:
How to propagate plant cuttings in water:
Take a cutting of your plant. Some have nodes, so make sure your cutting includes that, some just require you to cut off a leaf, and some produce pups all by themselves.
Put your cutting in a receptacle filled with water (room temperature rainwater is the best, but water straight from the tap will absolutely work). The rest is just a waiting (and changing the water) game.
How to know how to take a cutting
I mean, you could Google it, but where’s the fun in that?
If, for whatever, reason, you need to propagate a certain plant, then, by all means, do your research and learn how to best propagate it.
Certain plants can be only be propagated certain ways, and some can only be propagated by division, which is too dirty and unmagical for me to bother with.
If you have a plant in mind, and you’re not sure if you can propagate in by cuttings, take a look at my plant index – it’ll probably be there, I have a lot of plants – there’s details of the propagation methods there.
But if like me, you’re just overexcited about making new, free plants then just lop off a bit of plant, stick it in water, and hope for the best.
If the plant has visible leaf nodes (they’re bumpy…bump on the stem, and may have aerial roots protruding nearby) then make sure your cutting has at least one node and put it in water. You can always remove existing leaves – the leaf nodes will still produce roots.
Trial and error is my favourite way to propagate. It’s easy and requires no research, though admittedly results are varying.
I recently pruned my String of Hearts and decided to propagate the pruned bits. Some I stuck some back in the soil, some I put in water, and I also put some leaves in water too.
I just removed a couple of the bottom-most leaves and stuck the stem in water.
You must make sure to stick the bottom in the water. If you put the cutting in upside down it will almost certainly never produce roots.
There are three main ways to take a cutting that can be grown in water:
Most aroids can be propagated by taking a cutting that includes leaf stems. I’ve successfully propagated pothos in water, and if the picture at the top of this post can be believed you can do it with Monstera Deliciosa too.
I’ve personally always soil propagated Monstera, for no reason other than to make my plant look fuller. It takes a long time to settle in, but I’ve never lost one.
As I mentioned before, String of Hearts are super easy to propagate from leaf nodes. It’s very quick too – I’m talking half a cm or more of root growth in a week. Great for beginners or a project for kids.
Pilea Peperomiodes is pretty easy and satisfying to propagate too.
Aerial roots aren’t the same as roots and are unlikely to root, but roots will grow from the same place as an aerial root, so they’re a great way to be sure you have a node.
I’ve only tried to propagate from leaves thrice (and I currently have one on the go), but two out of three worked, which according to Meatloaf ain’t bad.
The first was a Watermelon Peperomia which I kind of did by accident. It dropped a leaf whilst I was repotting it and I stuck it in water, never really thinking it would grow BUT IT DID. It even grew little leaves underwater.
That cutting is now living in moss in our terrarium – it’s basically a half-empty fish tank with mossy rocks – and it’s doing well EXCEPT there’s a slug in there (I assume a slug egg got in on another plant) that keeps munching on it.
Clearly it’s not tasty because the slug is eating it very slowly.
(a sunflower from the birdseed fell onto the moss and germinated. It was growing really well until the slug ate it. It was bigger than the peperomia but the slug clearly preferred it.
I read somewhere that if you cut the leaf of a snake plant, then cut a triangle out of the bottom of the leaf (so it has two little prongs) then they propagate faster. I tried it and didn’t think it would work – it takes a while, so it’s a race between the roots forming and the leaf rotting.
It took a couple of months BUT IT WORKED. I couldn’t believe it. I currently have another on the go (I stole the leaf from work, oops).
I wish I’d kept a record of how long it took the first one but alas, I didn’t. I didn’t learn my lesson though, and can’t remember how long this one’s been going.
Pups/ plantlets/ offsets
I think they’re all the same thing.
Some plants are kind enough to produce babies without any interference from us at all. Then it’s simply a case of gently removing the pup from its mother and putting it in water.
I’ve had plants produce pups, but not the ones I want: I’m waiting on my spider plants and aloe but neither seem to be interested in producing babies. They’re meant to be the easiest! It makes me wonder if I’m accidentally mistreating them in some horrific way, but because they’re very forgiving they haven’t died yet.
The plants that have produced pups have done so without any interference from me. The only one I’ve grown on in water is a Pilea Peperomiodes, which I then gave to my mum. It’s doing really well actually (my dad is in charge of its care; mum’s a killer).
Other pup-producers are my snake plant (I’m leaving it with it’s mum) and a succulent that I believe is a Haworthia.
Actually, a couple of different Haworthia have produced pups even before I began looking after them. They oscillated between complete neglect and overwatering and had no drainage holes in their pots. Having pups was clearly a last-ditch attempt at survival.
I use rainwater if I can, but have had success with tapwater.
As is the case with watering plants, room temperature water is best, but I’ve used water straight from the tap before and the cuttings have been fine.
You can end up spending a fortune on things like water filters and distilled water, when a lot of the more common houseplants have developed into fairly hardy plants due to selective breeding, and are more than happy with tap water.
I’ve never used distilled or filtered water, purely because I refuse to pay for water and I think it’s a bit wasteful (I’m a vegan, hippy, eco-warrior if you didn’t already know) but in winter I’m planning on saving the water from my dehumidifer to water my plants.
Yes, I need a dehumidifier. I tend to only use it in my bedroom, and remove the satin pothos that lives in there before I switch it on. My house can be a bit on the damp side in winter, and I’m afraid I’d rather have crispy plants than mouldy walls.
How often should you change the water you’re using as a propagation medium?
Well, there’s a question.
You should change the water every couple of days, but since I’m a real life human with a job and life, I change it every, er, week. Sometimes less. Often less. Sometimes more like a fortnight.
Sometimes I don’t change it so much as just …top it up.
And my plants have been fine.
Change it when you remember to is the best advice I can give you. Don’t let it get to gross and murky.
I always used to think that you had to use glass containers for propagation vessels, but actually cuttings are likely to root a bu quicker in the dark BUT you’re far more likely to let the water get all gross and grungey if you can’t see it. So the best way to keep on top of water changes is to use a transparent container.
Containers you can use as propagation vessels
There’s no need for you to rush out and drop twenty quid on a fancy pants propagation station.
They look so cute and cool, yes, but your cuttings will do just as well in an old washing up liquid bottle. Keep a lookout for cute jars if you like, but bear in mind that it’s usually cheaper to buy a full jar than an empty one. Why? I have no idea.
Sweet chilli sauce tends to come in good propagation vessels. Just sayin’.
How long does it take for cuttings to grow roots?
I have a full article on this, but basically…it depends.
Sometimes a week.
Sometimes three months.
Some of factors that affect how quickly a cutting grows roots in water are:
- How quickly the plant naturally grows
- The amount of oxygen in the water
- Temperature – warmer weather usually makes plants grow faster
- Light – bright indirect light = happy cuttings
- How often you change the water. Possibly.
- Whether or not you added root hormone.
I would talk more at length about adding a rooting hormone to the water of your propagation vessel, but I’ve never used it so, therefore, am ill-qualified to do so. Maybe one day.
Planterina has a good video on propagation. She has a few actually. I love how she makes it seem so achievable and effortless.
This snake plant took, like, six months to get this many roots:
…yet my Ctenanthe grew roots in a couple of weeks:
How to make cuttings root faster
This has its own VERY in-depth article on not only the factors that will speed up the rate at which your house plant cuttings root, which are:
But also details how you can improve them, and what will make the biggest difference.
I’ve had a tonne of success in rooting my house plant cuttings in my Aerogarden –
Full Aerogarden review here.
They’re pricey (from $100ish, depending on the model you choose, but combine a grow light with an air pump, so you get improved light and oxygen in one small, aesthetically pleasing package.
When should you pot your cutting in soil?
Provided you keep on top of changing the water there are many plants (pothos and peperomia are the ones I know of) that are quite happy to live in water indefinitely.
You have to remember, though, if you grow a cutting in water for months or years and then pot it in soil, that’s quite a shock to the system. You’ll need to keep the soil moist for a while whilst it adapts to its new environment.
If you’re putting a cutting back in with its mother (a great way to bulk out leggy plants), and you’re worried about keeping the cutting damp whilst not overwatering the mother, try misting the top of the soil – it’ll provide enough moisture for the cutting, but it won’t penetrate too deeply into the soil.
I don’t believe there are any positives or negatives to keeping your plant in water (though you need to ensure it’s getting adequate nutrition), but I agree that the ones with massive root systems look really cool.
Propagating in plants in leca is also an option, and you can keep them that way indefinitely.
I have a whole beginner’s guide to getting started with leca here.
I tend to pot my cuttings up either when the roots are a couple of cms long or when (and this is most likely) when I need the container for something else.
Growing avocado trees from the pit
I don’t really have enough information on this for a whole post and it’s kind of propagation so I thought I’d discuss this here.
(UPDATE: it got its own article)
Also, it’s my website and I can do what I like.
I tried a few times to sprout avocado pits, extremely unsuccessfully. The secret, it would seem, is patience, which we really do need to learn early on in this process, because it’ll take twenty years or so for our avocado pit to produce avocados.
The plants are cool though, so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
First of all, let’s not dick about with toothpicks. Who has the time?
For this project you will require:
- an avocado pit
- a freezer bag/ziploc bag/similar
- a square of kitchen towel/paper towel
- a jar with a neck narrow enough to sit an avocado pit on
First, eat the avocado.
Then wash the pit. Scrub it with a sponge but it doesn’t need to be perfect.
Wet the paper towel.
Wrap the pit in the damp paper towel.
Put the wrapped pit in the freezer bag and seal it.
Put it on a sunny window sill and leave it the hell alone.
In the month or so it took for the pit to sprout I only needed to re-dampen the paper towel once, so unless you live in an extremely dry environment, you can pretty much forget about your avocado until for a week or so.
All you need to do before the root shows is keep the paper towel wet.
Wait longer than you think – a little pimple will appear on the bottom of the pit – don’t be tempted to remove it yet.
Wait until the pit is splitting and a white root is growing out of the pit.
Only then can you put the pit on the vessel (which you’ve filled with enough water in which to stick the root.
I know it seems like a weird thing to do, but it’s extremely satisfying to grow something from seed.