Propagating plants can seem like a daunting task or a tricky thing at the best of times.
The reason is that doing so seems so far removed from how we would normally seed and grow a plant that it can at times seem somewhat alien in its approach.
However, this anxiety should not stop you from at least trying to propagate your plants at least once, for it is not only quite easy to do, it can also bring you the joy of multiple different plants of the same species inhabiting your home or garden.
So, how do you go about propagating your plants? What are the steps involved?
Well, in this article we seek to set that out for you, so you don’t have to work it out for yourselves.
Which Medium Should I Choose To Propagate My Plants?
Before starting the propagating process, many people will ask not only how you should do it, but in what substance you should do it in.
This is referring to whether you should propagate plants within soil (in a pot) or whether you should propagate them in water (in a jar).
The easiest method is to originally try and grow roots from the cutting in water, rather than trying to grow them in soil originally.
In water, the cutting will grow and produce roots faster than they will in soil, because they take less energy to develop.
These roots are not fighting other substances or things that may live in the water, as they would if they were propagated in soil.
As such, cuttings grown in water take about 2 weeks to develop their own roots, whereas cuttings grown in soil take about 3 to 4 weeks to develop roots.
However, this can also depend on the cuttings themselves. Plants with a hard cutting may take longer to develop roots than a soft cutting, no matter the environment, whether in soil or water.
The one problem with water roots is that they have to be transplanted into soil eventually, because in water they will remain hairy, white, and more fragile and the growth of the plant will be stunted.
Just be careful when you do this transplantation.
Taking A Cutting: The Process
With the talk about mediums for propagating out of the way, it is time to discuss the process itself. First, you need to decide what plant you want to grow from a cutting.
If this is your first time, we would recommend the water method.
Since you can place the cutting in a clear jar or vase, it is easy to see and track the progress of the rooting process and see if you are doing something wrong.
The process is generally the same no matter the plant and requires a few easy-to-follow steps:
- Take the cutting: Take a stem and cut at the very least 0.5 cm below the plant’s node using a very sharp knife. Keep cutting until the stem has come free. (You can take several cuttings if you want to make several new plants, but be warned that too many can affect your parent plant’s life.
- Use a clean jar or vase: Put the cutting into a clean jar or vase and make sure you remove any of the leaves that become submerged in water. If the cutting has many leaves, remove the leaves until there are only 2 or 3 leaves left.
- Add your medium to the jar: Add water to your jar (or soil, depending on the method you choose). Keep adding it until the nodes are covered completely. Tap water should be fine, but spring water or rainwater is best for the water method.
- Replace or replenish your medium: If you use water, replace the water every 3 to 5 days or when the water becomes murky. (If you do use soil, you don’t have to replenish it, but you need to make sure that the container that holds your cutting has fantastic drainage, so soil does not become trapped in the jar.)
- Keep an eye out for roots: Make sure you are constantly observing the plant for any sign of roots. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks for roots to form, other times it takes months for roots to develop. Just be patient.
- Transplantation: Once the root development has reached a sufficient stage, up to 2 to 4 inches in length.
Once the roots have reached the critical stage in their development, they will continue to grow as a regular plant’s root system would.
But it is important to remember that these are still new roots, and so they are still fragile.
At the point at which the 2 to 4 inch length has been reached for water propagation, you should definitely think about transferring them.
If you leave them in too long, then the plant’s roots may start to rot.
When Will New Leaf And Plant Growth Develop?
From this point on, we will talk about water propagation, because it is the simplest, easiest method to do, and it is what this guide is about.
The previous sections points about soil were there to give the rundown on how it can be done, but beyond that we won’t cover that much of it.
Leaf development won’t generally start in water cuttings, until there is significant root growth or until the root system has begun to develop.
Most of the time, though, new leaf growth won’t start until the plant is transplanted into soil.
It is incredibly rare for a plan to grow a new leaf when there are no signs of root development, but it has happened.
The reason is normally to do with the amount of carbohydrates the plant has readily available to consume, which is normally a steady and plentiful amount.
Unfortunately, everything hangs on the development of new roots. Without this development, the leaves will eventually begin to wilt and die, even if they appear before the roots.
As such, it is best not to take the appearance of a new leaf without roots as a good sign, as you still need the roots to develop and the new leaf may be taking precious energy away from the root system for its own development.
If you do notice a new leaf before a new root system, then it might be best to trim the leaf before it gets too big, to preserve the nutrients and water for the root system’s development.
Aiding Root Growth In A Water Propagation
Root growth is a practice of patience, as you cannot force the plant to grow roots any faster or slower than it is going.
This is especially true when the environment for the plant is not ideal and there may be unseen forces affecting the plant’s growth overall (e.g. bacteria).
Yet, there are still ways to encourage faster root growth that won’t damage the plant or push it beyond its limits:
Yep, you read that correctly. Hormones.
Hormones are the substance in every living thing that encourages growth and renewal, no matter whether you are an animal, bacteria, fungi, or plant.
In plants, the hormone that aids in plant growth is called Indole-3-acetic acid or Auxin for short, which is produced in the plant’s main stem.
Unfortunately, when you get a cutting, you effectively cut off access to the Auxin hormone.
Over time, when the plant is fully developed from the cutting this hormone will be produced naturally once again, but sometimes it takes a good long while for this to happen, or they don’t produce it at all and die.
Still, you can actually buy this hormone in a synthetic form – such as compounds like Naphthalene Acetic Acid and Indole butyric Acid – and apply it to the water to aid in growth.
This hormone is readily available and comes in liquid, powder, or gel form.
Water contains a lot of the nutrients that a plant needs for its own survival.
However, it can also be lacking in some of them, which is normally supplemented by the plant by the nutrients in the soil.
If the plant is not in the soil, though, it may struggle to get these nutrients as it needs.
Putting a water-soluble fertilizer in the water whenever you change it for the cutting will help give back these nutrients to the plant. Just remember to make the fertilizer very diluted and weak when you add it.
These cuttings are still fragile, and a strong fertilizer can give the plant chemical burns, which may kill it.
Dirty Aquarium Water
Strangely, yes, dirty aquarium water can help your plant. It will kill your fish, but that water is full of nutrients that your plant needs.
This is because fish excretions make the water nutrient rich and act as a natural fertilizer for plants, as they contain potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen as well as other less important nutrients for plant growth.
As such, if you have a dirty aquarium in need of cleaning, set some water aside before you do for your plants.
Sunlight is to plants what fuel is to cars. It is the thing that provides plants with most of their needs (excluding water).
However, direct sunlight can not only be a bit harmful to mature plants, but deadly and can cause them to wilt and die as a result.
New cuttings are far more fragile, and direct sunlight can dehydrate and overheat the cutting within a matter of hours.
Therefore, the cutting should be put in a place that is bright with sunlight, but should never be put in direct sunlight.
This can be done by placing the cutting near a south facing window, but not in the path of the sunlight that shines through.
Another problem is when there is not enough sunlight in your area or your region suffers from low light conditions.
In this case, you need to buy a growing light for your plants and place one over the top of them, so they can get what they need from it.
Plants tend to prefer a temperature between 15 and 27 degrees Celsius (60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit).
While there are some outliers to this temperature range, they are plants that have adapted to extreme environments.
For cuttings, this range is reduced even more, with most needing a constant temperature of 19 to 22 degrees Celsius (66 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit) in their water – not just the air around them.
If you cannot provide this temperature, the cuttings may not take root at all. As such, you can use a heating mat underneath to help keep the water warm.
These can be regulated with a thermometer inside the water or by buying a digital heat mat to maintain a certain temperature.
Most plants love some form of humidity, because otherwise they will start to lose water.
If the air is dry, moisture will start to be pulled from the plant’s leaves, leaving the plant vulnerable and dehydrated.
For cuttings, this humidity needs to be much higher than the 40% to 60% that normal, mature plants love. Instead, it needs to be closer to 80% or 90% of humidity in the air around them.
It not only ensures that the plant is not going to have moisture sapped away from it, but it also means that the plant has enough moisture to complete its respiration cycle.
If this humidity is not maintained, the plant could start losing its moisture and become dehydrated within minutes of a drop in humidity.
The best – and really only way – to maintain this humidity for cuttings is by buying a plant humidifier. They can be a little dear but are the only way to stop this, without constantly misting the plant.
Plants Not Rooting In Water
There are a few reasons why your plant might not take root in water. Some plants are just not suited to propagating in water, like monstera or the philodendron.
However, if you have a plant that should be taking root, there are a couple of reasons why it isn’t:
- Bad growing environment: Are you giving it enough light? Are the temperature and humidity alright?
- Age and health: Are the cuttings quite old? Was the plant you got it from unhealthy? Did you cut the node for the cutting wrong?
- Dirty water: How often do you change the water? Is it enough?
- Soft water: Do you use soft water? Soft water has less nutrients than hard water.
If you have any of these problems, it is going to be incredibly difficult to get your cutting to root at all.
While propagating a plant may seem tricky, most of the time it is actually quite easy as long as you follow the steps necessary for a root system to develop.
If you are struggling, ask yourself whether the right conditions have been met and think about how you will go about doing it properly next time.