You might wonder what’s so exciting about sticking pieces of a plant in a test tube, but if you’ve experienced the miracle of spotting those first few roots appear from a cutting, you’ll understand why.
Propagating is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to increase your plant collection, and rooted cuttings make a lovely personal gift from one plant lover to the next. It might take a little trial and error, but it’s rewarding when it works! You. Got. This.
Soil or water
Plants can be propagated in either water or directly into potting soil. The medium which works best depends on the type of plant. Most Aroid plants (Philodendrons, Pothos, Monsteras) can be propagated in water because their ancestors lived in swamps, so being able to adapt to flooding conditions was crucial to survival.
Succulent plants including String of Bananas and Snake Plants are easily propagated directly in soil, as they originate from drier desert regions. However, the soil needs to be kept moist for the cuttings to take root. Most houseplants do better when propagated in water first.
Understanding what nodes are is essential to pruning and propagating. A node is a tiny bump or juncture on the stem where new growth comes from. Mostly it’s where new leaves grow, but on trailing plants & Aroids, roots will also grow from nodes. Thus you want to include 1 - 2 healthy nodes on a cutting to increase your chances.
Stems should also be cut just above a node with a sharp, clean pair of scissors. Cutting above a node stimulates growth from that node. This is a good way to make a plant bushier as the new growth will start lower down on the stem and grow outward, making it fuller in appearance.
Choose a good strong healthy stem (with at least two nodes)
Remove any leaves too close to the node, especially ones that might end up submerged under water as they will just go mouldy.
Just like humans, plants have hormones too that are responsible for tantrums, chest hair and sprouting roots and leaves. Rooting hormones can increase the chances of success and speed up the process, but aren’t usually necessary.
There are three home-made rooting hormones that we’ve tried at Atrium headquarters and found successful. All of them have anti-bacterial properties and contain the rooting stimulant, salicylic acid
- Dissolve a Dispirin in water and let your stem soak in it for a good couple of hours.
- Dissolve two teaspoons of honey is a glass of boiling water, let it cool and soak the cutting in it for a couple hours.
- Fresh aloe vera gel. If you have aloe plants growing you can use the freshly squeezed aloe vera gel.
Some plants do better when the freshly cut stem is left for a few days to dry out and form a callus - a hard, dry “crust” at the base of the cutting (like a scab).
Cuttings of plants with thin or soft stems, especially those with thin leaves like the Pothos or Pilea, will wilt quickly when the cut end is left exposed to the air and therefore these plants are not suitable for callusing and should be placed directly in water. However, cuttings of plants with thick or woody stems, like Lavender, Rosemary and most succulents, don’t lose water nearly as quickly as softer-stemmed plants and tend to rot if you don’t wait for the cutting to form a callus. Callusing usually takes between 4 – 14 days.
Place your plant cutting(s) in your glass vessel and put it in a spot that receives bright to moderate indirect light. Do not place in strong, direct light or low light.
Arguably, the most difficult step: be patient! Check root growth from the node on a weekly basis. Add fresh, filtered and room temperature water when needed to avoid a green algae soup.
If you’d like to transplant your cuttings from the glass vessel into a planter with potting mix, we recommend waiting until the roots are at least 3cm long or longer. This should take 4-6 weeks. For plants with sensitive, fragile roots a seedling mix is better to start potting.