How to propagate houseplants and what to know before you cut
For those who have resolved to grow their indoor jungles even more in 2022, break out some sharp scissors and a vase filled with water.
Propagating house plants can be a fun and easy experiment — and if done right, can give you some new plants that you can pot at home or give to friends. We’ve compiled a list of tips for beginners.
What to know before you begin
Danae Horst, owner of Folia Collective in Eagle Rock and author of the book “Houseplants for All,” said that spring is the optimal time to propagate houseplants, but there’s no reason that you can’t propagate anytime of year, especially if you have cuttings or an overgrown plant.
Horst said that for beginners she generally recommends that they propagate using water because it’s easy to track root development and most tropical houseplants do very well using that method of propagation.
With some plants, like cacti and succulents, she said, a soil medium such as cactus potting soil or pumice substrate is generally preferred.
Some varieties of tropical houseplants may need to be started with a soil substrate as well and options include perlite and sphagnum moss.
Some plants require that you cut them at their nodes while others might require a simple leaf cutting or division of a pup from a larger plant. Horst recommends doing plant-specific research in advance to determine which part of the plant will produce roots and what its specific propagation needs are.
If you’re just starting to propagate plants, use water because it’s easy to track root development and most tropical houseplants do very well using that method of propagation. (Getty Images)
Plants grown in water will need to be pulled out and transplanted after they’ve developed 1-2 inches of roots. (Getty Images)
Some varieties of tropical houseplants may need to be started with a soil substrate when propagating. (Getty Images)
With many houseplants, it’s best to cut them just below their nodes, or the point at which a leaf protrudes from a main stem. The bumpy points along the stem should be submerged in the water, as these will become roots.
For water propagation, Horst says plant owners should have a vessel for water; a sharp cutting instrument such as scissors; and rubbing alcohol.
Horst disinfects her scissors with rubbing alcohol prior to making a cut.
“That just ensures that you’re not transferring anything to the plant that could give it an infection or cause it harm,” She said, “and the sharpness is just to ensure that when you’re cutting you’re cutting clearly through the tissue and you’re not mashing it as you cut through it.”
The kind of vessel does not need to be fancy, either, said Ana Mirandé, owner of Inland Empire plant pop-up business Plant Mami. She said it can even be something as simple as a mason jar.
A variety of online tutorials say that water from the sink can work just fine for propagating houseplants.
Mirandé said while it’s not necessary, she likes to use filtered water because the water in the Inland Empire tends to be hard and she finds that filtered water is less tough on cuttings.
However, It’s important not to keep leaves in the water as they will cause the water to get murky and it won’t be good for the houseplant, Mirandé said.
For plants grown in a soil substrate, Horst recommends that plant parents apply rooting hormone after taking a cutting. Rooting hormone is most commonly found in powder form and is found at garden stores and nurseries.
If the vessel for the cutting is glass, Horst recommended it be colored rather than clear. She said this will help slow the growth of algae in the water.
Mirandé said it’s also very important to make sure to periodically change out the water or top it up if it evaporates.
Levels of difficulty
Some houseplants are easier to propagate than others. Anything that vines, drapes over a pot or has aerial roots will be a good bet for propagating, Mirandé said.
Horst said some easy varieties include pothos and philodendrons. She said spider plants are also fairly easy, and do a lot of the work for you.
“When they send out their little babies, those babies, if you leave them on the mother plant long enough, will actually start to form roots just in the air,” Horst said, adding that they can then be cut off and either placed in water to develop stronger roots or placed directly in soil.
Some varieties Mirandé said are easy are monsteras and marantas.
Some plants are slightly more challenging, including peperomias and zz plants, which are propagated by taking a leaf cutting and placing it in soil, Horst said.
Sansevierias — or snake plants — are also propagated from leaf cuttings that can be placed in either soil or water. You can even make multiple cuttings of a singular leaf and propagate each piece.
“Just make sure you remember which way is up with all those little cut pieces,” Horst said.
The cuttings need to be placed pointing the same way they were on the plant. The cut ends need to scab over before propagation is attempted, Horst said.
Know when to transplant
Every plant develops at a different rate so knowing when they’re ready to transplant really comes down to monitoring, Horst said.
Plants grown in water will need to be pulled out and transplanted after they’ve developed 1-2 inches of roots and should not stay longer, Horst said.
“Roots that live in water for an extended period of time actually become a slightly different kind of root that helps to enable the plant to take up oxygen through the water,” she said. “If you leave them in water too long the roots change form and then it’s harder to transition them into soil later.”
When the plant is placed in soil, it’s important to really soak it, Mirandé said.
“You don’t want to keep it wet because it can create root rot, but when you first plant it, you want that soil to be completely saturated,” Mirandé said, explaining that this process is about acclimating the plant after its spent a period of time with its roots exclusively in water.
Horst said to remember that propagation is a very low-stakes activity and that it should be viewed as a fun science experiment rather than a stress-inducing activity.
“If it fails one time, try it again the next time,” she said.