Propagating a houseplant is an exciting premise. You can turn one plant into two, or three, or however many. Propagation is a great way to expand your plant collection or save a plant that is not doing well. Whatever the reason, propagating is a common practice for plant owners. Whether you want a refresher or a new to caring for plants, here’s what you need to know about how to propagate houseplants.
Why Should I Propagate My Plants?
There are lots of reasons why people propagate plants. Propagating allows you to grow your plant collection without buying new plants. Expanding your collection can help you green up your space or create a specific look if, for instance, you want to create a living wall. Vining plants may become thin or form bald spots with time. Propagating allows you to revitalize the look and create a full plant.
Propagation provides a way to use offcuts leftover from pruning. Some plants need a trim to look their best, and you can compost the cut pieces or turn them into new plants. Propagation can also help you save a houseplant that isn’t doing well. For example, an overwatered Pothos may start to die near the base of the stem, but you can trim the entire stem and propagate the cut section to keep the plant going and give yourself a do-over.
Propagating houseplants is also fun. It takes time, but you can watch the new roots form and the new plant take shape. Plants have different propagation methods, so before you grab a pair of pruning sheers, you need to figure out the best method for your plant.
What Is Plant Propagation?
Propagation is the process of creating new plants from existing plants; this can mean using seeds from a flower or taking a cutting. Most home gardeners consider propagation to mean taking a cutting, but it can also mean layering or division. Budding and grafting are propagation methods normally used in nurseries and are not techniques a home gardener is likely to use.
The plant type and situation determine the ideal method for propagating houseplants and landscape plants.
Planting seeds is the preferred method to start new plants when working in a vegetable or flower garden. Most outdoor plants are just easier to start from seed. Cosmos, Zinnias, and Marigolds are good examples of plants that do best when started from seed.
Starting plants from seeds can be challenging. All plants need ideal conditions, but seeds and seedlings do not have much tolerance for conditions that stray too far from ideal. Depending on where you live, you may want to start seeds indoors during the late winter to ensure plants are ready for the outdoors by spring. Grow lights and fans are good tools to help your seedlings grow big and strong.
Plants propagated by seed are most likely to resemble the parent plants. In some instances, cuttings may produce new plants with different foliage patterns.
Cuttings are what most people think of when they hear the word propagation. The cutting method is simply trimming a piece of the plant, placing it in water or soil, and waiting for roots or a new plant to emerge. Propagating houseplants by cuttings only works if the cutting has growth nodes. Learn how to identify growth points for your plant and include those in the cutting.
Growing Cuttings in Water
Most houseplants can be propagated in water. Pothos and philodendrons are great examples of plants that can easily propagate in water. Cuttings in vases or jars are a nice way to dress up a windowsill or add greenery to a desk or end table. You can place stones or pebbles in the water to add visual interest or just fill a container with water and drop the cut ends in.
You’ll likely want to routinely check the cuttings to see when the roots start to appear but also monitor the water. Replace the water weekly or whenever it starts to look cloudy. It usually takes a week or two for roots to begin to form. Plants can be transitioned to the soil when the new roots are at least one inch long. Keep newly planted cuttings damp for the first week or two before settling into a watering routine more fitting for an established plant.
Growing Cuttings in Soil
Instead of water, some cuttings can be placed in soil. Soil propagation typically takes more time, and it’s a matter of preference, but it tends to be a better fit for plants with low water needs. Holiday cactus cuttings are more likely to succeed in soil, as are hoyas and succulents like escherichia and sansevieria. After removing the clipping from the mother plant, let the cut end dry out for a few days before placing it in the soil. For plants that like more arid conditions, mix sand or perlite into the soil to promote drainage.
It usually takes several weeks for cuttings in soil to form roots. It can take a month or more for these roots to become established. Very gently tug on the cutting after a month; if you feel any resistance, you know the cutting has set down roots.
A rooting hormone is an option for cuttings rooted in soil. Rooting hormone is a powder that promotes root growth and is available at most garden centers. Natural rooting hormone options include honey, apple cider vinegar, and cinnamon.
During layering, a part of the parent plant is placed over soil, allowing roots to form. When the new plant has roots and grows independently, the stem connecting it to the parent plant can be cut. Vining plants, like string or pearl or string or turtles, do well with layering. Even pothos and vining philodendrons can be layered.
Layering is good for propagating plants that send out runners or pups, like spider plants. Propagating houseplants by layering has a high success rate because the parent plant supports the pup while it puts down its own roots.
Pups can be layered in separate containers. Place the pup in the same pot as the parent plant to create a full and lush plant. Use old hairpins to secure the stem connecting the pup to the parent plant so it stays put while forming roots.
Air layering is a more advanced propagation technique commonly used for outdoor plants like rhododendrons and azaleas. To air layer, make a cut in the stem below a growth point or node. Use a toothpick to keep the cut open, and wrap the area in sphagnum moss. Roots will form, and the entire section can be removed and planted when there are enough viable roots. The entire air layering process usually takes a couple of months.
Division is the act of separating one big plant into multiple smaller plants. This method of propagation is the quickest and most immediate, and it’s best to do this when repotting. Plants with rhizomes or tuberous roots, like sweet potato vines and spider plants, are good candidates for division. Calathea or prayer plants can only be propagated through division. To divide a plant, remove it from its pot, gently pull the roots apart, and repot each new plant into its own container.
Propagating houseplants is part of the fun of owning plants. Understanding the process and available options allows you to choose the best propagate method for your plants. It can take time to get the hang of things, and even if you do everything right, sometimes a plant does not push out roots. It’s disappointing when a new plant does not take, but it’s always a learning experience. You can use this knowledge to try again.