The more you put into something, the more you will get out of it. This is why now is the time to get some houseplant cuttings set to root in water or soil. When plant swapping season opens in spring, you will be ready for plant-sharing fun.
I have been going to plant and seed swaps for years, and they just keep getting better, with every seed swap now including a houseplant table. I have brought home many interesting vegetable and flower seeds from these events, but my most treasured finds have been houseplants. Here’s the kicker: When it comes to sharing houseplant starts, it feels more blessed to give than to receive!
Taking Cuttings From Houseplants
Should you root cuttings in soil or water? Much depends on the plant and how it grows. Long, stemmy houseplants often have numerous secondary nodes along the stem which willingly develop roots when submerged in water. Others such as African violets, cacti and succulents root better in well-drained soil.
Whichever route you take, it’s important to select healthy stems, give them a quick rinse, and then trim off all but the topmost three to five leaves. Three large leaves or five small ones is usually enough to keep the plant’s energy systems working, but not so many that old leaves fail and go slimy with no roots to support them. The appearance of new growth on cuttings is evidence that functioning roots have formed.
Rooting Cuttings in Water
A long list of houseplants will root in water, and you never know until you try! Nicely trimmed stems set to root in water are also a lovely sight, and rooting jars can be hung or placed in tight spaces where larger plants don’t fit. Save small jars you might otherwise recycle, and use them for rooting cuttings you intend to give away. For some plants, rooting in dark-coloured containers may encourage faster growth by shielding the roots from light.
You will need good water that has not been heavily treated with chlorine or fluoride. Collected rainwater or distilled water are less likely to interfere with root growth than water laced with chemicals.
Change the water in rooting jars weekly, and keep a close watch on them after you see visible roots. Roots that form in water are fragile and spindly compared to those that grow in soil, which have more tiny side branches and fine hairs. When cuttings rooted in water show roots more than 1 inch (2.5cm) long, start preparing them for potting by dropping a thimbleful of soil into the water every day for a week. The particles will be claimed by the growing roots, their first taste of soil. Transplanting trauma will be minimal.
Rooting Cuttings in Soil
Most succulents and clump-forming houseplants prefer striking roots in moist yet well-aerated soil, and they are prone to rot when rooted in water. I like to use a sharp planting mix consisting of one part sand to three parts potting soil, with more or less sand depending on the plant. You can start with small pots, especially if the plantlets or pups have a few roots on them. Keep containers small so microbes in the soil don’t overwhelm tender new roots.
This may sound hokey, but I like to keep the offspring close to the parent plants for a few weeks if I can. We don’t know for sure that plants communicate with one another through airborne signals, but what if? What if the cutting you take from a plant gets support or encouragement from its parents or siblings when placed nearby? Just in case loneliness is an issue for houseplants, I like to let cuttings root in family groups.
When rooting assorted cuttings with similar needs, such as dry-climate succulents or moisture-loving ferns, try the old double pot propagation method, where stem cuttings or divisions are planted around a plugged, porous clay pot that keeps the soil lightly moist without overhead watering. To add humidity for ferns, cover the pot with a plastic bag at night, held aloft with plastic chopsticks. Transplant the rooted cuttings to a dish garden or individual containers when they show new growth.
Now you have plants to share as gifts, or as contributions to the next community plant swap, with lots of horticultural fun along the way!