Q. Our association would like to have a plant sale in the spring. What are some houseplants we could propagate easily and quickly from cuttings in water?
A. Several common houseplants can be propagated from stem cuttings placed in clean, plain tap water. Some good choices are:
- Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)
- Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
- Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides)
- Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)
- Arrowhead (Syngonium podophyllum)
Cut a 3-to-5 inch stem from an existing healthy plant, leaving at least one node (the point at which a leaf emerges from the stem) and some leaves at the tip. Place the cutting in a clean container with fresh tap water, making sure there are no leaves submerged under the water. Set the container in a location where it will receive bright light but not direct sunlight. Keep cuttings away from cold drafts. Room temperature of about 70ᵒF is ideal.
A wound to a plant organ (such as a stem or leaf) initiates a series of processes at the cellular level which, under optimal conditions, will lead to the formation of adventitious roots. These are roots that arise out of any plant organ other than the original root system – such as along a stem. This process can take several weeks. While you wait, it is important to change the water in your container periodically so that it stays clean and provides oxygen. Bacterial growth in the water can lead to rotting. Change water at least twice a week or when it starts to look cloudy.
Two additional tips:
- Select cuttings with relatively thin stems. Thicker stems can take longer to strike out new roots, and they may rot before rooting.
- If you’re starting with a large-leaved plant, you may need to pinch off some of the leaves if you see wilting. The leaves continue to transpire (give off water) while the plant lacks a root system. Pinching out a few of the larger leaves helps minimize water loss and maintain a water balance in the plant until the new roots are established.
Once you see roots form on your stems, let them develop in water for another week or two and then plant them into a small, well-draining container with potting medium. Keep the medium moist until you begin to see signs of new leaf initiation on the plants, and then cut back on watering to about once each week. Learn about the care needs of your particular plant. (See Selection and Care of Indoor Plants on the Home & Garden Information Center website for general plant care tips.)
In addition to rooting cuttings in water, there are a variety of plants you can root easily in soil from leaf or stem cuttings, such as Christmas cactus, Jade plant, and African violets. Making new plants from cuttings can be a fun winter project!
By Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Digital Horticulture Education, Home & Garden Information Center
Coleus! Those were so cool back in the early 70s! It is nice to still find them in nurseries. I find it is important to pot rooted cuttings sooner than later. Overgrown roots in water only get broken when potted anyway. Jars of overgrown and unhappy pothos cuttings are so common. So many of my friends have them on windowsills, but never pot them.
That’s a good tip about potting rooted Coleus cuttings sooner rather than later. I know what you mean about jars of pothos cuttings. I am guilty of leaving an office pothos plant in a jar of water for years. It survived but it didn’t thrive.