About two years ago, a pandemic pushed people into their homes – and led to increased sales of houseplants. New owners of houseplants may be hesitant to expand their collection beyond those monsters and philodendrons they bought in 2020. Plants can be expensive, and growing from seed takes a long time. But there is an easier and cheaper way to grow new houseplants: propagation, or the process of growing a new plant from a piece of mature.
You can propagate by seeds or roots, but the simplest and most common method is to cut or move a piece of mature plant into water or soil and allow it to grow a new root system.
Propagation by cuttings offers a lesson in plant biology. Emma Erler, a specialist in landscapes and greenhouses at the University of New Hampshire, says that every plant has a meristem, a type of tissue that contains cells that can grow into different parts of a plant.
“Above ground, meristematic tissue can turn into buds and shoots, but it is also capable of turning into roots,” Erler says.
There is also a sentimental factor in the spread. “You grow the plant under your care, take the cutting and pass it on to someone else,” said Molly Lee, director of Little Leaf in DC, which sells cuttings for propagation.
According to plant experts, we will tell you how to use cuttings to propagate their own plants at home.
Choose a plant
According to Mary Green, plant stylist and consultant and founder of Greene Piece, the cutter works on many common, easy-care houseplants such as pathos, monstera, philodendrons, snake plants and ZZ plants.
But different plants require different cutting methods, says Paris Lalikata, coordinator of plant formation at Sill. For example, pathos, monsters and philodendrons can grow roots from their stems. You can also propagate plants that do not have stems, such as snake plants, by cutting off their leaves. If you are unsure, your local university’s extension service, which should have an agricultural and horticultural education program, can help you determine which method to use. Erler says the local garden center can also help.
Reproduction usually works best when you prune a mature healthy plant with new growth. Erler suggests choosing one that needs pruning. (You can often tell when the time has come because the plant will look fuller on one side or look neglected.) In this way, you improve the health of the parent plant and grow a new one at the same time.
Stem cuttings grow from aerial roots, or roots that grow above the soil on the stem of a plant.
For propagation by stem cuttings Lalicata offers to choose a healthy view of the site with a few leaves growing from it. Successful cuttings are usually four to six inches long. Next, find the knot, the head, that connects the leaf to the stem. “Nodes are the growth points of a plant, and they contain growth-promoting hormones when you put it in soil or water,” says Matt Alton, co-founder of Plant Proper’s plant delivery service.
Use a clean pair of secateurs to cut about a quarter of an inch below the node at a 45 degree angle. If you only have kitchen scissors, Lalicata suggests sterilizing them with hot soapy water or alcohol to avoid spreading pathogens that can damage the cuttings.
Remove from the cutting all the leaves except one to increase the likelihood of its rooting. “Too many leaves can make a plant focus its energy on sustaining their lives,” Lalikata says.
Choose utensils for propagating cuttings, such as an old jar or a small vase. Many herbal stores sell test tubes so you can set up a distribution station. The most important thing is to use a vessel with a narrow top to support the cutting.
Next, Green says, fill the dishes with enough water so as not to wet the sheet. Tap water is fine, but Lalikata says it should be at room temperature to avoid shocking the plant. Once your cutting is in the water, place it near a bright but filtered window because too much direct light can damage the plant, Erler says. “Cuttings do not yet have roots to take water, so if he was in a very warm, sunny place, this throne could very quickly lose water and become dehydrated,” she says.
According to Lalikata, stem cuttings can take root in a few weeks. While you wait, change the water weekly. If the cutting is black or slippery at the base of the stem, Lalikata says, it can rot, which means you probably have to start over. If you notice that it rots under the growth of roots, just cut off the mucous part.
When propagated from the leaves using a different cutting process, and these plants take root longer. Lalikata says it may be several months before you see progress.
On the snake plant she suggests cutting horizontally at the bottom of the leaf as close to the soil as possible. You can use only a few top inches of leaves, or you can segment it into a few cuttings. To propagate the ZZ plant, cut a healthy-looking leaf as close to the stem of the plant as possible.
Once you make the incision, Erler suggests leaving it to dry for the whole day so that the surface of the incision can form a dry layer of crust. “Allowing cuttings to callus, prevent root rot, and with this approach, rooting is more likely,” – she says. Applying to the bottom of liquid or powdered plant growth hormones available in greenhouses can speed up the process.
Follow the same steps as with stems for breeding succulents in water.
For a snake plant, says Lalikata, dip the bottom third of the leaf; for ZZ plants immerse only the lower tip of the leaf.
Erler prefers to plant leaf cuttings in a standard indoor soil mix once you cut them because she says they can easily rot in water. If you are planting an unrooted cutting, she recommends watering the soil and using your finger or pencil to create a small hole. Gently place the cuttings inside. To plant a rooted cutting, you need to dig deeper.
If the plant does not rise on its own, Oltan suggests stabilizing it with bamboo stakes; over time the roots should retain the plant.
Transfer the cuttings to a pot
Once the roots are two to three inches long, you can transfer your cutting to a small pot with soil, where it will eventually have to grow deeper roots and more leaves.
Whether you put fresh or rooted cuttings in a pot, Oltan recommends choosing a two- to four-inch pot with drainage holes to prevent root rot. Erler suggests adding enough soil to get closer to the top of the pot, with a margin of about a quarter of an inch.
Then you should gently bake the soil. If your cutting grows, you will need to water it more than the mature plant; Erler suggests keeping the soil moist for the first week to wean the cutting from the water in which it was immersed. After this initial period, wait for the soil to dry completely before watering again.