Plant Care: How to propagate plants in water?

Now that we’ve moved well past the Tiger King and banana-bread-baking stages of lockdown, it might be time to take on a new quarantine hobby: plant propagation. Whether you’re a well-established plant parent or a novice gardener, propagating your plants at home is a fun and exciting way to up your gardening game and expand your collection of plant babies.

Don’t worry — propagation is much less intimidating than it sounds. At Natures Colours, we believe that gardening is for everyone, so we’re sharing our best tips on how to propagate plants in water in a few simple steps. Let’s get started!

Firstly, what exactly is water propagation?

In this process, new plants are grown from seeds, cuttings or other plant parts by placing said part in water and allowing it to grow roots before replanting it in soil. Self-propagation is an affordable solution for expanding your plant collection since you use cuttings from the plants you already have. Following this method to grow new plants is not only cost-effective but also super therapeutic and rewarding. It’s a great activity to try at home with kids!

While propagation can take place in either soil or water, we prefer using water since this provides full visibility of the progress of the root growth. Should you notice that the roots are not performing well in the water, you can immediately remove that part to preserve the healthy growth — a luxury you don’t have when planting the cuttings directly in soil.

Why propagate in water?

There are two main reasons why we propagate plants. Firstly, to keep the growth of an indoor plant under control, or to maintain a specific shape. Certain plants, like devil’s ivy, tend to grow a bit stringy when left unattended, so it’s essential to maintain their wellbeing through continuous propagation. The second reason is, of course, to grow new plants. In this case, it’s important to choose healthy mother plants with abundant growth to cut stems from. If a plant is too young or not in optimal health condition, removing any of its stems can be detrimental.

What will you need?

  • A healthy plant to propagate
  • Clean scissors
  • Glass jars or containers

Step 1: Prepare the cutting

On a healthy mother plant, search the stems for root nodes, which you’ll recognise as small brown bumps below the leaves or vines. When you cut, include a couple of inches from the stem as well as one or two root nodes to give the cutting the best possible chances of growing healthy new roots. Before placing the cutting in water, remove any leaves that are too close to the nodes.

A few common indoor plants that root well in water include the monstera, pothos (devil’s ivy), philodendron, tradescantia (spiderwort), begonias and most cacti and succulents. If you’re just getting started with propagation, these plants all make good trial runs.

Step 2: Place the cutting in water

Place the cutting in a glass jar or container filled with clean, room temperature water. You can place multiple cuttings from different plants in the same container as long as the root nodes of each are fully submerged in the water while any remaining leaves are free above the water. You could also place some rocks or pebbles in the container if the cuttings need to be secured in place. Just be careful not to harm any part of the stems or nodes as they are quite fragile at this stage. Ideally, the cuttings should receive moderate and indirect sunlight — not too bright and not too dark.

To simplify this step, we use our exclusively designed Cactus Propagation Station, a cactus stand with four glass test-tubes made from fluorescent green acrylic material. The test tubes are designed to present the optimal size, shape and water volume to stimulate new root growth from cuttings of cacti and other plants.

Step 3: Maintain the cuttings

To maintain the cuttings, monitor the roots nodes regularly and replace the water at least once a week. If you notice the water level dropping, you can just top it up as long as the water hasn’t turned brown yet (a clear sign that the water needs replacing).

Depending on the plant, propagation can be a lengthy process. You’ll most likely start seeing new root growth within about a month. Some plants, however, take up to three months to grow roots in water, so don’t become impatient if you don’t see immediate results. And, if you don’t get it right on the first try, don’t be discouraged!

Step 4: Optional replanting

Like we mentioned, the water propagation method is convenient because it allows you to track the progress of the root growth continuously. During the first couple of weeks, you’ll be able to evaluate whether your cuttings are happy in the water or if they should rather be anchored in soil. Alternatively, once the new roots are at least one inch long, it is safe to transfer the cutting into soil.

Many plants can survive in water indefinitely, but this is often quite challenging as the water environment provides little nutrients for the roots. Most aroid plants like monsteras, ZZ plants and philodendrons have adapted to grow in water since these plants originate from an ancestor that grew in swamps. That being said, in the long run, these plants will still perform best if planted in soil. The water propagation process is therefor only a short-term solution until the roots of the seedlings are strong enough to replant in soil.

Head over to our Plant Care guide for more handy tips and tricks on caring for your plants!

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