More, Please: Propagating Houseplants

photo by Deborah J. Benoit
Golden pothos, holiday cactus and English ivy can all be successfully rooted in water, providing water is kept fresh although patience is required as it may take days or weeks, sometimes months, for roots to form.

by Deborah J. Benoit, Extension Master Gardener, University of Vermont

NORTH ADAMS, Mass, – There are many reasons to propagate your houseplants. Maybe you want to share with a friend. Maybe your plant has gotten too large and you’d like to replace it with one of a more manageable size.

Or, sadly, it’s taken a turn for the worst, and you want to be sure you have another if it doesn’t recover. Whatever the reason, with a little patience, you can grow new plants from houseplants you already own.

It all begins with taking a three- to six-inch cutting from the tip of a healthy stem, being sure to include several leaf nodes. A node is the bump where the leaf meets the stem. In the case of holiday cactus (Schlumbergera), take a cutting that includes several segments.

There are two basic ways to root a cutting, in water or in soil. Which one you choose is a matter of personal preference. Rooting in water allows you to watch the roots develop. Rooting in soil avoids the need to transplant the cutting from water into soil once the cutting has rooted.

Vining plants such as jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), English ivy (Hedera helix), pothos (Epipremnum aureum) and inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina), as well as many houseplants and even holiday cactus, are easy to root in water.

photo by Deborah J. Benoit
To root vining plants, such as golden pothos, after taking a cutting, remove the leaves from one to two nodes at the bottom of the cutting before placing in water (left image). When roots have developed (right image), pot up the cutting in a container with a soil mix appropriate for the type of plant.

Take your cutting and remove the leaves from one to two nodes at the bottom of the cutting. Place the cutting in a container of room temperature water and put it in indirect light. Be sure no leaves are below the surface of the water.

If the water begins to become cloudy, replace it with fresh room temperature water. It can take days or weeks, sometimes months, for roots to form. As long as the cutting looks healthy, be patient and you should be rewarded with the development of tiny roots. When they have grown to more than two to three inches, you can pot up the cutting in a container with a soil mix appropriate for the type of plant.

If you prefer, you can root cuttings directly in soil. While not necessary, rooting hormone (available where garden supplies are sold) can be applied to the base of the cutting according to package directions. Fill a small container with moistened potting mix. Be sure it has drainage holes. A larger pot or tray can be used to accommodate multiple cuttings.

Make a hole in the soil using a pencil. Put the cutting into the hole and gently firm the soil around the cutting. Water lightly. Cover the pot with a large, inverted jar; plastic bag or a humidity dome to retain moisture while the cutting is rooting. If the moisture begins to drip from the cover, open it to allow air circulation.

Check periodically to be sure the soil is moist not wet. Water as needed. Do not let the cutting dry out. If you see new growth, roots have likely formed. You can test this by gently tugging on the cutting. If there is resistance, roots are growing.

When propagating houseplants, don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than expected to produce roots. The time frame will vary depending on the type of plant, the amount of light and the method you choose. But with patience, you’ll enjoy an interesting indoor gardening project for times you can’t be outside in the garden.

[Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of Vermont’s Bennington County Chapter.]