One of the great joys of gardening is rooting your own plants at home.
It's economical because you increase your plant collection for little to no cost (just the soil and pots!), and it's fun. There's a great sense of satisfaction involved when a cutting roots successfully and begins to grow into a vigorous adult plant.
Basically, there are two ways to root plants: in water, and in a growing medium. Many plants, such as spider plants or pothos vines, will readily root in a glass of water and then can be transferred to a pot. Others resist rooting in water and require a rooting media (e.g., soil), and perhaps even rooting hormone and a warming pad to stimulate root growth.
But is there a right way?
Well, yes. Although people have been rooting plants in water for decades—sometimes with great success—this is not the best way to root your plants. The roots that form in water are not the same as roots that form in soil. They are fragile and brittle, adapted to growing in water as opposed to soil. Once your transfer a water-rooted plant to soil, many of these roots will break off immediately and the rest will shrivel and die up as they're replaced by the more robust roots adapted to soil.
To get the best cuttings, follow these simple steps:
- Use healthy cuttings, preferably from newer growth. Some plants will root from woody cuttings, but the success rate is lower. Take the cutting with a sharp knife or snippers, making sure to include at least one growth node that will be under the soil (about an inch from the bottom of the cutting). Although it depends on the plant, most cuttings should range from two to six or eight inches.
- Trim the cutting of any leaves on the bottom node. If you're using a rooting hormone, follow the instructions before planting the cutting.
- Plant the cutting in your potting medium. Lightly tamp the mix around the stem of the cutting to provide support.
- Most cuttings prefer to avoid full sun while they root. Instead, opt for about 50 percent shade, or dappled light. Cuttings thrive on warmth and humidity, and the potting soil should be kept evenly moist but not drenched.
- When you see new growth and the new plant is established with healthy root growth, transfer it to a new pot with fresh potting soil.
And that's it! You can root many leafy plants from cuttings, but if you find that you're having a hard time with any particular plant, make sure you're not overwatering, that the cuttings have active growth nodes, and that the cutting isn't exposed to either direct sun or cold drafts. For particularly difficult plants, try a heated plant mat under the pots to encourage new root growth. And most of all, have fun.