If you’re a new plant parent that the pandemic has helped cultivate, allow me to introduce you to an affordable way to expand your collection. It’s called propagation, and it’s the act of creating new plants from existing ones.
There are a few ways to go about propagating a plant: dividing roots of an existing plant or rooting a cutting or leaf in either water or soil. The method you choose will vary depending on the type of plant with which you’re working.
Propagation is, by nature, experimental and doesn’t always have a 100-percent success rate. Be patient, and don’t give up after your first attempt if it doesn’t take. You’ll increase your chances of success if you propagate plants during the spring and summertime when they’re actively growing.
Once you grow more comfortable with the propagation process, you’ll want to give away or trade clippings as a way to expand your plant family. It’s a great way to share your plant passion with others—or to just create little babies of the ones to which you’re already attached.
Rooting in water is the most common approach for houseplants and the best place to start if you’re a propagation beginner. You’ll first need a plant such as a pothos with vine-like stems, ones that have littles nodes—near where the leaf meets the stem—which is where the new roots will shoot down from. Choose a healthy stem, and using sharp shears, cut just below the node and place the stem in a glass jar with room-temperature water. Place the cutting(s) in a spot that receives bright light but not direct sun. Continue checking for new root growth (easy and fun to see through glass jars) and keep the water fresh. When the plant has roots at least two inches long, it’s ready to be transferred to a pot and planted with potting mix.
Good plants for water propagation include pothos, philodendrons, inch plants, monsteras and fiddle leaf figs.
Cuttings from plants with woody stems often take better to rooting in soil. Choose a healthy stem on a mother plant and use a sharp, sterile knife to make a clean cut at a 45-degree angle. The cutting should include the tip of the stem and at least two or three sets of leaves. Take the angled end of the cutting and place into a small pot with soil. Keep the soil moist (but not wet) and wait for roots to grow over weeks or a few months (depending on the plant). To identify whether roots have formed or not, pull lightly on the plants. If they pop right out, they’re not fully rooted yet. If you feel some resistance, they’re rooted and ready.
Good plants for soil propagation include spider plants, snake plants, jade, succulents and dragon trees (dracaena marginata).
This method is really as simple as it sounds—it involves dividing a mature plant with a large root system into smaller pieces or sections while keeping its existing roots intact. This is a great way to expand your collection if your plant is outgrowing its pot. Some plants, such as aloe or pileas, will shoot up small baby offsets or “pups” at the base of the plant that can be carefully removed and planted directly into soil.
To divide, first pull the plant out of its pot so that all of its roots are exposed. Gently tease and untangle the roots to create separate plants, using a sharp knife or shears to split through tough roots if you aren’t able to pull apart by hand. Repot each plant in separate pots and watch as they become well established.
Good plants to propagate with root division include peace lilies, ZZ plants, pileas (Chinese money plant) and aloe.