If you’ve ever admired photos of a lush indoor jungle, you might have thought that the homeowners spent a fortune on plants. But if you know how to propagate plants, you can cultivate a sizable plant collection pretty quickly. In honor of my plant propagation station, I thought I’d share some info on plants that are really easy to propagate.
Even if you don’t personally want more plants, sharing cuttings with friends is fun, and it’s a tradition that is responsible for the spread of many of our common houseplants to homes around the world. Plus, if you spy a particular plant you covet, knowing how to propagate it can help you get one of your own. I would never take a cutting from a plant for sale, or encourage it, but I have stuffed cuttings in my pocket or purse from plants in lobbies and waiting rooms. And outdoor plants in common areas won’t be harmed by a tiny cutting (that sage below is from the alley behind my house).
Easy Plant Propagation
In this guide, I’m sticking to plants that are so easy to propagate that all you need is water, regular potting soil, and small pots. No rooting hormones, growing mediums, moss, or special containers are necessary. I show my cuttings in test tubes, but any small glass jars or bottles will work for water rooting. And little pots of any type, terracotta or plastic, are fine for rooting and potting, though you will want ones with drainage holes.
The only other tool you’ll need is a cutting implement of some sort. Obviously garden pruners or shears work, but clean scissors or a sharp knife will do the job, too.
Rooting in Water
For many common houseplants, propagation is as easy as sticking a leaf or cutting in water, waiting for it to grow roots, then planting it in potting soil. (If you prefer, you can actually keep many water-rooted plants in water indefinitely, making sure to keep the water topped up and sprinkling in a little fertilizer once in a while.)
Keep the water clean, in a location with bright, indirect sunlight. After the roots have developed, transfer to a small (2-4″) pot with potting soil.
Here are some plants that root readily in water:
Pothos/Devil’s Ivy – These cascading beauties are super common, but you can find varieties with interesting colors, patterns, and leaf shapes. That striking white and green plant in the black pot in the photo below is a variegated “pearls and jade” pothos that I grew from a cutting. When you’re taking a clipping, look for little bumps, or “nodes” on the stems. Be sure to include at least one node in your cutting, because that’s where the roots will grow from.
Heart-leaf philodendron – People often think that these are the same plant as pothos, but they’re actually a different species with leaves that are more heart-shaped. The ones with silvery spots on the leaves are especially striking. Just like pothos, they root super easily in water. Be sure to include the root-like protrusions in your clipping, and submerge them in water.
African violet – There are actually a couple of ways to propagate African violets, but for water rooting, cut a leaf off at a 45-degree angle on 1/2″ of stem. When you put the stem in water, you’ll want to keep the leaf out of the water, otherwise it may rot. Either put it in a bottle with a thin neck (beer bottles reportedly work well), or stretch plastic wrap over a glass or jar, poke a hole in it, and put the stem through the hole. I found that my African violet leaves took longer than other plants to grow roots, so have patience! Transfer to a pot when the roots are about 1/4″, water, and wait for a plantlet to develop. (That little African violet plantlet below was actually one that my African violet spontaneously put out on its own, so that’s another way to get more violets.)
Spider plant – These grow little spiderettes, which look like mini versions of the mother plant. Cut one off, stick it in water, and wait for roots to grow. It doesn’t get much easier!
Wandering Jew (Tradescantia) – (These need a less-offensive common name.) I have a couple different types of these plants, both of which are super easy to root and grow. In the picture below, it’s the one right in the middle. Like pothos, the roots tend to grow from the nodes, or “joints” between plant segments, so be sure to submerge one of these under the water.
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) – This classic houseplant has pink stripes, and folds its leaves up at night. I attempted to root just one leaf, but was more successful with a longer section that included a leaf joint. It grew impressive roots in a week or two.
Christmas cactus – A single leaf will grow roots when you put it in water, but larger segments, including ones that you accidentally knock off the mother plant, will give you a bigger plant sooner.
Begonia – The cool purple and silver Rex begonia leaves below are the first begonias I’ve ever rooted, but they were quite simple. They were a little slower to root than some of the other plants I was rotting at the same time, like pothos or mint, but they put out little roots after a week or two. Once transferred to soil, they should eventually send up little plants.
Herbs – Many herbs readily root in water. I wasn’t even trying to root the mint stalks above, but they grew roots. Other herbs that you can root in water include sage, lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, and marjoram. For types like rosemary and thyme that get woody stems, take the cutting from tips that are still green and tender.
Rooting in Soil
If you want to skip the water, many plants can be rooted directly in soil. I actually prefer rooting in water so that I can see what’s going on. For succulents, though, rooting in soil is the only way to go. When the fleshy leaves break off of any of my succulents, rather than throwing them away, I often give propagation a try. If it doesn’t work, no loss, but if it does, more plants!
If you’re pulling off a leaf, use a gentle twisting motion, and then set the leaf aside for a few days to let the end dry out and scab over (form a callous). Put the leaves on top of soil (it doesn’t have to be succulent/cactus soil, but it’s better if it is), and water by misting every few days if you have a mister. If you don’t, no worries, just pour water onto the soil. Keep the pot in bright, indirect light.
After a while, little roots should develop, and the leaf will start to grow a mini plant! Be patient, though, this may take a while. Eventually the leaf will dry up entirely, and when the plant is about half an inch tall, transfer it to its own little pot.
One plant that loves to root from leaves is Burro’s Tail. You can see my full plant below. That’s my biggest one, but I have several smaller ones because the fleshy little segments often fall off, and I just toss them in a pot and grow another plant. This plant is actually grown from leaves from my grandma’s plants. She lives in Arizona, so hers are in their element, but they do just fine even in grey Oregon. They’re actually some of the most low-maintenance plants I have, and thrive on irregular, infrequent watering.
Jade and Escheveria species (those classic rosette succulents) can be propagated this way, but don’t expect big plants on a quick time-frame. Succulents are generally pretty slow-growers. Luckily, many succulents also propagate themselves with offshoots, little baby versions of themselves. Aloe plants are fond of doing this, to the point where I started with one aloe plant, and ended up with too many.
There are other methods of plant propagation, and I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here for now!
Have you propagated plants? What are your favorites to grow and multiply?