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GUIDE TO PROPAGATING HOUSEPLANTS IN WATER

I know it goes without saying that we love plants and are looking into new ways of expanding our knowledge around plant care. Plant propagation is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to growing your plant family because it allows you to grow a new plant from those that already exist in your home. While we offer pre-propagated plants with our frames and wall hangers, it can be fun to propagate from your own houseplants or clippings you can get from family and friends. 


Another reason we strongly encourage learning to plant propagation is that using plants in your immediate space helps cut down on transportation materials and emissions. So check out the information below and see if propagating your own plants is something to add to your plant journey! 


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Click a section below to get started!

What is Plant propagation?

Plant propagation is the beginning process of cloning a plant in water to make new plants. The goal of propagation is to get the plant to develop root systems, grow new roots from stem cuttings to shoot off fresh leaves. It usually takes 1-8 weeks for a plant to propagate from a leaf cutting, depending on living conditions and the type of plant. After shooting out roots the plant can then transferred over to grow in soil. 


One thing to note is that most indoor plants develop different types of roots when grown in water versus soil. So, if you plan on putting a propagated plant in soil, you can't wait too long to do so to ensure plant growth.

Before you start Water Propagation

Some cuttings just don't make it, and that's okay.

One thing to note about propagating plants in water is that not all plants will propagate--there are some that will and some that won't. It all really depends on factors like temperature, lighting, medium, and other environmental circumstances and plant parts. So there's a lot of trial and error involved, even if you've been caring your plant in all the right ways. But that's okay! It's all just a part of the process of propagating for growing plants indoors, which is why its super important to have more than one cutting, especially if you're dealing with more finicky plants like a Silver Pothos


Plants varieties respond differently to different propagation methods.

There's no one-size-fits-all for propagation. Many plants propagate great in water, but some might propagate better in other mediums. Picking the right plant propagation method for your plant depends on the plant species, your personal plant lifestyle and available materials, your future plans for how you'd like that plant to grow, and the plan. Learning all this takes time and trial and error. We highly encourage you to have fun with the process and embrace learning - that way, no matter the outcome, it will be a success. 


There are a few different propagation methods.

We don't have a full list here, and imagine once a complete list for propagation was set, someone would come up with a new method. But for those interested in a deeper dive into the world of water propagation and plant parts, a few methods worth looking into would be: propagating in sphagnum moss, propagation boxes, root cuttings, air layering, seed germination and tissue cultures to get mature plants from stem cuttings. 


Why are we focusing on water propagation methods?

We love propagating plants in water because it's just so easy to make new plants! There's not a lot of science behind the method, making it super accessible to plant parents wanting to expand their collection or busy bodies looking to add some greenery without much effort. There are some nuances to the process though. That's why we want to expand on the education and lifestyle around plant care in water. 


If you don't succeed, try try again!

Good news is that water propagation works for many plants! The plant propagation process takes about 4-8 weeks to see root development. If you start to see that the cutting hasn't propagated within a month and is starting to turn yellow or brown, then you should try your luck with another cutting. Don't be discouraged if this happens to you because it can be because of a number of reasons. 

HOW TO PROPAGATE YOUR PLANT

Which water propagation method to use?

We've done tons of research on how different plants react to growing in water and how they propagate best. You can check out that information in the "Propagation Tips" section of our Lists of Plants that Grow in Water. But, if you're still not sure, the best way to determine which method is better to use is by experimenting! We definitely want to encourage you to take this process as an opportunity to play with plants by trying both methods out at the same time. Large plants and small plants are great, monstera's, snake plant, heart leaf philodendron, spider plants and pothos are some of our favorites to propagate.

the submersion method

Our favorite way to propagate plants in water is using the submersion method. This is where you take a piece of your parent plant (with a node attached) and submerge it under water. We love this method because it super simple and cost-effective because it doesn't require much. We've had major success with different plants using this method and easy to understand and try out and you'll see great plant growth in one direction! 

step #1: gather your supplies

All you need are three things to get started with propagating:
  1. A plant to propagate from
  2. Sterile knife or sharp scissors
  3. A vase or glass with fresh water
If you're new to plant parenting, especially for plants that grow in water, we recommend starting out with a Pothos variety. Our List of Plants that Grow in Water has tons of information on the different types of Pothos in water if you want more specific care details.

step #2: Pick healthy cuttings to propagate

A cutting is a strand or piece of of the plant that you want to propagate. When propagating, especially for your first time, we suggest taking a couple cuttings from the parent plant to accommodate for trial and error. 


The ideal cutting would have about 1-4 leaves still attached and a node at the end of the stem. You want to make sure that the leaves look healthy and undamaged because it indicates a healthy cutting. If you can't find an obvious one, many times roots form from where leaves are trimmed off. Some plants may even have aerial roots. 


To help avoid algae buildup and other health (and aesthetic) problems, we recommend removing any leaves close to and below the node that may end up under water in your propagation glass. 

step #3: cut below the node

At your desired length, use a cutting tool; sterile sheers or sharp knife cleaned with rubbing alcohol, to cut below the node at a right angle. A node is a point on the stem where leaves branch off of the stem. Some parent plants have stronger stems (like Schefflera) so you might want to use stronger tools like pruning shears to get a clean cut. Then, remove any branches from being submerged in water when propagating before moving on to the next step. If desired, one can always dip in a rooting hormone or sphagnum peat moss as well to speed up the process.

Types of water propagation cuttings

Top cutting

A top cutting is a piece from the top of the plant. You'll see that the plant from this cutting will continue to grow as it would if it was still attached to the mother plant. 

Middle cutting

A middle cutting is a piece that includes both leaf and a stem from the middle section of the mother plant. Typically, middle cuttings will shoot off a entirely new stem and beginning growing from there, eventually abandoning the original leaf and stem after propagating.

end (bottom) cutting

A end cutting is a piece from the bottom of the plant with the roots still intact. A bottom cutting is also from the base of the mother plant but doesn't include any established roots. In both cases, you'll see that the plant from this cutting will continue to grow as it would if it was still attached to the mother plant. 

step #4: submerge the node in water

Next step is preparing your plants new home! For this step, all you really need is distilled water and the glass from your Modern Botanical propagation frame. If you don't have a Modern Botanical propagation frame, that's okay. We encourage you to up-cycle any used glass container, just make sure tothoroughly wash away any food leftover in the glass. 


Simply fill your glass with filtered/distilled water and plop your plant in its new home. Make sure the node is submerged completely under water. 


In about 4-8 weeks, you should see your plant sprouting fresh, new water roots! With the proper care and attention, you'll be looking at new roots develop in no time!

the Division method

When propagating plants in water, you want to examine the root systems and how your plant is structured. The division method is best for woody plants with thicker stems (like a Monstera) but you can use this method other all types of garden plants. To sum it up, the division method is just gently remove soil to break up the mother plant (usually the plant is growing in dirt) into two or more smaller parts, where both the crown and roots are left in tact. 

step #1:separate your plant and remove dirt

You want to start by gently removing the parent plant from its pot, then remove as much soil from the root system as you can. A few good ways to do this are filling up a bucket with water, then submerging the roots and dirt into the bucket and gently removing off as much of the dirt as possible by hand. If you have a backyard and hose, they can be used in combination with your hands to remove the dirt as well. Just make sure your hose is on a low-pressure setting before turning it on. 


Once the dirt has been removed, you'll be able to get a better sense of where you can divide the plant. Sometimes a knife is needed, sometimes a break by hand will suffice, and sometimes this is simply a matter of separating out stems and roots that are all inter-tangled. We look at this more as an art than a science, but the goal here is to separate out the mother plant into sections that will continue to grow and have attached roots. 


Quick tip: Some roots hold onto more dirt than others after they've been removed from soil and cleaned. Rather than working hard to remove every last bit of dirt from the roots, we recommend getting off as much as you can, then just going to the next step of putting the plant in water. After a day or two, go back to that plant, do another round of cleaning and then replace the water. You may need to do this once or twice depending on the plant. Ultimately, you'll want dirt-free roots when growing in water! 

step #2: remove any excess roots

After separating the mother plant into smaller baby plants, you'll want to take a look at the roots and determine what you'll keep for water propagation and what you'll remove. We generally determine this by the type of plant, the amount of roots that are attached to the plant section you've taken, and the size of the glass vase you'll be using to propagate. 


A general rule of thumb is that most plants do better with most of their root miss trimmed back before going in water. We generally try to keep about 20% of the roots, specifically the biggest and healthiest looking ones, to focus the plants new root development as it transitions to water. What works best for each plant is really case by case, so if you find yourself propagating a lot of plants this way, we recommend taking notes! 

step #3: Begin propagating

Next step is preparing your plants new home! Gather your materials, all you really need is distilled water and the glass from your Modern Botanical propagation frame. If you don't have a Modern Botanical propagation frame, that's okay. We encourage you to up-cycle any used glasses, just make sure tothoroughly wash away any food leftover in the glass. 


One thing to note with the division method is that some roots don't always make the transition to water. This can show up as a little bit of root rot that needs to be removed. Fortunately, this isn't an ongoing concern and generally shows up only in the first month of propagating. Roots either make it or they don't; keep the winners and then let your plant grow! 


In about 2-4 weeks, you should see your plant sprouting fresh, new water roots! With the proper care and attention, you'll be looking at new roots develop in no time!

Now that you have new roots and a healthy plant, you can plant them in dirt, but our favorite thing to do is continue letting it grow in water. We find care much easier and one can keep an eye on the roots to make sure they are healthy. To keep your plants thriving, continue reading

GUIDE TO GROWING PLANTS IN WATER

Now that you've propagated a new plant, one thing that many people are surprised by is that plants can actually grow in water. Oftentimes, after propagating, people will transfer their plant over to soil. But what we’ve found is that, beyond water propagation, plants are capable of thriving in water when given the proper care and environment.


So how does this work? Plants utilize the oxygen in the air pockets of water (the O in H2O) for photosynthesis. One thing to note about growing plants in water is that not all plants can thrive in water for a long time and may have a shorter lifespan due to this.


Now that you know how to propagate plants, you're one step closer to growing your plant family. After you've prepared your plant for propagation, there are some good care tips you should follow to make sure your setting your new plant up for success! 
  1. Watering: Refill the water in your glass 1-2 weeks and replace with a fresh glass of water every 2-4 weeks. This will replenish oxygen in the water so that your plant can continue thriving.
  2. Lighting: Lighting needs can vary based on the plant, but most plants in water prefer medium-bright indirect light. Sunlight is preferred, if you no windows and only fluorescent lights, there are special grow lights you can purchase (here.) that offer a bright light that's beautiful and great for plants.
  3. Nutrients: 1-2 drops of liquid nutrients every month will help support new root and leaf growth once the plant propagates.
  4. Temperature: 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. A good rule of thumb is that if you're comfortable, your plants are comfortable too!
Of course, this is just the surface of care information we've collected over the years. If you want to learn more with in-depth care details, check out our Growing Plants in Water Care Guide! Or Propagating vs Growing in Waterguides.

We also have tons of helpful information on our Instagram about propagating and growing plants in water at @modernbotanicalshop!

THE LIFE CYCLES OF PLANTS IN WATER


cutting

A plant cutting is taken from a mother plant that is usually growing in soil. Cuttings can also be taken from plants that are growing in water or other mediums. When preparing a cutting for most plants, you'll need a node and 1 or 2 leaves if available. 

acclimation

Once the cutting is submerged in water, it takes some time to get used to its new environment. This is the point where the plant stabilizes itself in water but has yet to show signs of root development. The length of this stage can vary from plant to plant. Some plants take only a few weeks while others can take months.

propagation

Eventually your plant will begin to shoot off thin, whitish roots and enter the propagation phase. At this stage it's common to replant into soil or other mediums - or simply leave in water. 

growth

After enough root growth, your plant will have fully acclimated in water. You begin to see new leaves develop and grow. Transferring your plant to soil at this stage can be difficult. 


WAYS PLANTS CAN BE GROWN IN WATER

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in water. There are several basic types of hydroponic systems like Wick, Water Culture, Ebb and Flow (Flood & Drain), Drip (recovery or non-recovery), N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique), and Aeroponic. Many of these techniques optimize nutrient and oxygen absorption by the plant and are commonly utilized in agricultural production. 


At Modern Botanical, we specialize in the simplest method of hydroponics, which is growing plants submerged in water with only nutrient additives. This method requires the least amount of energy on the planter’s part besides replacing the water to re-oxygenate on a semi-regular basis. 


THINGS THAT ENCOURAGE PLANT GROWTH IN WATER

Here’s a list of things you can do to promote plant growth in water:
  1. Invest in nutrients that will give your plant an extra boost of energy to grow and prosper
  2. Regularly replace water and/or add an air pump and water stone to re-oxygenate the water.
  3. Use a rooting hormone to promote root growth.
  4. Meet your plant’s needs, especially when it comes to humidity and light exposure
  5. Monitor P.H. levels and temperature in the water to ensure your plant is in an optimal living condition to thrive.


POPULAR PLANTS THAT CAN GROW IN WATER

Of course, plants are just like people and require their individual needs. To learn more, feel free to check out our List of Plants that Grow in Water, where we have tons of information on how to grow different plants in water! There are millions of plants to fit this category, but we’ve narrowed the list down to a few popular indoor plant varieties that grow well in water:


  1. Pothos
  2. Tradescantia
  3. Snake Plant
  4. Schefflera
  5. Monstera 
  6. Philodendron
  7. Peace Lilies
  8. Jade plants
  9. Some succulent varieties (i.e., agave, echeveria, crassula, cotyledon, etc.)
  10. **Bulb plants (i.e., tulips)
**Note: they can bloom in water for one season but won’t reproduce the following year.

That’s all the highlights on growing plants in water! Beyond our tips, do your research, and don’t be afraid to play with your plants! The best part about plant parenting is that you have the flexibility to experiment. We have been experimenting with this process a lot and want to share what we have discovered with you. To learn more about Modern Botanical and how to grow plants in water, feel free to check out our other articles!


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