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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 new baby plants 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 propagate 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 propagation?

Propagation is the beginning process of cloning a plant in water. The goal of propagation is to get the plant to grow new roots and develop a new root system to shoot off fresh leaves. It usually takes 1-8 weeks for a plant to propagate, 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 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.

Before you get started

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. 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 plants, 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. Most plants propagate great in water, but some might propagate better in other mediums. Picking the right 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 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 propagation, a few methods worth looking into would be: propagating in sphagnum moss, propagation boxes, air layering, and tissue cultures. 


Why are we focusing on water-propagation methods?

We love propagating in water because it's just so easy! 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 most plants! The 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

How to determine 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.

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 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! 

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 having a couple cuttings available 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 will 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 sterile sheers or knife to cut right below the node at an angle. A node is a point on the stem where leaves branch off of the stem. Some 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.

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 glasses, 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 plants with thicker stems (like a Monstera) but you can use this method other all types of 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 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 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!

Post-Propagation care Tips

Now that you know how to propagate, 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 sunlight.
  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

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


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