One of the great joys of gardening is rooting your 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 cutting roots successfully and begins to grow into a vigorous adult plant.
There are two ways to root cuttings: in water and in a growing medium. Many plants, such as spider plants or pothos vines, readily root in a glass of water and can then be transferred to pots. Others resist rooting in water and require a rooting media—potting soil or a soilless mix—and perhaps rooting hormone and a warming pad to stimulate root growth.
Is There One Right Way to Root a Cutting?
Although people have been rooting plants in water for decades—sometimes with great success—this is not the best method to root your plants. The roots that form in water are not the same as roots that form in the soil. They are fragile and brittle, adapted to growing in water as opposed to soil or grow mix. When you transfer a water-rooted plant to the soil, many of the roots break off immediately, and the rest shrivel and die as they're replaced by more robust roots adapted to the soil.
How to Root a Cutting
For success when rooting cuttings, follow these simple steps:
- Use healthy cuttings, preferably from newer growth. Some plants root from woody cuttings, but the success rate is lower. Take the cutting with a sharp, clean 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 2 to 6 or 8 inches.
- Trim the cutting of any leaves on the bottom node. If you're using a rooting hormone, pour a little out of the container, dampen the bottom inch or so of the cutting to hold the powdered hormone and roll the dampened area of the cutting in the hormone. Tap gently to remove any loose powder.
- Plant the cutting in your potting medium. Lightly tamp the mix around the stem of the cutting to provide support. If you are using rooting hormone, make a hole in the soil that is a little larger than the cutting. You don't want to rub the hormone off while planting the cutting. When it is in position, tamp the soil mix around it.
- Most cuttings prefer to avoid full sun while they root. Instead, place them where they receive 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.
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 pot to encourage new root growth.