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Rooting Cuttings in Water



4-5" cut stems from most any plant, especially with square or sturdy stems

Sharp scissors or X-acto knife | small glass containers, perhaps colored

Optional: distilled or bottled water | Sunny window spot



            For those of us gardeners who are DIRT CHEAP, there's nothing more enjoyable than cutting a little bit off an existing plant, plunking it in water, and getting it to sprout new roots so that it can be transplanted in the garden for free.


            You can ask your family, friends and neighbors if you can take cuttings from their plants to try this. They will no doubt be delighted! Always offer to share your bounty with them as a thank-you.


See the list of plants below for some ideas of the huge variety of plant life that will propagate - pronounced PROP uh gate - or grow anew, using this method, without hurting the host plant.


            It really does appear to be about as simple as sticking the cuttings in a small container of water in a sunny spot, and waiting a few days or weeks 'til you can see about a 1" rootball, then transplanting the new baby into a pot or the garden outside.


            But, as with everything in gardening, there is a WRONG way to root cuttings:


As an experiment, a kids garden club plopped

some day-lily leaves into a vase of water,

hoping they would root. But they did almost

everything wrong - see below. That's what experiments are for!

Learning from your mistakes is sometimes more valuable

than doing things right the first time!


            Here are the RIGHT methods that should give you success:


            Root plants that have an actual stem. Plants like day lilies, which basically have leaves coming up from the ground, rather than coming off of stems, are tougher to root than plants with stems.


Strip most of the leaves first. Try not to put much green matter into the water. Pull off all leaves except the top 2 or 4 of your short cutting. Green leaves will likely rot in the water. Then the roots can't grow.


Make the cut very neat. With sharp scissors or an X-acto knife, cut the stem about a quarter-inch above where it was first cut out of the host plant, because bruised ends will rot. It's especially important with thin cuttings, such as these day-lily leaves. Then slice upward vertically for a half-inch or inch, to increase the water flow into the bottom of the cutting.


Put just one cutting into each container. Clumping them into a big vase, like these kids did, will render nothing but yucky algae; the roots never have a chance to grow.


            If you have a water softener, use distilled or bottled water. The salts in water softener can impact this process. Ironically, some gardeners use half distilled water, half cold, leftover coffee, to root plants. The organic power of the coffee, which, after all, is a plant, inspires the rooting process - just another example of good recycling!


Add water often. You might add water daily or every other day. That keeps the oxygen level up in the water and avoids rotting.


Use colored glass or a sunblock. You can use everything from a juice glass to a baby food jar to a cleaned-out empty salsa jar, but if it's clear glass, you might be happier with results if you tape some newspaper to the side of the container that is facing the sun. That way, algae is lots less likely to form in the water.


Don't wait too long to transplant. When the baby roots are 1" or 1¼" long, carefully transplant outside in very loose, moist, lightweight garden soil. Don't handle the cutting by the roots because they easily break off. Try to have really loose soil to press around the roots, and water the transplant only slightly so it doesn't get drowned. If you can start it in a shady spot for the first few weeks, out of the blazing sun, you'll be better off. Then move it to its permanent home.


Put pebbles, beads or marbles in the glass container where the roots will soon touch them. The baby roots will touch these surfaces under the water and be stimulated by them. This will inspire the roots to grow the little hairs off to the side, that take up oxygen. Sticklers will say that it's best to root cut stems in moist perlite, vermiculite or seed-starting medium so that the roots can more easily be transplanted into real garden soil. They claim the roots of plants started in water are "water roots," not as developed as roots that start off in a medium other than water, and very easily broken off. But if you put pebbles or other items in the water, you can avoid that.


Now here are some of the plants that are easily rooted:






Houseplants: pothos, philodendron, Swedish ivy, wandering jew, purple passion vine




Sweet potato vine (ornamental and edible)

Tomato suckers (mini-plants that come up on the sides and should be broken off, anyway)

Penstemon 'Husker Red'






By Susan Darst Williams • • Start-Ups 18 © 2011



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