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  • Writer's pictureSavannah Scollar

Rooting Houseplants in Water: the Ultimate Guide

It's a beautiful sight: a row of glass vases, roots submerged in water, vines draping like waterfalls, and stems standing joyfully in the sun. You might be a bit intimidated by it. It looks tricky, right? How on Earth can you get a plant to grow like that? There must be some advanced technique to it.

The truth is, there's no need to be afraid. This is a project that's very beginner-friendly. It's a great activity to do with kids, too! I'll help you get started.

First, let's sprinkle in a little bit of science. I've got three new terms for you today: cutting, aerial root, and petiole!

A cutting is a piece of a plant that's been cut or pinched off, with the intention of growing it into a new plant. Nice and simple!

An aerial root is a root that's formed in the air, instead of in soil, water, or any other substance. Sometimes, aerial roots look like little brown bumps along the stem. Other times, they look like little strands of shiny thread or fuzzy yarn. These roots, when given access to water, will get longer. Once they're growing in something other than the air, they're no longer considered aerial roots. At that point, they're just roots!

A petiole is the "stem" directly connected to the leaf. It's not actually a stem, and when it comes to taking cuttings, it can be important to know the difference. Most types of plants have petioles, while others don't. African violets, ficus trees, monsteras, hoyas, peace lilies, and pothos have petioles. Echeverias, snake plants, and living stones don't have petioles.

Now that you know the parts, it's time to cut your plant! First, I should mention: when it comes to vines and sprigs, longer cuttings grow a whole lot faster and have a higher chance of success. In terms of leaves, larger healthier leaves do much better and grow much faster as well.

Different plants have different requirements when it comes to the type of piece you'll be using.

Hoyas, string of pearls, string of hearts, lipstick plants, and string of bananas:

Must contain a piece of stem with an aerial root and at least one leaf

Philodendrons, syngoniums, monsteras, scindapsus, and pothos:

Must contain a piece of stem with an aerial root. A leaf isn't necessary, but having one will help with faster growth and a higher chance of success.

Begonias and peperomias:

Can use a whole leaf, a leaf with a petiole, a piece of a leaf, or a stem with leaves

Aloe and snake plant:

Can use a whole leaf, a baby plant that grew on the side, or a section of a leaf

Spider plants:

Can use a baby plant

Flame violet:

Can use a baby plant or a leaf with a petiole

Pilea, ficus, herbs, pellionia:

Use a sprig with a stem and several leaves

African violets:

Complicated, probably deserve their own article

Some people will say to use sterilized scissors or an x-acto knife. I'm evil and don't listen to this advice. I'd much rather just use whatever I have, including my fingers. Dust floats around everywhere and is full of germs. It's really hard to get anything actually sterile, so I don't really try.

People will also say to let the cuttings sit out for an hour or even a whole day to help the cut end heal and prevent rot. I personally usually go for an hour, or a few more, depending on how busy I am. Does this actually help with anything? I'm not sure, I still need to test it. It's definitely not a great idea with thin-leaved plants, though, like mint or basil. Those will just wilt.

Herbs are ridiculous, by the way. They drink tons and tons of water and you'll need to either keep an eye on them or use a wide-mouthed container. Sometimes, for herbs, I have to refill the container every day. If they wilt, they'll come back when you add more water. If they get crispy, they're done for.

With any plant, you'll want to take a few cuttings if you can. Sometimes, for whatever reason, cuttings simply refuse to grow. That's why it's good to have backup.

Sometimes, the water gets algae. Does this hurt the plant? Maybe, maybe not, but it doesn't look great. To prevent the algae issue, I try to avoid putting the cuttings anywhere super sunny. They really only need a little bit of light. They can be a few feet from your window and still be happy.

Every once in a while, when I feel like it, or when the water looks nasty, I'll change the water out and clean the container with a bottle brush and dish soap. I rinse thoroughly to get all the soap off. Does this help with anything? I can't tell. Add it to the list of things I need to test.

Sometimes, with bad luck, your plants will get weird cloudy stuff on the stems, or they'll start to get brown and mushy. This happens from bacteria and fungi trying to compost the plants you're trying to root- rude! If this happens, you'll want to remove the plant, clean the container, and change the water. Before you put it back in, you'll wanna clean off the cutting itself. Dirt the white closely e stuff, you can use a dollar store baby toothbrush with either hydrogen peroxide solution or soapy water. Rinse thoroughly. For brown and mushy stuff.

You'll be able to keep these cuttings in water for a very long time before they start having serious trouble. I mean months, even! When you decide it's time to move to soil, you'll want your plant's first watering to be a bit more than you would usually use. We're not making mud here, but we do want it kinda wet instead of the usual "slightly moist" watering I tend to go for. This helps make sure the roots have access to water while they get settled.

Whew! That was thorough, huh? Even then, I'll probably update this post with more information as time goes on. Remember, I have a shop. It's a physical brick and mortar in Olney, Maryland! It's called Easy Little Plants. I sell plants, teach terrarium and succulent workshops, and do birthday parties. It's a super cute and cozy space, and our prices are chill, too. Check it out and show your support! Now, I have to say it, I can't resist: I'm rooting for you!

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