"Easy propagation"

Try this method to make new plants.
Sunday, 19 May 2024     

Cutting of Impatiens hawkeri growing in water

Propagating plants from cuttings is one of the joys of gardening. The fact that it can be done at all seems little short of a miracle, and it is the basis of the wonderful bond between gardeners: the fact that we can give someone a piece trimmed off a favourite plant of ours that they covet, and they can strike it and grow that plant themselves in their own garden. Such plants forever remind us of their original donor, and in turn we can pass on cuttings of our own specimen to others in the future. Often, getting cuttings from another gardener is the only way to obtain an unusual plant, as so many of them have disappeared from the nursery trade.

I do find some cuttings don't work well for me when using the traditional method of putting them into a propagating mix in a pot, though I know that truly green-thumbed gardeners can propagate anything this way! For some years now, I have been putting some cuttings into vases of water on my kitchen windowsill and have had good success with a variety of different types of plants that I struggled with before. Certain plants with 'fleshy' stems seem to do better for me this way, particularly coleus, which tend to rot off for me when grown in a propagating mix. Now is the ideal time to take cuttings of your favourite coleus, as they can often succumb to the cold of winter. The resultant plants can be planted out in the garden as soon as it warms up in spring.

The same applies to Impatiens, both the New Guinea type and the old-fashioned 'busy Lizzie', which I am growing again now that they are not subject to the 'Impatiens downy mildew' disease that wiped them out for a number of years. Interestingly, the new, resistant types don't seem to self-seed like the old ones, so cuttings are the only way to propagate them. I have not tried shrubby Impatiens bicaudata in water but I think it would work.

Other 'succulent-y' plants that can grow roots in water can include cane Begonia, Pelargonium varieties, all types of Tradescantia, Dichorisandra (blue ginger), Pilea and Peperomia - as well as many actual succulent plants such as zygocactus, Kalanchoe and Crassula species. I have tried some, but not all of these, and am keen to give all of them a go at some stage.

Pentas lanceolataBut I have also found that some decidedly non-succulent plants can also be propagated in this same manner. One that I have much better success using water rather than propagating mix is Pentas, a small woody-based shrub that flowers for months in Sydney gardens. Pentas exhaust itself after a few years because of its prolific blooming and needs to be replaced by a new plant, so I was thrilled to discover this seemingly foolproof way of doing it. It can take a bit longer than the fleshier cuttings do, but it is well worth it. A plant related to Pentas is Mussaenda frondosa, a taller shrub (ht to 3 m) with small, Pentas-like flowers and very large white sepals that persist for a long time. I have heard this also can be propagated in water and intend to try.

Another minor triumph I have had with rather woody plants is with cuttings of the herbs rosemary and sage, which never worked for me in pots. This discovery came about quite by chance when a few stems of both herbs from my garden were left in water in a small jug after a cooking session, when presumably I thought I might use the leftover bits later. I didn't and the herbs were left in the jug for a couple of weeks - when I finally decided to dispose of them, I found they had taken root. I have also read that softer herbs, such as mint and basil, will also take root in water, and in fact can be kept that way on the windowsill through winter to use in cooking. I have not yet tried this, but plan to do so.

A number of the so-called indoor plants are also prime candidates for the water method, such as Syngonium, Epipremnum (pothos), Monstera adansonii (Swiss cheese vine) and miniature English ivy cultivars (Hedera helix). I grow various small, fancy-leaved Syngonium in the garden (the basic species is a monster that needs no encouragement) and have never had much luck propagating these in pots, so am keen to experiment with these using the water method.

How to take the cuttings? Choose cuttings from healthy plants. As with conventional cuttings, it's best to trim the stem just below a node and remove the lower leaves. The container used can be a vase or other vessel, half-filled with water - I have always just used tap water, with no problems. Only the leafless part of the stem should be in the water, as rotting foliage can contaminate it with bacteria and fungi, and lead to the death of the whole cutting. I tend to put a plastic bag over the top, as the cuttings can wilt if left uncovered - they can also be kept in a lidded tub (with drainage holes drilled in the base) outdoors, kept in a part shaded spot. The tub provides a sort of miniature greenhouse for the plants and keeps them warm and protected. However, any plants with hairy, silver or felted foliage would not be covered in this way as it can lead to rotting - for example, Pelargonium or silvery Tradescantia sillamontana.

The cuttings need bright but indirect light whilst they are taking root in the water. The water needs to be changed each week to keep it fresh. Once a root system has developed, I remove the plant from its watery home, rinse the roots, then pot them on into a good-quality propagating mix. Note that 'water roots' are different from roots that develop in potting mix and can be easily damaged, so take care when transplanting. I generally keep the newly potted-up plants in one of my lidded tubs for a while until the roots establish further, especially if they are cold-sensitive types and the weather is still cool.

Striking cuttings in water is a great way of introducing new gardeners to the art of propagation, and could be a good activity for children to help them learn how plants grow. I would love to hear readers' experiences with this method, either in favour or against it!

 Reader Comments

1/8  Jude - 4560 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 May 2024

Thanks as always for your wonderful blog. Off to take cuttings of the amazing New Guinea impatiens that are lighting up corners if my garden as I regretfully cut back the salvia hedges! Jude Hope you have success. It is hard doing the salvias if they are still blooming but I do think this is the best time for doing smaller salvias, as they will rebloom much quicker later in the year compared to being pruned in late August, when I used to do it. Deirdre

2/8  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 May 2024

Interesting post & im surprised Zygos work & dont rot. Interesting too because I read a study in a horticultural magazine a few years ago that found cuttings rooted up in water dont become as hardy or resilient plants as those rooted in soil mixes. Im definitely going to try some of these plants. Yes I have heard it said that plants grown from 'water roots' aren't as good but I haven't found that to be the case yet. I always do pit them on into pots with propagating mix once they have made roots and let them develop further before putting them in the ground. See Betty's tip on zygocactus propagation, below. Deirdre

3/8  Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 May 2024

Ive been propagating cuttings this way for many years and find it a very successful method. During summer I always put sprigs of Ipomea in my Turkish bath which root fast and I usually just pop them straight into the garden or into the side of a pot to drape over the edge. Coleus are brilliant done this way and I always have cuttings in pretty vases on my glass collection table in the kitchen. Im growing impatiens too now which I love as they flower all year so Id better go & get some cuttings Thanks, Pamela. That''s a great idea to put the coleus cuttings in pretty vases as a decoration whilst they are striking. Deirdre

4/8  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 May 2024

Thanks for the reminder, I need to take Pentas cuttings and other plants. Such a good way to save and increase plants. I have even taken the side shoots of tomatoes and grown extra plants in summer as well as basil. My kitchen bench has propagated many plants. Thanks for that info on the tomato cuttings and also the basil, which I am keen to try for myself! Deirdre

5/8  Rachelle - 2130 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 May 2024

I have gardenia, nasturtium and nemesia cuttings all putting out roots in jars of water on my (sunny) deck. Also, a severed segment from a spent Phalaenopsis flower spike is producing a keiki as the segment sits in a plastic cup of tap water inside. It did nothing for ages till I put the top half of a plastic water bottle over the cup. Now the keiki is is growing fast in its bubble, as it were. That is great! I hadn't heard of nemesia, gardenia or nasturtium taking root in water either! Deirdre

6/8  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Enjoy propagation of any kind. During summer and autumn have had great success with cuttings from impatiens, streptocarpus, coleus, pentas and daisies. I just insert cuttings into a mix of potting soil/vermiculite, water with a seaweed product. I leave the cuttings in a shady spot and they strike readily, some in two weeks. With begonias, I have success with leaf and stem cuttings, inserted into the same mixture, left in my shed to strike. I envy your propagation success, Margaret! Deirdre

7/8  Betty - 3104 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Thursday, 23 May 2024

For Zygocactus, lay pieces between sheets of paper towel, keep damp and they will form roots within weeks. Then, pot up. Thanks so much for this tip, Betty! Deirdre

8/8  Jude - 4560 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Sunday, 26 May 2024

Further to my earlier post, and your beauitiful image of an impatiens hawkerii rooting in water, mine just wilted. Busy Lizzie-type impatiens are fine, however. Will have another try! I did cover that cutting with a plastic bag when it was on my windowsill. Sometimes I put the containers in a covered tub when doing them outdoors. Deirdre

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