Propagating Plants

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Here’s a sustainable way to grow your houseplant collection and even share with others.

Houseplants typically travel long distances and come in plastic pots, but what if there was a more sustainable way? A FREE way! Hello, propagation! Prop-a-what? Propagation is the process of growing a new plant from an existing plant. Several indoor and outdoor plants are incredibly easy to propagate and can be a fun, free, and sustainable way to grow your gardens, both indoors and out. Plus, houseplants have been proven to reduce stress and improve air quality. 

Depending on the plant, you can propagate them by stem cutting, root division, leaf cutting, or by separating offsets (aka baby plants). When just starting out, I suggest going with water propagation and a stem cutting. 

How Stem Cutting Works

A stem cutting should include a piece of the stem, three to four leaves, and a node. A node is that small bump that protrudes off the vine/stem where the leaf grows. The node is where new roots will grow from. The easiest plants for beginners to water propagate are pothos. This trailing plant gets a bad rap for being common and lacking interest. I totally disagree! Pothos are low maintenance, very difficult to kill, and come in various colors! I call that the perfect houseplant! The great thing about pothos is the variety, like Golden, Marble Queen, Neon, and N’joy. 

Simple Steps to Propagating a Pothos

  • Identify a vine that has four to five leaves on it, and cut it off the parent plant.
  • Locate the nodes (little bumps) at the base where the leaf meets the vine.
  • With clean scissors cut about a ½ inch to the right and left of each node. Every leaf on the vine can be separated to start a new plant. An alternative is to keep the vine intact, and cut about a ½ inch below the last leaf. If keeping the vine, remove the bottom leaf next to the node, so you can submerge the node in water without the leaf rotting. 
  • Place in a small jar/vase with water. In about three weeks, you will see root growth. Make sure to change out the water every few days.
  • Once you have about one to two inches of root, plant your new friends in quality indoor planting soil. The longer you wait to pot up your cuttings, the harder time they will have adjusting to the soil.

Tips on Styling Propagated Plants

  • Hit up the thrift store or save your old glass jars for free, Earth-friendly, containers to water propagate. A collection of different shapes and colored jars/vases can add style to your home. Plus, glass jars provide a visual reminder of when the water needs to be changed and help you keep an eye on root health.
  • If you love the look of watching roots grow, build a propagation wall using glass test tubes or vases and create vertical artwork with your plants. Pothos will last months, if not longer, growing in water.
  • Because there are many types of pothos, group rooted cuttings in one pot and create a new plant that is full of different colors and patterns. This creates a unique plant you won’t find at your neighborhood plant shop or garden center.

Share and Trade Your New Plant Babies

  • Swaps don’t need to be limited to cookies and books. Trade propagated cuttings with other plant friends.
  • Give a pretty jar with a cutting as a gift with instructions on planting.
  • Set up a free plant stand in your neighborhood. 

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Laura McLean
Laura McLean
Laura McLean is a native San Diegan who is the plant expert co-owner of Sweet Seedlings, and has spent over 20 years working for a nonprofit and as a marriage and family therapist. She has transformed her yard into an urban vegetable and pollinator garden, and strives to connect mental health, self-care, and a commitment to our earth with every seed she sows.
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