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Few things make plant lovers as happy as a trip to the nursery. After all, what could be better than bringing home a bunch of new houseplants? But it's so simple to grow a bunch of new plants yourself without starting any seeds—and it's completely free.
Lucky for us, many of our favorite houseplants are easy to propagate at home—no soil needed. Here’s everything you need to know to set up your own propagation station and grow your own plant babies.
What Is Plant Propagation?
Propagation is the act of growing new plants from existing plants. Many common houseplants, like aloes, hen and chicks, and Pilea peperomioides, are self-propagating. A healthy, mature specimen will grow its own baby plants, or offsets, in the right conditions. Then, these can simply be removed and replanted in soil.
You can also grow new plants by taking a leaf, stem, or tip cuttings from healthy plants and rooting them in water. It’s a good idea to save stems pruned from a particularly vigorous plant to use for propagation.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Propagate Houseplants?
While some hardy houseplants can be successfully propagated pretty much any time of year, it’s ideal to know when your plant’s active and dormant growing periods are and to plan your propagation around those.
Many plants go dormant in winter and actively grow in spring and summer. Therefore, propagation tends to be most successful and to go more quickly during the warmer months. The same goes for repotting plants, even if you don’t plan to divide or propagate them.
It’s recommended to repot your plant with fresh soil in spring or summer when it is actively growing.
Which Houseplants Can Be Propagated in Water?
While some houseplants, such as drought-loving succulents and other desert plants, should be propagated in or on soil, many of our favorite houseplants can be propagated in water. Pothos, philodendron, English ivy, Tradescantia zebrina, croton, Chinese evergreen, spider plant, and lucky bamboo are just a few that can be propagated this way.
What Do You Need to Propagate Houseplants?
All you need to propagate houseplants are a few basic supplies you probably already have in your home: a brightly lit window and a healthy mother plant.
- Drinking glasses or jars
- Clean, sharp scissors or gardening shears
- Tap water
- Mature houseplants or fresh plant cuttings
How to Set Up Your Propagation Station
Choose a warm spot near a window to set up your propagation station, such as a windowsill, side table, or countertop. You want to make sure your plant babies get lots of bright, indirect light while they’re busy growing their new roots.
Depending on the size of your containers, you may be able to put a few stems into one—for example, if using a pint or quart jar. If using a smaller, thinner vessel like a test tube or beaker, plan on one cutting per container.
There’s a common theory that glass colored blue or green works best for propagation, but this is a myth. Clear glass vessels are actually better for supporting root growth—and they look pretty, too.
However, you can propagate vigorous new plants from cuttings with an opaque container like a ceramic vase or even a coffee can.
How to Propagate Houseplants
- Identify a few healthy stems or growth tips on the mother plant to propagate. Check the plant for any pests, like scale or spider mites, and avoid cutting portions of the plant with dry, brown, or brittle leaves.
- Using a clean, sharp blade, cut stems four to six inches long, ensuring that each cutting has at least two or three leaves on the top and a couple of leaf nodes on the stem.
- Make a diagonal cut just below a leaf node and trim off the bottom couple of leaves from your cuttings.
- Fill a glass with tepid water to a level where the leaf nodes at the low end of the stem are submerged below the waterline. Place the cuttings in the water.
- Put the glass in a warm place with bright, indirect light.
- Check the progress of your cuttings each week, and change out the water if it looks cloudy or murky.
- When the new roots are at least one inch long, you can plant the cutting in a container with freshly watered potting soil and care for it as usual. Depending on the species of plant, the conditions in your space, and the time of year, this may take anywhere from four to six weeks.