Water Propagation: How to Root Plant Cuttings in Water

plants propagating in water

Whether you’re a long-time plant-junkie or a rookie testing out your green thumb, you’ve undoubtedly heard about houseplant propagation. There are tons of different ways to explore propagation, each with their own benefits and rewards, but today we will focus on what may be the easiest propagation technique: rooting cuttings in water. While this method might make you look like a hardcore botanist, it’s actually incredibly simple, and only requires materials that you are likely to have around the house. So basically, free plants!

What is water-based propagation?

Water-based propagation begins with a cutting, including a leaf and stem node, taken from a healthy parent plant. The node is generally where the leaf attaches to the stem, and is the place where new roots will begin to grow, so it’s important that your cutting includes one. By placing this cutting in water, the plant has all the moisture it needs to put down starter roots. Within two to six weeks, those roots will be long enough for you to transfer your cutting to soil, where it can grow into a full-sized plant of its own. 

Propagation is a form of asexual reproduction, meaning that the cutting is a genetic clone of the parent plant, rather than an ‘offspring’ which you would get from a seed. There are several benefits to cloning a plant, including some purely aesthetic. For instance, if your parent plant has variegation patterns that you’re particularly fond of, taking the variegated leaves for your cutting will cause the cloned plant to grow with the same pattern as the cutting. This is how many beautiful variegated plant varieties have been cultivated over the years, and how you can cultivate some yourself!

What plants can I propagate in water?

There are thousands of plants that can be propagated in water, including most common houseplants. Some of the easiest plants for first-timers to root include Pothos, Philodendron, Monstera, and Tradescantia. All of these plants will have easily identifiable nodes, and will root quickly in water.

If you have another plant in mind that you’d like to propagate, but don’t see it listed here, I recommend a quick google search to see if your specific plant’s propagation needs deviate from the instructions below. Most common plants, however, should respond well to the following steps.

How to Propagate in Water: A Four-Step Guide

Once you’ve decided which plant you’d like to propagate first, it’s time to get your indoor jungle booming! Here’s all that you need to get started: 

  • A glass or jar
  • Sharp, sanitized shears, scissors, or knife for cutting
  • Filtered water

And that’s it!

Step 1: Taking your Cutting

The first step is identifying where you’ll take your cutting from the parent plant. You will want each cutting to include a healthy leaf and node, as previously mentioned. The node is the place where the leaf connects to the stem, and stores all of the potential energy necessary to put down roots. If you’re not sure how big your cutting should be, start with a length of about 4-6 inches.

You can use this as an opportunity to give your plants a little haircut, trimming back areas of excess growth, or taking portions that have grown too leggy. This will encourage denser, bushier growth from your parent plant as well!

Step 2: Transferring Your Cutting to Water

You have plenty of options when choosing a container for water. Because plant roots are usually underground, they don’t absorb energy the same way that leaves do and don’t need the same light exposure. However, using a transparent container will give you a better view of your plant’s growth. Feel free to lean into your aesthetic and use clear or tinted glass! 

Fill your container with filtered water and then add your plant cutting, fully submerging the node where your first roots will form. Make sure that your leaves stay high and dry, otherwise they may begin to rot. This may mean that you have to trim away some leaves, depending on the size and variety of the plant you’re propagating. You can put more than one cutting in the same container, but try to ensure that the leaves do not touch and that the cuttings have plenty of room to grow. 

When it’s time to place your cuttings in your house or apartment, make sure that they have consistent access to bright but indirect light, probably near a south or west-facing window. Too much direct light or heat could damage more fragile cuttings, but with too little light their growth will be significantly reduced. 

A note on rooting hormones: you may come across propagation techniques that include rooting powder or other growth hormones. These do have their advantages, especially when working with trickier or less common plants. But for the majority of plants, all you need is clean (preferably filtered) water and patience! 

Step 3: Watching and Waiting

Your plant cuttings should put out roots within 2-4 weeks, depending on the plant’s variety and maturity, as well as the time of year. In the meantime you’ll want to make sure that the water stays nice and fresh, changing it out once a week or so. 

To change out the water, simply lift the cutting gently from the vessel. While the roots may look especially delicate at this stage, they’re actually fairly tough—which is good, because you’ll want to keep them clean! As the roots begin to grow, you may notice a dark film forming on them. Simply run the roots under gentle water and massage the film away before returning them to the container. This will promote faster, healthier root growth.

Step 4: Transferring to Soil

Once your roots have grown about two inches they should be ready to transfer to soil. If you feel like you’d prefer your roots to be a little longer, you are welcome to let them sit as long as you like. With the proper fertilization, your cuttings can actually grow in water indefinitely! 

To transfer your plant to soil, first clean any film from your roots. Make sure that you choose a small pot to start with, especially if you’re planting a single cutting. Fill your pot about halfway with soil and then gently nestle your roots into it. Add the rest of your soil, carefully tucking it around your new roots. Once transferred to soil, the roots of your new plant should start growing right away—but don’t be alarmed if there’s no immediate visible growth. It will take some time for your plant to start putting up new shoots or leaves, but once it does, you will have finished propagating your very own new plant.


Happy Propagating!

Now that you feel confident about propagating in water, there’s nothing keeping you from transforming your space into the luscious jungle of your dreams. Follow @houseofplantlovers on Instagram for more plant tips and inspiration, and tag us in your posts so that we can join you on your propagation journey. 

Some of our favorites