Do you have a friend who has beautiful, lush houseplants? Or do you know a zealous gardener who planted too many tomatoes this year?
If they’re a good enough friend, they might let you take a sample of their plant home. Then you can skip the whole seed-starting process but still have a mature plant in as little as a few weeks.
One of the best ways to propagate plants is by taking stem cuttings and rooting them in water. A stem cutting is essentially a clone of the mother plant, so the cutting will be genetically identical to its mother plant but will produce its own leaves, fruit, and seeds.
Herbs like basil, mint, and sage are easy to propagate from cuttings, and even some vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers will root in water. Roses, begonias, and chrysanthemums are just a few of many flowering plants that can be easily propagated through stem cuttings.
Keep reading for some fun plants to root in water, plus detailed instructions on taking the perfect cutting and making your own all-natural rooting hormone.
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10 plants that root in water
Taking stem cuttings and rooting them in water is a cost-effective, relatively easy way to grow your garden. Not every plant can be propagated by cuttings, but you might be surprised by some of the plants on this list!
Herbs are some of the easiest plants to root in water, which is great because of how much we use them! The next time you visit your friend who has a culinary herb garden, take a few cuttings and start your own kitchen garden for free.
Basil is one of the easiest herbs to propagate. Simply cut a piece of stem at least four inches long, and strip off about half of the leaves. Place the cutting in water and within a couple of weeks you’ll begin to see roots developing.
If you’ve grown mint before, you know that once mint takes hold it’s difficult to control! But if you find yourself in a position where you want a mint cutting, it’s so easy to propagate. Cut a piece of stem about four inches long, strip it down to two sets of leaves, and place the cutting in water! You’ll have a fully developed mint plant in just a couple of weeks.
However, the easiest way to propagate mint is actually through root cuttings. Cut a piece of stem with a root rhizome attached and transplant it to the new location. Water thoroughly, and your mint patch will explode in no time.
Plants with woody stems are a little harder to root in water, but using a rooting hormone can speed up the process. Taking softwood sage cuttings from new growth brings the most success, showing roots in just a few weeks. Alternatively, take hardwood cuttings during the fall and winter months (when the plant goes dormant) and new growth will show in the spring.
Believe it or not, some vegetables, including tomatoes, can root in water! Tomatoes grow well in nutrient-rich water and can produce a new plant in just a few short weeks.
So when you prune your tomatoes, hold onto the suckers (the small shoots that sprout between a leaf node and the main stem). If you drop the suckers in a small glass of water they will grow roots in about three to four weeks and will be ready to be planted in the ground.
Like tomatoes, you can also clone peppers. Just be careful not to cut the central growing tip of a pepper plant, as that will halt its growth. Instead, take stem cuttings from the side branches. Strip off the bottom leaves, leaving on two sets, and place the stem in a cup of water. In about a month you’ll see roots beginning to form, and the seedlings will be ready to be planted in six to eight weeks. Since pepper cuttings take so long to form, this propagation method is best suited to plants that will be grown indoors through the winter.
If you’ve grown cucumbers before, you know that some of the more vigorously growing varieties benefit from regular pruning. Like tomato plants, cucumbers grow tiny “suckers” in between the main stem and leaf sets. Rather than throw out the extra vines and stems, why not try propagating more cucumber plants from cuttings? Refrain from pruning the suckers until they reach about six inches in length, then use clean garden snips to make a clean cut. Transfer the cutting to a glass of water and within a week or so the cutting will have developed roots.
You can very easily propagate strawberry plants from cuttings. Strawberries produce runners, long, horizontal stems that produce clones of the mother plant. To take a cutting of a strawberry, all you need to do is cut a runner a few inches away from the clone plant, which you will easily recognize by the small flower bud and developing roots.
Most flowering perennials will root in water if allowed to do so, and roses are no exception. Plan to take rose stem cuttings in the spring or fall, as the plant is naturally stimulated to a vegetative state by pruning. Roses are more likely to grow roots on “heel wood,” which is the wood at the base of a branch that attaches it to the main stem. Take a cutting with two or three nodes, dip it in a rooting hormone, and transfer it to a glass of water or a pot with moist soil. Roots should begin appearing anywhere from two weeks to a month!
Begonias are known for being incredibly easy to root from leaf cuttings. All you need to do is cut one long leaf stem and trim the stem down to about an inch and a half. Then, either place the stem in a glass of water or plant the stem in moist potting soil, ensuring that the petiole (the place where the leaf is connected to the stem) is in contact with the soil.
Have you ever seen cut flowers grow roots in a vase? Mums are one of a few cut flowers that, if left in water long enough, may start growing roots in a floral arrangement. Of course, to successfully root a cut flower in water, you’ll need to buy a fresh bouquet and remove the flowers as soon as you get home. Just make sure to leave one or two pairs of leaves and place the cuttings under a grow light or on a sunny windowsill to promote growth. It wouldn’t hurt to dip the end of the stem in rooting hormone to encourage new growth, either.
Taking the perfect stem cutting
To propagate a plant in water successfully, you need to take the perfect stem cutting.
- First, identify a healthy, disease-free plant to be the mother. Use clean, sharp scissors or snips to cut a four to six-inch piece of stem. Try to pick a stem that hasn’t produced a flower, but if that isn’t possible simply remove any buds or blooms to transfer the stem’s energy to root production.
- Next, remove all foliage but the two or three sets of leaves near the top. Roots will grow from the leaf nodes, and any leaves left underwater will rot and ruin the cutting.
Now that you have the perfect stem cutting, you can proceed a couple of different ways.
- Transfer the cutting to a jar of clean water in a sunny location, like a windowsill or under a grow light. You can add a rooting hormone to the water if you prefer. Change out the water every two or three days, and reapply a rooting agent until the plant develops a robust root system.
- Alternatively, dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone powder or solution and plant the cutting in a pot with soil. Keep the soil moist until the cutting has developed healthy roots.
Of course, there are other ways to propagate plants, but propagating plants via stem cuttings is certainly one of the easiest (and fastest) ways to establish new plants.
One important and overlooked aspect of taking cuttings is providing the cuttings with adequate light. Cuttings taken from roots (like chitted potatoes or dahlia tuber divisions) don’t need light to grow. However, stem and leaf cuttings depend on light to generate the energy to grow new roots.
Roots should start to appear on the stem after a week or two, and the plants will be ready to transplant into the ground after three or four weeks.
Is rooting hormone necessary?
No, using commercial rooting hormone is not necessary for propagating plants—as long as the plants naturally produce their own rooting hormone (all of the plants on this list do). While rooting hormones can encourage root growth, some plants will root in water even without it.
It’s up to you whether you want to use it or not. Just make sure to follow the instructions on the package carefully to avoid harming the cutting or the future plant, as commercial rooting hormones are usually very concentrated. You can find rooting hormone at your local garden supply store or you can order it online. Choose between powder and gel.
You can also make your own all-natural rooting hormone with ingredients you probably already have at home:
- Ground cinnamon
Cinnamon is commonly used to prevent fungal infections in seedlings, so using cinnamon as a rooting agent has the added benefit of protecting stem cuttings from disease. Simply roll wet stems in a small pile of ground cinnamon, or take a cinnamon shaker and dust the stems in the powder, then plant the stems in a pot filled with moist potting soil.
- Aloe vera
If you have an aloe vera houseplant, you can harvest the leaves to make your own rooting hormone! If you don’t already have an Aloe vera plant, go out and get one! They are beautiful plants that are very easy to care for. To harvest aloe vera gel, take a clean blade and cut an aloe leaf at the base (don’t worry, the plant will grow callous to seal off the wound). Take the blade and carefully peel the “skin” off the leaf, then scrape the gel out of the leaf by running a spoon down the length of the leaf. Transfer the gel to a container, and your DIY rooting hormone is ready! Dip stem cuttings in the gel and then plant them into a pot with moist soil.
Raw honey has a reputation as being an excellent rooting aid, but not for the reason you may think. Honey doesn’t actually contain any compounds that speed up the rooting process, but raw honey is naturally antimicrobial. So, dipping stem cuttings in raw honey helps to kill any bad bacteria responsible for stem rot, buying the plant more time to produce its own roots.
- Coconut water
Pasteurized store-bought coconut water doesn’t work as well, but if you can get hold of a coconut and harvest the water itself, you’ll have a powerful, all-natural rooting agent on your hands. Take a ripe coconut (you can tell if the coconut is ripe if you can shake it and hear the water inside) and locate the three “eyes” on the bottom of the fruit. Use a corkscrew or a screwdriver to pierce one of the eyes, then flip the fruit over and drain the water into a bowl. Now, place the end of a stem cutting into the coconut water and let it soak for a few hours before potting up the cutting into a pot with moist soil.
- Willow water
You may have heard about the medicinal properties of willow trees, but did you know that you can make a homemade rooting hormone from willow branches? If you have a willow tree in your yard, harvest several willow twigs and let them soak in a jar of water for one to three days. Remove the willow twigs and place stem cuttings in the willow water to encourage faster rooting.
Propagating plants via stem cuttings is an easy and fast way to establish new plants. Using rooting hormones isn’t essential, but it can encourage growth in some plants. If you want to steer clear of commercial rooting hormones try using an all-natural rooting hormone alternative.
Whether or not you use a rooting agent, it’s essential to provide the cuttings with adequate light and water as the plant grows roots. Be patient—rooting stem cuttings can take anywhere from one week to a month, and you don’t want to plant a cutting before it’s ready.
Now you know which plants root in water and how to propagate them. So next time you visit your friend’s garden, carry a pair of garden snips with you, just in case you spy a plant you want to propagate!
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About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.