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Propagating Houseplants from Stem Cuttings

This post was originally published on May 12, 2019.

If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at propagating your houseplants, now is a great time to get started. There are many methods of houseplant propagation, but stem cuttings are an especially fun and easy option to try out, since it can be very rewarding to produce new plants from 4-5 inch cuttings of your favorite houseplants. You can use this method to grow new plants for your own home, make your plants fuller or to give as gifts to friends.

Houseplant Propagation - Good Plants to Propogate

Sampling of Popular Plants to Propagate by Stem Cutting

These are not the only plants that can be propagated in this way, but these are some of the more popular types of plants that this technique works for.

  1. Philodendron ‘Basil’
  2. Marble Queen Pothos
  3. Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’
  4. Golden Pothos
  5. English Ivy
  6. Tradescantia
Houseplant Propagation Tools and Supplies

What You Need

  • Propagation medium (choose from water, pebbles, LECA, soil or moss)
  • Sharp scissors or pruners
  • Fertilome Rooting Powder (optional)
  • Containers to hold medium and cuttings while propagating (glasses, vases, jars, clean take-out food containers, etc.)

Propagating Your Plants

  1. For best results, select a healthy portion of your plant that is at least 4-6 inches in length. It should have 2-3 leaves and at least one node. A node is a small bump on the plant from which stems, leaves or areal roots grow. 
  2. After choosing the location of your cutting, cut the stem to the correct length with your pruners or scissors. A sharp, clean cut made at a 45 degree angle is most likely to be successful. 
  3. Remove any leaves that will be below the surface of your propagating medium.
  4. Prepare the vessel for your new cutting.  Moss should be  thoroughly moistened, water should be warm and LECA should be thoroughly rinsed several times and soaked overnight. Rinse LECA outside in a strainer or in a bucket of water as the silt can easily clog indoor plumbing  

From here on, the steps you take will be dependent on the propagating medium you have chosen to use:

Using Water

You can root your plants in any type of water. Tap, distilled, spring water or even rain water works just fine, as long as it is the correct temperature. If you are going to have a difficult time maintaining your water at room temperature, you may want to place your vessel on a seedling heat mat, which is especially helpful during cold winter months. Place your stem cutting in your vessel with enough water to cover the node. The water level will drop due to evaporation, so you should add water every 3-5 days as needed. You can watch the roots develop if you have chosen a clear vessel for your cutting. When there are 3 or more roots that measure 3-5 inches in length, it is time to plant your cutting in soil. Take care to plant in a small pot that is appropriate for the size of the small roots.

Using LECA

LECA, or Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate, is a good alternative to just using water as the pebbles will stabilize the plant, deliver more oxygen to your cuttings, and enable them to grow without being exposed to light, so that the transition to the soil is easier.

Prior to using, rinse LECA very well several times in a strainer outside or in a bucket as the silt can clog indoor plumbing.  After LECA is rinsed it should be soaked in water overnight. When your LECA is finished soaking, add at least an inch or two of LECA to glass container.  Place your stem cutting in the container, and fill in around it with more LECA, to within an inch of the top of the container. Next, add water to the container to come to about an inch from the top of the LECA.

Monitor the water level as it will drop over time due to evaporation.  The LECA will wick water up to the nodes as long as there is water at the base of the container so over time you can allow the water level to decrease, but never allow all the water to evaporate. You can gently remove the cutting at weekly intervals to check for growth. Do not attempt to remove LECA from the roots of your plant. 

LECA is reusable so you can use it for multiple cuttings. Make sure to thoroughly clean and rinse prior to using a second time.

Using Soil or Moss

You can plant your cutting directly in soil, or root it in moss, if you wish. The method used for both mediums is very similar. Dip the end of your cutting in your rooting powder to encourage faster root growth (this is optional). Moss and soil should be thoroughly moistened prior to using. You will need to monitor cuttings planted in moss and transition them to soil when they reach 3-5 inches. A plastic bag can be tented over the container to encourage humidity or small vessels can be placed inside a gallon Ziploc bag. Make sure to leave a small portion of the bag open or punch a few holes in the bag to allow venting. Placing the tented container or bag on a seedling heat mat will speed up root growth.  Cuttings planted in soil will grow roots more slowly.  Make sure to keep soil / moss moist. This is easiest if you tent with a plastic bag or use a covered container such as a clean, lidded take-out food container.  Check the plants weekly for moisture and growth.

Transferring Your Cuttings to Regular Containers

Once your cuttings have developed three or more roots measuring 3 or more inches in length you can transfer them to soil.  Don’t be in a hurry! Cuttings with just a few short roots will be more difficult to acclimate to soil. Start by transferring the cuttings to moist soil in small pots.  I like to use 2.5 or 3 inch plastic pots to start. Make sure to use a high quality potting mix specifically formulated for houseplants such as ProMix Premium Potting Mix or Espoma Organic Potting Mix.  Once you have transitioned your cuttings into soil, you can care for them as you would any other plant! Ensure they are receiving the correct amount of light, and water them when needed. 

If you have questions or need advice about propagating your houseplants, please contact us or visit us in the store!

Air Plant, Tillandsia lindenii, Istock, greenhouse

Air Plant Guide

Tillandsia, often known as air plants, are a popular variety of houseplant that originates in Central and South America as well as some parts of the Southeastern United States. They are called air plants for good reason – they do not need roots. Instead, air plants absorb water and nutrients through their leaves from the surrounding air. This makes them incredibly popular, as they can be used in all variety of décor. Hang them from the ceiling, attach them to a wall, or set them on a table, and they will do just fine wherever you place them without soil – provided you meet a few conditions. 

Before reading on – note that the lifespan of most tillandsia is several years, and they only bloom once in their lifecycle. 1-2 months after blooming, new plants, called pups, form around the original. These will bloom eventually, so with a bit of care, you can keep your plants going for years. 

Light Requirements

When thinking about the environmental conditions needed by houseplants, it is always helpful to consider their natural environment. Air plants often grow on trees or in moist areas with partial shade. In these conditions, they receive bright, indirect light. This means that indoors they do best in high light environments. Rooms with southern or eastern facing windows are best.

If you lack a southern or eastern facing window, others will also work, you just need to keep a few things in mind. If your plant is in a western facing window, beware of frying your air plant in the intense afternoon sun. North-facing windows get less light, so place the plant close to the window. 

Watering

In general, you can plan to water tillandsia 1-2 times a week. However, you will need to take the environmental conditions into account and adjust accordingly. Before watering, think about the answers to these questions:

  • How much light will my air plant get, and at what time of day? 
  • What is the temperature in the space where my air plant is located?
  • How humid is the space?

Air plants that get afternoon sun in a western window in your living room will need more frequent watering than air plants  in a southern facing window in your bathroom, as the sun is less hot when coming from the south, and mist from the shower provides plenty of humidity for the plant. If the air plant will be dryer space, in an area near a heater for example, it will need watering more frequently. 

Air Plant, Tillandsia ionantha, greenhouse, Istock

How to Water an Air Plant

  1. Bi-weekly under a kitchen or bathroom faucet, run lukewarm water over your tillandsia until thoroughly soaked. 
  2. Then turn upside down and shake off excess water.
  3. Return your plant to it’s display.

Some notes about watering:

  • Be careful with bulbous air plants (they have visible bulbs at the base) if too much water stays at the base of the plant, the plants will rot.
  • In between watering, you can lightly mist your air plants to keep them a healthy vibrant green as they soak up water.
  • Once or twice a month, you can spray a little bit of Tillandsia fertilizer on your air plants to keep them thriving.
  • Be careful not to overwater your air plants. When the base of the plant becomes a brown/black color or the leaves begin to fall out from the center, the plant has rotted.
  • Usually if the tips of the leaves turn crispy and brown, the plant isn’t getting enough water. Additionally, when the plant isn’t getting enough water, its naturally concave curved shape will become accentuated.

Get Creative with Air Plant Décor

Air plants grow naturally in trees, so using driftwood as a display piece for your favorite tillandsia is a wonderful way to show them off in a more natural setting.

Tillandsia, Air Plant, Istock

Since they do not need soil, you can get as creative as you want in designing art with your plants. We love this idea from Balcony Garden Web’s post, “51 Most Amazing Air Plant Display Ideas.

And of course, their is always the classic option to put them in terrariums. You can use them as a feature plant, or add them in as a decorative element with other plants. 

Not sure about how to care for your air plant or what you want to get? Call or visit one of our Merrifield locations to speak with a plant specialist to find out what suits your home environment the best!

Created something cool using air plants? We would love to see it! Share with us on Instagram or Facebook and tag @merrifieldgardencenter for a chance to be featured on our page.

Bromeliad, Greenhouse

Solutions to Common Winter Houseplant Issues

The natural beauty of houseplants can really boost our moods and take the bitterness out of a cold winter. Creating an oasis with flowering or bright foliage plants can really chase away the winter blues. But the dry, heated indoor air and limited natural light at this time of year can create a difficult environment for our foliaged and flowering friends. With a little extra knowledge, you can keep your plants healthy throughout the season and resolve many of the issues that houseplants commonly experience.

Too Much or Too Little Water

Seasonal changes in plant activity and the environment in which they are placed can impact the amount of water that your plant needs during the winter months. If your plant is yellowing or wilting, it is trying to tell you that it is under stress. Most often, the main cause of stress in houseplants has to do with watering too much or watering too little. 

Plant roots need oxygen to live and grow. If the soil remains saturated for an extended time, the roots will drown and lead to the loss of the plant. Make sure that the container you’re using has drainage holes and that nothing is obstructing the holes. This will allow excess water to drain out of the container.

The best way to check whether your plant is too wet or too dry is to feel the soil. On smaller plants, you can use a pencil, chopstick or your fingers. On larger plants, you can use a moisture meter. Plants have different preferences when it comes to their soil moisture, but most often, you will want to wait until the soil feels slightly dry before watering again. When you do water, water thoroughly until the it’s draining from the hole of your pot. 

In general:

  • Winter-flowering plants typically need more water. Some plants, like zygocactus and Christmas cactus, need more water during the winter when they go through their flowering stage.
  • Plants that are not blooming during the winter use less water. However, you will need to check the soil as the environmental conditions in your home will have a large impact on the amount of water your plants need.

Leggy Plants

Leggy plants are easy to recognize as they have a stretched out and spindly look. Often, the stems and shoots will flop over since this type of growth is not structurally sustainable. Fortunately, you can easily make some adjustments to prevent leggy plant growth. 

Too little light: A plant that is happy in a sunny spot during the summer may struggle to get enough light in the same spot during the winter months depending on the changing angle and duration of light. Give your plant more light by moving it to a brighter location or supplementing the natural light with a light bulb designed for plants.

Too much nitrogen: Plants that are fertilized too often will develop leggy growth as a reaction to the overabundance of nitrogen. Many plants are less active in the winter months and need to be fertilized less. If you see leggy growth out of a plant that is regularly fed,try dialing back the frequency and amount of fertilizer the plant receives. 

Repotting in a Container That’s Too Large

Oftentimes when plants are struggling our first instinct is to repot the plant to give it more space. However, in the winter this may not be the best solution. Many houseplants actually like to have roots that are a little snug in their pots and only need to be sized up every couple years. The best time to repot is in the early spring when sunlight is increasing, but even then you should only increase the size of the planter by 10 to 20% at a time or you risk harming the plant.

Pests

Pests can be an issue particularly for houseplants that spend time outdoors during the summer months. The pests that are controlled by natural predators and the environment outdoors can get out of control when brought inside for the winter. To prevent pests before they start, spray plants that go outdoors for the summer before they come back inside with a neem oil or insecticidal soap. You can gather all of your plants that are coming inside in a group, then spray them with a hose end horticultural oil. Focus on the interior of the plant and the undersides of the leaves, then allow them to dry for an hour before bringing them inside.

Keep an eye on your plants during the winter and know how to identify honeydew and other early signs of pests to help eliminate potential problems before they get out of hand.

Mealybug and Scale

To the untrained eye these insects may appear to be fungus, lumps, disease, or some unknown substance. Mealybugs and scales are small, sometimes microscopic, insects that make a home for themselves out of waxy or cottony structures for protection while they feed on your plant. 

Catch mealybugs and scale early by checking your plants regularly for “honeydew,” a sticky liquid that may appear before the insects are visible. This is a sure sign of an early infestation, and means you should begin spraying your plants with mineral oils or insecticides whenever there is an opportunity to do so. Spray plants outdoors on days when the weather is around 50 degrees or warmer, or in a ventilated area inside that is free of belongings that could be ruined by oil based sprays. If you do not have a convenient area to spray your plant, try a systemic insecticide, which can be applied directly to the soil or used to sanitize pots that held infected plants.

Spider Mites

Spider mites are almost entirely invisible to the naked eye, so their presence is usually identified by microscope. However, you can detect the presence of these pests by looking for leaf stippling, which makes the leaf look spotted and is caused by the repeated puncturing of the leaf when these pests feed on the plant. Spider mites will also make web-like structures underneath the leaf and inside the plant for protection against predators. 

Insecticide soaps can be a gentle and useful way to control these unwanted critters. Horticultural oils are also very useful to eradicate both active adults and eggs, but need to be sprayed outdoors or in areas where they can’t stain valuable furniture or belongings. You will need to spray multiple times to eliminate both the eggs and the mites.

Gnats and Whiteflies

Whiteflies on foliage.

Some plant pests primarily create a nuisance in the home. Fungus gnat larvae, for example, thrive in damp soil mediums while the adults fly around our homes and annoy us to no end. To prevent fungus gnats, select high quality potting soils labeled for indoor use and place plants in containers with good drainage. If the problem is already out of control, try using sticky traps to eliminate adults while treating the soil with an insect control like Bt or Eight to deal with the larvae.

Whitefly adults and larvae pose a more serious issue as they feed on our plants. Sticky traps are also a great way to control whitefly adults and spray insecticides can be used to control the larval population, as with the fungal gnats. Insecticidal soaps and mineral oils are great control options for this purpose.

Visit Our Plant Clinic for Additional Assistance

If you have questions about your plants, we encourage you to bring them into the plant clinic. During the winter, bring them in on a mild day, or be sure to wrap them up and protect them from the cold weather in transit. You can also bring plant samples if you are unable to bring in the whole plant. If you’re bringing in photos, please bring an image of the entire plant and a close up of the areas of concern.

Container without Drainage Blog

How to Plant in a Container without Drainage Holes

Ideally, plant containers have holes for drainage when you purchase them, but as most gardeners know, the perfect vessel may not always come ready with drainage holes for your plants. We’ve all been there – you’ve found the most beautiful vessel for your plants, then get home and realize it doesn’t have a drainage hole.  Drilling a hole in these containers is sometimes an option, but if for any reason you not want to do so, it is still possible to plant in just about any container provided you take steps to create a more ideal environment.

Step 1: Layer the Bottom of the Container with Landscaping Rocks

Your landscaping rocks should be about 2-3 inches deep. For this project, we used pea gravel. ⅜ river jacks are another good option, or if you’re using a clear container, decorative stones in any variety or color will work just fine.

If you’re container is tall and needs more than 2-3 inches of rocks, cut landscape fabric to the size of the container and line the bottom with however many layers you need underneath the rocks. This works best with containers that you cannot see through since it is not particularly attractive. Just something to keep in mind!

Step 2: Add Horicultural Charcoal

Charcoal absorbs moisture from the pot, conditions the soil, and prevents odor. This layer is thin, and you should still be able to see the tops of some of the rocks after adding your charcoal. A little charcoal goes a long way.

Step 3: Fill with Potting Soil

Fill your pot about halfway to the top with soil. The amount you add during this step will depend on the size of the plant you have selected as well as its root system. We recommend our Merrifield Potting Mix, which is what we have used for this project.

Step 4: Transfer Your Plant

Remove your plant from its grow pot, loosen up the roots of the plant and then place in your container. Add additional soil to the pot where needed after the plant is in place.

Water and Maintain

To ensure you water your plant properly, check out our watering guidelines. If you have more questions, stop by or call one of our Merrifield Garden Center locations to speak with a plant specialist!

If you have any gardening pictures or tips, we would love to see! Tag us on Instagram or Facebook @merrifieldgardencenter for a chance to be featured on our page.

Bright Ideas for Dark Rooms

Houseplants can brighten even the darkest homes with a fresh feeling and bright blooms. However, not all of us are lucky enough to have the perfect conditions for growing plants indoors, such as ample floor space near south facing windows. If you love plants but have north-facing windows, or perhaps want a plant several feet away from a windowsill, here is your guide to selecting plants that can thrive in these less than ideal conditions.

Choose Plants that Thrive in Low Light

When selecting a plant for a dark space, one of the first things to consider before  is where you want to place it. The specific area of the room where your plant will be going will affect not only the lighting available for your plant, but the shape and size of plant that you can place there.

For a corner or tall space:

Dracaena

Kentia Palm

Zamioculcas (ZZ Plant)

ZZ Plant ISTOCK

Sansevieria (Snake Plant)

Sanseveria, Snake Plant, ISTOCK

For Ultra-Low or No Light Spaces

If you have a basement or area that receives almost no natural light, these plants are your best bet. They are extremely tolerant of low light.

Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant)

Aspidastra ISTOCK

For Small Spaces or Shelves

If you wish to put a plant up on a bookshelf or somewhere smaller, pothos and philodendron are great options that take up less vertical space but will grow to cascade over the sides of a table or shelf. For a north facing window, try an African violet if you want some blooms.

Keeping Plants Healthy in Low Light

There are a few care tips and tricks from our greenhouse team that anyone can use to keep their plants looking fresh and healthy

Rotate Regularly for Better Light

Choose a pair of plants for your space rather than just one. Place one of the two in your low light spot. Place the other in a brighter place, but without direct sun. Switch you plants weekly to keep both plants looking beautiful. By doing this, you can successfully keep a variety of plants healthy in lower light conditions. 

Add Light with Gro-lights

You can supplement natural light by using Gro-light bulbs in ceiling fixtures or lamps that will shine down on your plants.

Water Properly

These foliage plants generally prefer to dry out between waterings. Appearance can also be an indicator, leaf shine can instantly freshen the look of plants. If you’re unsure of the specific watering requirements for your plant in your space, check our our watering guidelines or talk to a MGC plant specialist to get more information.

Add a Colorful Container

If the purpose of your plant is to brighten up your space, there are many ways to do that beyond plant choice. Consider putting your low light plant in a fun pot or unique container! We have so many options to choose from at each of our locations.

Try Silk Plants

If you have a particular vision and don’t have enough light to bring in the plants you want, keep an open mind as sometimes silk plants are the best option for locations without any light. Good silk plants lend beauty and color to dark spaces, and look as real as the real thing. We also recommend silk plants if you’re worried about the safety of keeping certain plants around your pets or children.

We encourage you to come in and speak with a plant specialist for assistance selecting the perfect plant for your space. Have a picture of the space and let us know what the light conditions are, (Does your window get morning sun or setting sun? Is it a north or south facing window? etc.) and we would be happy to devise specific recommendations about what plants can thrive in your space.

Love your low light plants? We would love to see them! Share with us on Instagram or Facebook and tag @merrifieldgardencenter for a chance to be featured on our page.

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