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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!

How to Dust Your Houseplant’s Leaves

Houseplants gather dust, just like all other items in our homes! Over time, this dust can inhibit your plants’ ability to absorb the light they require for healthy photosynthesis. Keep your plants healthy by adopting a regular dusting routine. In this video, Gretchen Mason reviews the process for dusting foliage plants.

Note on cacti and succulents: If you are dusting a cacti or succulent, the process will be somewhat different than in the video shown below. For cacti with spines, use a toothbrush to brush debris off the plant. You can wipe down succulents with a damp cloth, however, you should not use the Leaf Shine product Gretchen discusses in this video on either cacti or succulents.

Environmental Factors and Plant Placement

Earth, air, fire, and water.  These four classical elements correspond to the four most important environmental factors we thoughtfully consider and manage in every successful landscape: soil, temperature, sun, and water. Understanding the balance of these four elements in your outdoor space will help you choose the right plants that will flourish and thrive without the need of additional water or insecticides, which is the first step in growing a sustainable garden.

Soil

Most plants do best in well-drained, evenly moist soil that is slightly acidic. Our notoriously clay-filled soil in Northern Virginia certainly meets the general need for acidity. However, in the construction of our neighborhoods, we bring the hardest clay to the top layers of the soil. As a result, to create ideal growing conditions, we amend our clay soil with organic matter. This increases drainage and moisture retention so that plants can establish roots quicker, equipping them to withstand temperature extremes as the seasons change.

You can read more about preparing soil for low maintenance gardens in my friend and colleague Nikki Norton’s post on this topic.

Temperature

Soil type is fairly uniform throughout the northern Virginia region, but air temperatures range widely. Travelling east from the Blue Ridge, through the Piedmont into the area around Falls Church, the elevation drops as the mountains give way to the coastal plain. As a result, gardeners in our region may be in one of several hardiness zones –  regions assigned by the USDA according to the average minimum temperature expected in the winter. These zones are widely used in horticulture as a guideline for choosing plants that can survive in the landscape. Higher numbered zones have warmer climates, and lower numbers have cooler climates. People living out west might be in zone 6, while people closer to Washington, DC will be closer to zone 7.

Visit the US Department of Agriculture to learn more about your neighborhood’s hardiness zone.

While our regional hardiness zones serve as a general guideline, remember that environmental factors can create warmer and cooler spaces in our gardens that enable plants to grow outside of their usual hardiness zones. For example, camellias and gardenias are rated for zones 7 and above; but anyone in the cooler end of zone 7 or zone 6 may still be able to have these beautiful plants! Plant them close to your house to protect them from winter winds. The warmer temperatures of a sheltered space next to a home is just one example of a microclimate.

Limelight Hydrangea, Shrub

Sun

Sun exposure can be the most confusing environmental aspect to understand.The light requirements found on plant labels generally fall within a recommended range that can seem vague or confusing to beginner gardeners.

To demystify these labels, here is some more information on the most common sun requirements:

  • Full sun means that an area receives 6 hours or more of direct sunlight.
  • Part sun means an area receives 2-6 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Part shade receives 2-3 hours of sun per day or less, but indicates that the sun should be dappled, or filtered through the canopy of a tree.
  • Shade is anything less than 2 hours of direct sun.

While these labels address duration of sunlight, they do not address intensity. The eastern sky provides the ideal sunlight. The less intense morning sun brings cooler temperatures, while the southern and western skies give the hottest, most intense sun of the afternoon. Delicate plants will prefer the cooler morning sun, while heat tolerant plants will do fine in hotter temperatures of southern and western exposure.

If you are not sure how much sun the area you will be planting in receives or when it will receive it, try staking a white paper plate into the ground and checking it periodically throughout the day to get an idea of how much direct sunlight is shining on the plate.

Water

Water is life, but the most important part of watering is to remember to never water a plant unless it needs it.

You can see our proper watering guidelines for more information.

Soil drainage and the amount of sun a location receives both affect the amount of water needed in an area and the types of plants that will thrive in it. Some plants are unable to tolerate poorly draining soil—which is why gardeners talk about plants not liking “wet feet.” While it is certainly possible to amend your soil to improve drainage, it may be easier to select plants which can handle that soil type. Sweetbay Magnolia or Inkberry holly are great choices.

If you have questions, come see us!

Understanding the basic conditions that affect plant health is the first step toward growing a sustainable, low-maintenance garden. A happy plant is a healthy plant, so it is important to know the balance of these elements in your own garden so your plants will thrive. As always, our experts at Merrifield Garden Center are always here to help you make the wisest plant selections for your garden.

Orchid

Orchid Care for Beginners

Perhaps one of the most well-known houseplants, people love orchids for their elegant beauty and long-lasting blooms. These plants have a reputation as an intimidating plant for advanced gardeners only, but with a little extra knowledge, anyone can help their orchid thrive. If you are an orchid beginner, we recommend starting with the Phalaenopsis orchid. This is one of the best orchids to grow as a houseplant since it thrives at average household temperatures, and it does very well sitting on a windowsill. These plants can bloom 2 to 3 times per year after they are established.

Orchid, Greenhouse Plant

Light

Phalaenopsis orchids need about 3 to 4 hours of either morning or late afternoon light. An eastern facing window works best, but a shaded south or west facing window work as well. If you are having trouble getting your plant to rebloom, increase the amount of light it receives by removing shade, placing it closer to the window, or supplementing its light with a grow light placed 8 to 12 inches above its foliage. You will know your plant is receiving too much light if it’s leaves become red-tinged.

Orchid Potting Medium

Water

When purchasing your plant, determine whether your orchid is planted in moss or bark. Water your orchids only when they are nearly dry, but do not allow them to dry out. As a general rule of thumb, when the plant is in bark, water every 7 to 10 days. When it is in moss, water ever 10 to 14 days. To prevent rot, water your plants in the morning so that the leaves are dry by the evening. Orchids also love humidity, so you can place them on a humidity tray or a tray of gravel partially filled with water to create a more humid atmosphere around them.

Orchid Fertilizer

Fertilizer

If your plant is growing in a bark-based media, a high nitrogen fertilizer (30-10-10) is a good option. We recommend using a blossom booster fertilizer (10-30-20), which gives a better bud count when it comes to bloom time for orchids.

Orchid on Windowsill

Temperature

Place your orchid on a windowsill for a good temperature differential between day and night. This encourages rebloom. One of the primary reasons our customers are not able to get their orchids to bloom a second time is a lack of cooler air in the evenings. While this temperature difference is great for the plants when initiating blooms, once the buds form and the plant is ready to bloom, you should move it away from the window as temperature differentials can cause already formed buds to drop.

Orchid

Flowering and Repotting

After your Phalaenopsis orchid finished blooming, cut the stem back to the third node from the base of the stalk. A new flower spike should emerge in a few months. The moss and bark materials that orchids grow in break down over time, so you should repot your orchid every 2 to 3 years in the spring, or in the fall after it finishes blooming. You will know your orchid needs repotting when the medium breaks down and begins to look like dirt, or when the roots begin to show at the top of the pot.