This Is How Long a Cutting Can Survive Without Water

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I saw someone randomly asking this online and Google was coming up with NOTHING and I was like…what a question!! Perfect for me, who has forgotten countless cuttings until days later, to answer.

The answer is…longer than you’d think!

It does depend on things like the health of the plant and the ambient humidity, but for all those people asking if leaving a plant overnight on the side will prevent it from rooting...absolutely not. 

I’ve left cuttings for days.

How long should you leave a cutting to callus?

I have a whole article on this, and it’s a pretty contentious issue. I couldn’t find a shred of evidence to suggest that leaving cuttings to callus helps them to root at all.

If you think it helps, go ahead and let your cutting callus.

But if, like me, leaving a cutting to callus quadruples your chance of forgetting about its very existence, don’t bother. It’ll be fine. There are tonnes of other things you can do to get it to root faster.

philodendron brasil cuttings

How long can a cutting survive without water?

For this section, I’m going to assume the issue is:

‘I left a cutting on the side by accident. it’s been two weeks. Will it be dead?’

And the answer is...possibly not. 

But also, maybe. 

It might be all shrivelled up and sad, but it’s worth trying to prop (I’d definitely get it in a prop box).

It obviously depends on the plant. Plants with succulent leaves will last a lot longer, though their stem might be compromised. This is ok for a plant that can be propped from leaf cuttings, but a node might have dried out too much.

Humidity is crucial here. I had a Syngonium tri leaf wonder cutting living in a terrarium for a month and it was fine. The terrarium had no substrate so it couldn’t root (it was housing our rooted begonia props, and they were all in separate pots).

syngonium tri leaf wonder cutting

I mean, it wasn’t fine. The leaves melted away and it looked very sad, but it’s now in water and looking…ok. It’s rooting though, and will make a full recovery. There’s a new, healthy-looking leaf coming in though!

How long can a cutting survive in transit?

In an ideal world, we don’t want our cuttings to be travelling for more than three days BUT don’t start worrying until a week has passed.

As for how long a plant could technically survive?

Cuttings have lasted weeks in transit. People have bought cuttings/wet sticks from abroad that have got held up in customs and when they finally get them they’ve grown roots.

Although I once saw one that had rooted and the roots had dried up because they used all the water – as the roots died off the moisture is released so the cutting was kept alive.

It was fine but probably traumatised. You know, in so far as a plant can be traumatised.

(The word is shocked, Caroline)

It all depends on how the plant was packaged, and where it was stored. 

If the stem/node is wrapped in damp tissue paper or moss or similar, it’ll be fine for a couple of weeks, provided it isn’t stored somewhere baking hot or freezing cold.

How long can a cutting survive without rooting?

Again, longer than you might think, though it depends on the conditions it’s kept in.

When it comes to rooting cuttings, it’s not a case of seeing how fast it takes roots to form. That’s just the byproduct. The actual task is staving off root rot until the plant roots.

Plants can live a surprisingly long time as a cutting. The leaves may die, they may look a bit crap, but they will still root.

As long as the stem isn’t rotting there’s a chance.

I’ve had cuttings not root for months. I took Philodendron brasil cuttings in March. One still hasn’t rooted, and it’s mid-June. It looks fine!

There are pros and cons to rooting cuttings quickly, but when it’s taking months for a cutting to root, it’s time to start adding Pothos and trying other things.

Not because of rot (though that can be a concern) but because at some point the seasons will change and it’ll be that much harder.

I like to take cuttings early in the growing season so they’re pretty established by autumn.

snake plant cuttings

What affects how long a cutting can survive?

  • Humidity
  • Moisture
  • Warmth
  • Light

The same things that keep plants alive.

EXCEPT

Light. 

Light is the enemy here, not because it won't help the cutting stay alive (it probably will) but because it will steal the precious moisture. 

Technically I suppose moisture and humidity are the same. It’s not like you’re gonna get a cutting shipped in water (though you never know! They ship fish!).

I just thought it was worth mentioning because my brain was like ‘you could keep a cutting alive for longer by spraying it with water!’

But this raises a couple of issues:

  1. Who would be leaving a cutting on the side and remember to spray it?? Who would this be for?? It wouldn’t happen.
  2. It would likely increase the rate of rot?? Unless it was in a bright spot?? And then it would just burn??

Final thoughts

With cuttings in transit, you don’t need to worry about it until after a week. It’ll most likely be ok, if not totally fine. As for forgotten cuttings, you’ve probably got a good few days, depending on where it is.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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