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There isn’t an answer I can give you. Plants refuse to work that way.
I did a whole article on propagating Rhapidophora tetrasperma because I couldn’t get them to root using conventional methods. I write the article because the chances that I’m the only person in the whole world that can’t get them to root is highly unlikely.
If you go to the post and scroll to the comments, you’ll see one that essentially calls me a liar and claims they root super quickly.
It didn’t, promise.
Otherwise I wouldn’t have written the article.
The point I’m trying to make is that some plants root quickly, and some take months. And even after they’ve developed roots, some plants take their sweet, sweet time to grow leaves.
And when I say some plants take months to root, I mean literal months. Like, six. Probably more. Don’t give up on your plants (unless you’re sick of changing the water, which I 100% understand). As long as they’re not rotten, there’s a chance they’ll root.
I’m currently researching spent nodes, and whilst there’s not a tonne of info out there, there’s a LOT of arguments on reddit about them.
What affects the length of time it takes to root a plant?
I have an article dedicated to speeding up propagation times.
Increasing the oxygen to the site of the cutting will speed up rooting. Oxygen in general is the key to long term root health.
More light = good.
I mean, you can have too much, and burn the plant, but in general, we want a lot of light.
I’ve found grow lights to be particularly effective when it comes to rooting cutting, but a window will do.
Whilst house plants don’t necessarily go fully dormant in winter, growth is definitely slowed in winter, which is why it’s not recommended that you start propagating in winter.
Heat mats like this one can add that bit of warmth that can encourage roots to grow quicker. Whilst it’s not necessary, if you’re a serial propagator they’re a cool little tool to have.
Humidity can help to keep other leaves on the cutting healthy, which allow it to photosynthesise more effectively which should help roots develop more quickly. Humidity in general seems to speed up propagation.
To get your roots going quick af, you want all three of these aspects (light, heat, humidity) to be spot on.
My plants propagate more slowly here in North Yorkshire, than perhaps they would if I were somewhere warmer and brighter.
This isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, it just means that those of us that live in darker, colder climates have to persevere more and wait longer.
The health of the plant
A cutting from an actively growing, healthy plant will most likely root more quickly that one that you’ve taken a quick cutting from because you think it’s going to die.
Again, you’d be surprised by how close to death plants can get and still recover.
The size of the cutting
This is up for debate.
In my experience, plants roots more quickly if they have fewer leaves. In fact, I recommend only using one leaf cuttings when propping R. tetrasperma because I could never get two-leaf cuttings to root until one leaf had died.
I’ve also found that once multi-leaf cuttings DO root, they start producing new growth much more quickly.
With some plants, it doesn’t really seem to matter how big the cutting is (M. deliciosa, for example, don’t seem to care, but then you can chuck them straight into soil and they’ll root just fine), but others do. It’s really just a case of experimenting.
Many people buy cuttings (especially of expensive plants) that don’t have any leaves, and are basically just a node. If you buy a cutting that is described as a wet stick, that’s probably what you’re getting.
My advice is to try propping a cheap wet stick before spending a fortune on one. The first one I practised on was a P. hastatum, and I learned a lot (gems such as if you don’t keep the leca/moss damp, it’ll dry out and die, and that moss that’s damp for three weeks can turn bone dry overnight, so check your props diligently).
The water you’re propagating in
I like to prop in rainwater, but aquarium water works fine. Tap water is also 100% fine for most cuttings – if you can drink it, you can probably use it for propagating.
What I personally avoid is distilled water, for reasons that could absolutely be unfounded.
Why? Well, I once read that distilled water can pull nutrients out of frogs (we’re getting a little frog for our terrarium to keep the isopod numbers down. I’m very excited about this because 1. it’s a rescue frog 2. it’s teeny tiny and very cute and 3. if it eats aphids I can put all my seedlings in the terrarium with it.
Our terrarium is a repurposed medium-sized aquarium, so don’t worry – he has plenty of room. Also, you can’t just chuck a frog in a terrarium. He needs a specific amount of water (enough to drink, but not so much he drowns), and it needs to be temperature controlled so he doesn’t overheat. We already had that in place because my boyfriend had a crab in there.
I know frogs and plants aren’t the same, but it’s made me weirdly distrustful of distilled water. Also, the idea of buying bottled water when I can get it from the sky/aquarium/tap is alien to me. Coming from a girl with a frog.
The plant species
Some plants root quickly, others don’t. I have Scindapsus that produced roots in two days. My Syngonium Tri-leaf wonder took 6-months and now produces multiple new leaves (from three growth points!) weekly.
Some plant species are renowned for being slow root growers – Sansevieria for one. Others, like String of hearts are super quick, even if you just put cuttings back in the soil. Wandering dudes tend to be quick (again straight into the soil).
Whilst, yeah, there are elements you can control, sometimes a plant just takes its time. Don’t feel defeated if a plant that rooted super quickly for others took a while for you.
How can I make cuttings root faster?
Check out this article for a veeery detailed breakdown of rooting cuttings quickly. It all comes down to improving the oxygen, lighting, warmth, and humidity.
Loads of plant care experts swear by rooting hormone, but I like to propagate my plants in water and it just…washes off. If you like to propagate plants in soil, then rooting hormone would be a good shout.
I don’t use rooting hormone when I’m propagating in leca, but it might speed things up a bit.
For this you will need:
- a clear box
- Substrate (LECA, moss, soil, water)
- A light source (grow lights are great for this)
- A heat mat (optional)
You can put jars of water in a prop box, but I’d recommend putting a layer of leca, moss or coir on the bottom. I use leca, because I keep most of my new plants in leca and if i put them in coir it’s a pain trying to get it off the roots when they’re ready to transplant.
Water is definitely an option but you need to change it pretty often (who can be bothered) and you’ll need to keep the water in glasses unless you come up with an ingenious way of keeping your cuttings upright. Using leca or coir just means you can fit more plants in.
The reason prop boxes work is that the humidity is kept high due to the small area, they’re generally pretty warm (especially with a heat mat, but a sunny windowsill will do), and you can control the light.
Be sure to add a couple of holes to allow airflow, or keep the lid on loosely. If you’re fancy you can get a fan. We have a fan for the terrarium, but it’s quite noisy (it isn’t loud, but it is annoying). you have been warned. It’s the same kind you can use for computers, fan fans!
(I laughed way too much at that)
Put your cuttings in your aquarium
If you have an aquarium (tropical, not marine, coldwater would probably work but if you have goldfish they’ll probs eat your cuttings), it’s a great place to root cuttings.
Usual disclaimer: don’t start an aquarium just for this purpose. Fish are VERY high maintenance. Luckily for me, my boyfriend maintains them. We also have a lidless aquarium with clip-on lights, rather than the standard lights-in-the-lid setup.
The water is warm, filtered, and aerated, and there’s a great light source. Plants root super quickly in there.
If you like the idea of this but don’t have an aquarium (or a friend with one you can rent space from!), try one of the Aliexpress prop boxes I linked below.
If you like the idea of both propagating house plants and growing your own herbs, I’ve had a LOT of success rooting my cuttings in my Aerogarden.
Why are my cuttings not rooting in water?
I don’t know, but is it because you’re not changing the water enough?
Roots that grow in water aren’t the same as roots that grow in soil.
Water roots are designed to absorb oxygen from water.
(If you have trouble getting to grips with this, think about how humans can absorb oxygen from the air, and fish can absorb oxygen from water – plants can adapt to either and they should have more recognition for being able to do so)
Once the oxygen has depleted from the water, you’ll have to change the water to give the cutting more oxygen. You can add an airstone (a cheap pump is pretty, er, cheap, but again, they can be noisy in an annoying but not loud way) if you like, and you can get prop boxes that come with a pump, like this one from Alibaba.
Can you put cuttings straight into soil?
Yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
You can’t see how the roots are progressing without pulling out the cutting and risking disturbing the roots.
That being said there are some plants that are pretty good at rooting in soil. Monstera deliciosa and string of hearts, like I already mentioned, but also the more common pothos, scindapsus, and heartleaf philodendrons do ok.
Oxygen is key when it comes to rooting, so an airy mix will increase your chances of success. Bear in mind that airy soils tend to dry out more quickly, so be diligent about watering.
If you don’t want to mess around with water or anything, you can increase the chances of rooting your plant in soil without risking the cutting – by not actually taking a cutting until you’ve rooted it.
Basically, you can ‘plant’ a node into soil whilst leaving it attached to the mother plant. Once it roots you can chop it, without having to worry about transferring it into a different medium.
Here’s one I prepared earlier:
I bought this Syngonium Mottled at a discounted price because it was, shall we say, a little leggy.
She was long enough that I could fold her over and plant a node at the bottom with having to remove her stake.
Once the roots are a little longer (I like to wait until I can’t easily pull them out of the soil) I’ll snip off.
The point I’ll cut is where my index finger hits the circle I used to illustrate where the roots are.
You can see that I’ll have an ‘extra’ node to the left of the rooted node, which I’ll also plant. I love a bushy syngonium. Aaaand then I’ll probably repeat the process. She is EXTREMELY leggy.
How do I know if my cuttings have roots?
In the beginning, if you can’t see the roots, you can’t know, which is why I recommend rooting cuttings in soil or leca.
Sure, you can whip them out, but you risk ripping off the new roots, which will be pretty delicate.
If you’re pretty sure your plant should have decent roots by now (I can’t advise on how to know this, because some plants root SO SLOWLY for me), you can give the plant a gentle tug. If you feel some resistance, you probably have roots.
When to transfer cuttings to soil
You definitely need a couple of inches of roots, and I would err on the side of caution.
If you’re not sure if there’s enough root, wait a bit longer.
I like to wait until the first set of roots have little roots coming off them.
The complicated bit is the nurturing of the plant once it’s in soil.
Some plants adapt really well, others don’t.
Remember that the plant will have to grow soil roots to adapt to the soil, and in the meantime, you’ll need to give the water roots plenty of water so that they can absorb adequate oxygen.
After a couple of weeks, you can ease back on watering so you don’t accidentally overwater your plant. If you’re worried about overwatering, you can use a spray bottle to keep the soil damp, without soaking it.
The most important thing I can say is don’t give up on your cuttings. There is so much information about there about rooting times, but in reality, it varies so so much depending on so many different factors.
Find a cheap plant, and just give propagating a go.
Check out my propagation category page for my propagation experiments, including this one I did one trying adding a Pothos cutting to speed up the process.