Stop Failing at Propagating Your Plants! 5 (+3) Helpful Tips to Start Propagating Now

Psst: You might want your free gardening dictionary for this.

Okay. You set everything up just right to propagate your plants. You cut, set it in its spot, and wait…

And wait… And wait…

Wait a minute, why isn’t my cutting growing roots? Hold up, is it wilting? Also, why does it look so gross and mushy?

I have been propagating many plants over the years, and some would say I’m a bit propagation-happy. But that’s for you to decide. From strawberries to mint to basil, I’ve gone through years of trial and error to be able to share my unique knowledge with you.

Seriously, once I made a mistake that caused an entire batch of mint cuttings to go rotten. After figuring out that one beginner mistake, I went ahead and filled a whole 8-inch pot full of healthy mint cuttings the next month.

While tips like “use rooting powder” are helpful, no amount of rooting powder can save you if you overlook the simpler things. I’m here to help you enjoy propagating plants to the point where you’ll have to lock away your gardening shears. If you’re ready to get some sweet knowledge, let’s start.

propagating succulents

1. Know Your Plant Before Your Propagate It

Propagating plants is not a one size fits all situation.

Succulents like the jelly bean plant are the easiest to propagate. All you need is to lay a leaf on a sterile mix, spray it with water to keep the roots moist and watch as you have a new plant in a week.

However, a jelly-bean plant wouldn’t do well submerged in water as a mint cutting would. It all comes down to the specific plant. A good rule of thumb is if it has a stem, you can propagate your cutting in a jar of water. But if you’re propagating from a single leaf, better lie it on soil the good ol’ succulent way.

Softwood vs. Hardwood

One thing that a lot of people seem to disregard while propagating plants is softwood vs. hardwood. This is especially important if you’re cutting from a mature plant that is known to get woody, like lavender or rosemary.

Softwood is the green part of a plant. It’s the new growth that is still bendable. You’ll want to propagate with softwood if you need fast results.

Hardwood is how it sounds. It is the hard, mature part of the pant. This part of the plant usually doesn’t have many growth hormones coursing through it, so there’s less chance of successful propagation.

propagating mint plant in a jar of water

2. Propagate Healthy Plants from Healthy Cuttings

Sounds like a “no dip Sarika” kind of tip, but you’d be surprised.

I used to be the person who would take cuttings from the dying parts of the plant to try to salvage the dying cuttings and keep the healthy sprigs on the mother plant. Of course, my cuttings would die because they were too weak, or the entire plant was sickly.

Sickly cuttings aren’t going to be as strong as healthy cuttings to grow new roots and might mold or rot. And let me tell you, rotten cuttings are not the most pleasant thing to smell on your windowsill.

I know it hurts, but you’re going to have to cut away the best sprigs, or leaves, or roots for propagation. If your entire plant is sickly, nurse it back to health first. Sometimes all it needs is a bigger pot and some extra love.

propagating houseplants in wide mouthed glass

3. Please Stop Propagating Your Plants In Water Bottles

If there’s even one thing that I want you to take away from this article, it’s this tip. This is what caused me to kill an entire batch of mint cuttings.

If you were to spend only 10 minutes on my blog, you’d find out that I despise water bottles when propagating plants. The opening is small to hold the cuttings, it looks cute, and everyone has an empty water bottle or two lying around somewhere.

However, that’s the problem. The opening is way too small for propagating plants. Especially if you plan on propagating multiple plants in one container. And cramming even 2 or 3 cuttings can get crowded, fast, and it gets worse after a few days.

Eventually, you’ll most likely have to replace the water and add more due to your plants sucking it all up. The only way to get water through that tiny opening is to take all of the plants out, refill the bottle, then put the cuttings back in. Because getting water on the leaves increases the chances of root rot.

That’s how you destroy plant roots and stress your cuttings out.

All those tender roots being squished together and crushed can kill your cutting before you can say, “Save the Bees” so avoid water bottles if you can.

Instead of using water bottles, opt-out for containers with wider openings that are deep enough to hold your cuttings. It will help with fitting in more cuttings, and changing water with less effort and damage! I like using clean empty mini salsa jars for water propagating. You can also cut off the tops of empty water bottles for a quick fix and avoid any broken glass.

A jar of propagated houseplant next to a potted houseplant on a kitchen counter

4. Placement Matters

Placing your container in direct sunlight might seem to speed up the propagating process, but it causes more harm than good. Your plants are significantly weaker while they try to grow more roots, and it can cause wilting and sunburn.

Unlike human sunburn, which can go away in a few days, plant sunburn is permanent and irreversible. If your cuttings start to look a little whiter and thinner in the foliage, it’s sunburn.

When providing a solid environment while your plants are propagating, place your container near a place that gets indirect light through a windowsill until roots settle in.

A variety of houseplants propagating outside

5. Propagating Plants Doesn’t Stop At The Roots

Alright, you propagate your plants in a stable environment, and the roots are a few inches long and ready! So you transplant your cuttings in a tiny pot, set it in direct sunlight, and- is your plant wilting???

When transplanting, you need to think ahead to minimize any damage. Instead of repotting your plant in a 3inch pot to allow the roots to develop a bit more, repot your cuttings in a pot that a mature plant would need. So if a mature plant needs a 10-inch pot, transplant your cutting in a 10-inch pot. Repotting a plant twice in a short period is too much stress for one plant.

Don’t freak out if your plant wilts a little bit. It’s most likely getting used to its new environment. Just be there for it and water it regularly to aid it along the process.

It’s important not to place your new plant in direct sunlight. Allow it to stay in the shade for a week before to allow the plant to get used to its new environment.

Don’t fertilize your plant right after it’s in its new home. The roots are still young and can seriously get burned by the extra amount of nutrients. It’s okay to fertilize your new plant around a few months after it’s transplanted.

Propagating Plants, Lightning Round

These tiny tidbits of knowledge are the ones that can make or break your cuttings when propagating plants. This is why the title was called 5 (+3) Tips to Start Propagating Now. So let’s speed through these, shall we?

1. Soily Water Will Not Make Your Plants Propagate Faster

Not only that floating soil pieces look gross, but soily or muddy water can introduce some infections to your young cuttings if you’re not careful. Clean water [preferably distilled, but tap does fine] will get the job done.

2. Change Your Water

Change your water every 3 days. If you don’t do good in sitting in week-old bathwater, your plants won’t either. Plus, stagnant water can bring things like algae and keep pathogens swirling around your vulnerable cuttings.

3. Cut Your Cuttings Under the Nodes

The nodes are the bumps on the stems where the leaves grow out. It is also where the most growth hormones are concentrated, so cut a centimeter below the node to speed up the propagating process.

Node is one of the dictionary words in “The Gardeners Dictionary”, get it for FREE today!

So What Now, Sarika?

Start propagating some plants! How about some mint as a good starter? It’s a great way to put that knowledge to good use!

If you want to learn valuable knowledge about other plants, consider subscribing to my “Plant of the Month” newsletter, and learn about plants that you can grow for a better lifestyle!

Follow my Instagram to get garden updates and gardening tutorials that I cover in my blog posts in action!

That’s all for now! Happy gardening, Till we meet again.

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