A Beginner’s Guide to Propagating Plants

Sooner or later, your growing, thriving plants will outgrow their pots or their spot on the windowsill, and they’ll need to be trimmed back. You could just toss the trimmings in your compost bin, of course. Or, with just a little knowledge, care, and attention, you could turn them into more plants!

A variety of potted houseplants lined up on the counter

Here are the three easiest ways to propagate your houseplants…

Cuttings

When you think about propagating plants, most people probably first think of using cuttings. You can successfully propagate cuttings from many popular houseplants – the ZZ plant is a particularly great candidate. Using a clean, sharp knife, pruners, or scissors, cut a stalk a few inches long or a leaf (with its stem) from the plant at a 45-degree angle.  You can place the cutting directly into a pot filled with moist growing medium or put it in a container filled with water (water is the obvious choice if you eventually want to add your new plant to a hydroponic growing system). Whichever method you choose, keep it well-watered and new roots should form within a few weeks.

Three potted ZZ plants that all originated from the largest "parent" plant

Some plants are more difficult to propagate from cuttings. If you want to try it with a plant that’s less eager to form roots, there are a couple of ways to help the process along.

  1. You can make a mini greenhouse to keep the soil moist by covering the top of the pot with a plastic bag or a clear plastic container.
  2. You can use a rooting hormone. It encourages the formation of roots while also protecting the cuttings from fungal infections. You can purchase an artificial rooting hormone, make your own rooting hormone solution from willow tree bark, or even try raw honey.

Root Division

If you have a plant whose roots have outgrown its pot, you could just move it into a bigger pot. But, if you want to keep that specific plant in that specific pot, you might want to try root division. This works really well with plants like ferns where multiple stems sprout from the bottom, rather than a single large stem.

Small potted Boston Fern that will soon outgrow its pot and is ready to be propogated

It’s exactly what it sounds like. Remove the plant from its pot and carefully divide the whole thing—roots, leaves and all - into two (or more) separate pieces. You might be able to pull it apart with your hands, or in some cases, you might need to use a sharp knife.

Now, simply re-pot the original plant, adding some fresh soil to fill up the pot now that the root ball is smaller, and put the division in its own pot. Water them well and baby them for a few weeks, and soon you’ll forget they were ever a single plant.

Layering

If cutting off a piece of a plant and hoping it will grow roots seems too nerve-wracking, with certain plants, you can try a technique known as layering. Layering works best with long, viney-stemmed plants like pothos. In the wild, these plants would creep along the ground and send down roots all along the length of their stems wherever they touch soil or water. Look closely at the stems and you’ll see, below each leaf, a little node that’s just waiting to develop a new root. In your home, you can set up a new pot of moist soil near the plant you want to propagate and lay a stem or two across it. Pat the stems down onto the soil surface (you might even bury them a little bit). Keeping the new pot well-watered will encourage the formation of new roots. When the roots are going strong, you can cut the stems loose from the parent plant and put your new plant wherever you want it.

Potted Pothos with full trailing vines, perfect for layering

Plants that produce runners or plantlets, like the spider plant, are even more convenient to propagate by layering. Just set a plantlet on the soil surface in the new pot, settle it in a little, and keep it moist. When you can tell the roots have developed, congratulations! You have another plant in your collection.

Spider plant with plantlets

Bonus

Some plants do all the work for you. Around the base of plants such as snake plant or aloe vera, you may notice baby plants forming. All you have to do with these is gently remove them (be sure to get their roots) and give them their own pots.

Happy Propagating!

If you have a few houseplants now, you can eventually have hundreds without having to spend a dime.

Boho-style living area abundant with various plants