Water Babies

Grab a glass and grow some roots.
Photo: David Croxford

There is a way to garden without getting your hands dirty. Rooting plants in water is a simple and economical way to propagate your favorite herbs and flora indoors, as well as liven up your living space. While both herbaceous and woody plants can be propagated through stem cuttings, not all species prefer water as their medium of rejuvenation. “You can try to root any plant in water,” explains Liz Huppman, horticulturist at Lyon Arboretum. “They might not all work, but experimenting and observing is good — it’s how we learn.” 

Huppman suggests using easy-growing plants, such as mint, begonias, sweet potato, rosemary, geraniums and ti. Herbaceous “creepers,” such as mint, are known for their natural self-propagating skills — sprouting roots wherever they find a nutrient-rich medium. When propagating with cuttings, the plant initiates its own reproduction, essentially cloning itself, as its hormones flow down to the cut stem end to stimulate root initiation. 

A healthy, well-watered parent plant is a necessary start to your propagation practice. Cut off a piece of stem 4 to 6 inches long from the parent plant, leaving at least three leaves on the cutting. Clip the stem at a diagonal to increase the surface area where water can be absorbed. Place your cuttings in glass or plastic containers and fill with tap water, submerging two inches of the stem. A bright windowsill, out of direct sunlight, is the perfect spot to encourage growth and beautify your home. 

Most plants should root within two weeks. If you’re rooting to transplant into soil, allow the root system to develop for at least six weeks. “If you’re planning to keep the plants in water to grow for a while, you should give them a little water-soluble fertilizer every now and then,” advises Huppman. Resilient herbaceous plants are able to grow and expand for months in water if the conditions are right. Read up on what you’re growing to know the plant’s specific needs so it can evolve to its full potential both indoors and outside. 

Easy Plants to Root in Water

African violet (Saintpaulia)
Basil (all varieties)
Christmas Cactus
Cissus (Grape Ivy)
Ficus pumila (Creeping Fig)
Hedera (English Ivy)
Helxine (Baby’s Tears)
Lemon verbena 
Philodendron (Heart Leaf and Fiddle Leaf)
Pineapple Sage
Scindapsus (Pothos)
Song of India
Sweet Potato (all varieties)
Syngonia (Tri-Leaf Wonder)


Don’t use distilled water. The distilling process removes many essential minerals from the water that encourage root growth.

Categories: Gardening, Sustainability