I'm Lazy--What can you root in plain old water???

Lisa Hayes
May 4, 2005

Are there any perennials that you can just put in water and get roots?

Comments (174)

  • fieldofflowers

    I can perhaps now add rex begonia to the list of rooted in water.

    I took a couple leaves with the petioles attached and stuck them in a round glass vase. Oddly enough, they grew some roots and produced little baby pups all along the stem.

    Now that I divided some of those and put them in a container of soil, it remains to be seed if they survive. The leaves are still firm and healthy.
    Re: Those that keep having their cuttings die in water could be some of these:

    - Health of plant - diseased plants don't root well. They tend to die. Watch out for downy and powdery mildew. One makes the cutting drop all of its leaves and the other makes them look bad.

    - I don't know for certain, but I suspect bacterial soft rot might be a hidden disease in a reasonably healthy plant but when taking a cutting then it surfaces. That might explain why some cuttings I have die out of the blue, rotting at the stem end and working their way up, even if I used a sterilized tool to make the cutting.

    - Also watch out for insects. Thrips, aphids, spider mites and mealybugs might kill the cutting.

    - time between being cut from plant and put in water. Too long or too early could have an effect. If the cutting wilts before put in water might have an effect.
    - Hard water build up. (Has killed more cuttings as well as potted plants than I'd like to think.)

    - light. Not enough. Less light seems to make mold and rot diseases appear from nowhere. I have worse luck rooting things away from my plant lights than right under them. In my kitchen seems to be a death trap. Near the windows better. This also limits what I can keep because my plant stands are already full.

    - the obvious: water evaporating and gone before you can refill it. I've had that happen when trying to root things in small containers. The end result is a plant dead, dried or wilted beyond repair.

  • countrygirlsc, Upstate SC

    Zanzibars will root in water and grow little bulblets the size of grapes! It takes a while. I try everything. whenever I accidentally break a stem off, I drop it in water. I rarely have a problem going from water to soil.

  • Pagans Raven

    For those who have problems with water softeners and such, boil your water first, then let it sit for a few days.

    Other then using distilled water, this is a great way to use ANY tap water.

  • PRO

    If you have water softener issues, "boiling the water first" (before you use it) AND/OR "letting it rest for a few days" would be counterproductive because only the water vapor leaves the pot, leaving ALL the dissolved solids behind in what water remains and increasing the EX/TDS of the remaining water. IOW - it makes the problem a more serious problem.


  • johnva

    The secret to moving plants from water to soil is the root length! Roots do not differentiate between water and soil until the are longer than 1 1/4 inch long. So the best time to transfer them is when they are 1 to 1 1/4 inch long.

    Moving them beyond this point causes them to go into shock as they try to adapt.

  • PRO

    That's not true.

    Though roots form readily and often seemingly more quickly
    on many plants propagated in water, the roots produced are physiologically quite different from
    those produced in a soil-like or highly aerated medium (perlite - screened
    Turface - calcined DE - seed starting mix, e.g.). You will
    find these roots to be much more brittle than normal roots due to a much higher
    percentage of aerenchyma (a tissue with a greater percentage of intercellular
    air spaces than normal parenchyma).

    Aerenchyma tissue is filled with airy compartments. It
    usually forms in already rooted plants as a result of highly selective cell
    death and dissolution in the root cortex in response to hypoxic conditions in the
    rhizosphere (root zone). There are 2 types of aerenchymous tissue. One type is
    formed by cell differentiation and subsequent collapse, and the other type is
    formed by cell separation without collapse ( as in water-rooted plants). In
    both cases, the long continuous air spaces allow diffusion of oxygen (and
    probably ethylene) from shoots to roots that would normally be unavailable to
    plants with roots growing in hypoxic media. In fresh cuttings placed in water,
    aerenchymous tiossue forms due to the same hypoxic conditions w/o cell death
    & dissolution.

    Note too, that under hypoxic (airless - low O2 levels)
    conditions, ethylene is necessary for aerenchyma to form. This parallels the
    fact that low oxygen concentrations, as found in water rooting, generally stimulate
    trees (I'm a tree guy) and other plants to produce ethylene. For a long while
    it was believed that high levels of ethylene stimulate adventitious root
    formation, but lots of recent research proves the reverse to be true. Under
    hypoxic conditions, like submergence in water, ethylene actually slows down
    adventitious root formation and elongation.

    If you wish to eventually plant your rooted cuttings in
    soil, it is probably best not to root them in water because of the frequent
    difficulty in transplanting them to soil. The brittle "water-formed” roots
    often break during transplant & those that don't break are very poor at
    water absorption and often die. The effect is equivalent to beginning the
    cutting process over again with a cutting in which vitality has likely been
    reduced due to energy expended on roots that can't make the transition.

    you do a side by side comparison of cuttings rooted in water & cuttings
    rooted in soil, the cuttings in soil will always (for an extremely high
    percentage of plants) have a leg up in development on those moved from water to
    a soil medium for the reasons outlined above.

  • johnva

    It's not true if you don't try it:) I have found many things written in books by experts to be NOT true when other methods are tried. Like I raised Balloon flowers from seed to bloom in 4 months, totally impossible according to the book writer experts.

  • PRO

    What makes you certain I haven't tried it - water roots vs solid media roots? I have - many times ...... especially when I was first getting my propagation feet under me.

    Whenever I find something that doesn't mesh with settled science, I first question myself to see where I went wrong; this, rather than make up science as I go so my observations mesh nicely with my theory.

    I'm pretty sure I would find even more untrue things in books if I was reading plant books by authors who were more interested in being able to say they wrote a book than in ensuring their readers got accurate information, but I tend to avoid the former in favor of texts with bibliographies that illustrate the information in the book was a collaboration and consensus of authors who believe accuracy is an essential element in anything they write.


  • loewenzahn

    Neat thread! I am taking away two things here: do only put one cutting in one container and the container must not be clear glass. My question (we don't have that many windowsills): how big should the container be? could it be a tiny bottle?

  • johnva

    The container can be any size as long as you can get the cutting out without damaging the roots. Clear glass works well, as long as it's not in direct sunlight. The number of cuttings is your choice, again remembering getting them out without damaging the roots.

  • PRO

    "Damaging roots" is not the bugaboo most growers imagine it to be. When I pot up plants purchased 3 or 4" pots or cell packs - like for mixed floral containers, I rip the bottom half - 2/3 of the roots right off the plant, then roughly work my fingers into the center of the root mass and sort of comb the roots outward - and not at all carefully - before I plant. This rough treatment and intentional damage actually produces chemical signals that tell the plant to focus it's energy outlay on root production, which hastens establishment and root colonization of the soil mass. Pine tree seedlings get the ENTIRE tap root cut off right at the root to shoot transition if they're to be used as bonsai, and I often remove up to 90% of a plant's roots at repot time. Plants LOVE room in the pot for roots to run.

    The size of the container, and even the shape of it, can be an important consideration when propagating cuttings, and the more water-retentive the soil is, the more important the size and shape of the pot is. Ideally, you'd want to choose a container large enough that when it's transplant time the root mass will NOT have reached a state of root congestion that will allow you to lift the root/soil mass from the container intact. If you can, you have a persistent problem that won't go away or fix itself. Sometimes, if the soil holds too much water, you're forced to use a smaller container at first, so the soil doesn't stay soggy for too long and wreck the plant's ability to make the all important vascular connection between roots and shoots. If you use a smaller container, it fills with roots quickly - even before it's time to transplant, in many cases. To avoid root congestion issues, your cuttings should be bumped to a larger container BEFORE the root/soil mass comes together as a unit you can lift from the container intact - which is why it's best to use a very well-aerated soil and a large pot for cuttings.

    Finally, if you're using a soil that supports perched water (has a soggy layer at the bottom), the pot should ALWAYS be deep enough that you can insert several nodes of the cutting into the soil and still NOT have the basal end of the cutting in that soggy layer of soil. The base of the cutting needs to have access to oxygen or the odds of success plummet

    Clear glass or clear/translucent plastic isn't a good choice because some roots don't perform well when exposed to light, it encourages algal bloom in the soil, which competes with roots for oxygen, and dumps extra CO2 into the soil, and passive solar gain is a frequent issue as light turns to heat when it strikes the soil after passing through the clear container walls.


  • fieldofflowers

    I'm going to add snapdragons to the list of things I've been able to root. I left some clippings in a cup of water waiting for experimental transplant. Oddly enough one started growing little root buds. I moved it to soil inside a domed container to see if it finishes.

  • little_dani

    I am told by my very learned expert friend that gardenias root in water very easily. A glass coke bottle is the vessel most likely to insure success. It takes awhile, but they root!

  • PRO

    We already know that many plants root readily in water - whether or not the lack of effort required to root those species in water outweighs the negatives associated with the practice is the looming question. In my mind, there is no doubt it does not, but YMMV.


  • jolj

    I went over to my little brothers(40 something) house last month & found he was rooting in sand.

    I ask him who taught him to root that way & he said you did years ago.

    I did not think anyone in the family was listening to me.

    I do not have much luck with just water.

    I like layering from the mother plant best.

  • brenda_near_eno

    Rooting in water may sometimes work, but new "soil roots" will have to form, so it is not any faster or easier. If it has worked for you, you won't believe it, and it is ok to keep doing it however you like. What is most important is WHEN the cutting is taken (month, or before/after bloom, etc) and WHERE (hard, soft, half-hard, green, etc) Several good websites describe these WHEN and WHERE details for different plants.

  • fieldofflowers

    Coleus leaf. Coleus rooting in water isn't anything new, but finding roots on the petiole of a coleus leaf I had just left in a small container of water, I thought was interesting.

    I didn't keep it. No. I have enough Black Dragon coleus for my garden. But still it may be useful to try...for something. I don't know what.


    Water rooting may not be the best, but it is a way to test the health of a cutting. It seems if the host plant suffers any pathogen, then your cutting will rot, no matter what, water or soil. If cuttings in water root, but the ones in soil rot, then the soil is bad. If neither take, then the host probably is affected by something.

  • trowelgal Zone 5A, SW Iowa

    What about rooting cuttings in the crystals called "Soil Moist"? The crystals are white and swell when wet and resemble clear gelatin. Has anyone tried this? I just started a shallow dish this way this afternoon. Do you think it will work better than plain water? Happy Mother's Day to all you mommies:)

  • fieldofflowers

    When I was around 10, I remember there being gel crystals marketed as a soil alternative. My mom got me some. I don't remember how it went. I seem to remember fussing with it a lot and not having much root growth. I think I eventually switched to soil. I've seen a comeback a few years ago with the same sort of stuff used for flower bouquets.

    I'm very sure the soil moist is the same polymer stuff as the gel beads and the soil alternative gel a while ago.

    That said I have very poor luck growing anything long term in it, though I have a tillandsia hybrid sitting on top of some gel beads and it is still alive and growing-s-l-o-w-l-y. I wish it would grow faster, but at least it's alive. All others I've killed. I think the gel beads tend to suck out most of the needed moisture, either that or provide an ideal environment for the wrong kinds of mold and algae. Maybe someone else has had better luck?

  • Sharon Numnut

    Don't forget, when you are putting your clippings in water you have to take off the bottom leaves then put them in water.

  • Diane Bancroft

    I have a question can you root tea tree cuttings in water?

  • James Lewis

    Hey all I have done a video on how to propagate rex begonias 3 different ways including in water in this video here https://youtu.be/KQu_H3Yroa0 hope you enjoy any question please comment below the video thanks guys

  • bwrcust

    Had luck with WIGELA ( however, it's spelled).. After reading / trying some ROSES in Potatoe Method - I had Great Luck with the WHITE WIGELA Shrub..... ALso am using the METHOD of LAYERING with the White PomPom Bush.... Great benefits!

    Love LAVENDERS... One plant / bush has lasted 3/ 4 years now... My ENGLISH LAVENDER is not doing so well - I am not having luck Propagating those.....hmmmm ?

    Water MEthod for myself never ever worked - have tried CLEMATIS.. RoSEMARY ,other stuff....just not lucky there - some say to add SUGAR ... EH?

    I Pray I can soon find this method to work for me...... I also use Growth Hormone and Nothing!....

    So right now Black Eye Susan is my newest test from SEEDINGS and so is the DELphinium......... Having no luck with the PEONY.... OH WELL - LIVE & LEARN :(



  • PRO
    Pamela Qarbaghi

    Okay, lazy, you can be even lazier! Just clip these plants and stick them directly in dirt on your patio. Coleus, impatiens, kalanchoes, geraniums, most ivies and petunias. No need to root them in water before you plant them! Just clip em, trim leaves except for the top few, and stick them in moist soil. So easy! Water every other day and you will have new plants in no time for free!

  • donnaroyston

    Hey, bwrcust, just remember that it can make a huge difference WHEN you take cuttings. To give one example, Clethra/sweet pepperbush cuttings will root within 5-10 days if you take the cutting before the parent shrub blooms. When it's blooming, and after it blooms, fuggetaboutit. You can keep that cutting green and moist but it will never get roots, not in 6 months or even longer.

    Sometimes it's not the method but the timing that's wrong.

  • caligrlnotntexas

    Hydrangeas living under water....

    just 2 weeks old...sun, rooting hormone, fresh water and top two leaves. It works...learned this years ago from my grandmother. In my window now I also have Wisteria, store bought cut roses (Trader Joe's) and my own English Rose cuttings.

  • BettaPonic SuperRoots

    I root Pothos all the time.

  • PRO

    ..... point being?

  • BettaPonic SuperRoots

    Rooting plants in water is easy and they can last years.

  • PRO

    Jumping off a building is fun, but the thrill doesn't last long.

    There is no question that many plants root easily in water, but the physiology of roots that grow in an aquatic environment is such that it allows diffusion of oxygen from above the waterline to fuel root metabolism. This requires a much different type of root tissue that the parenchyma found in roots that grow in well-aerated solid media/soil. In the end, these roots are very brittle, transition to solid media poorly, and often die during the transitioning phase. Death of the roots means the plant wasted a LOT of energy to produce roots that die during the transition. In many cases, it's like starting anew with a cutting that's already expended it's energy reserves to produce roots that can't be used. Growers would be much better served to learn how to propagate in a solid medium if the intent is to grow that plant in a solid medium.


  • BettaPonic SuperRoots

    I am a big advocate of layering and air layering. I have found great results. I still like growing my pothos in water though. I love the fish swimming between them and the knowledge that they are cleaning the water. I have noticed any transplanting is hard on them though.

  • albert_135   39.17°N 119.76°W 4695ft.

    Would you have a link to: ''...physiology of roots that grow in an aquatic environment is such that it
    allows diffusion of oxygen from above the waterline to fuel root
    metabolism. This requires a much different type of root tissue that the
    parenchyma found in roots that grow in well-aerated solid media...''

    I have been looking for an academic, or better a textbook, reference to this, for no other reason than that is an activity that I indulge during my caducity.

  • PRO

    You can probably find more information if you search aerenchyma or aeriferous parenchyma or both of the words aerenchyma parenchyma. I can't remember where I came across the information initially, but it was while I was researching and trying to understand why, if many plants can readily adapt to various forms of aquaculture - why can't they survive in saturated container media?


  • Vladimir (Zone 6a Massachusetts)

    I have rooted citrus, geraniums, begonias and hibiscus in water and transitioned them to a soil-less mix with 100 % success.

  • socks

    I think many people root in water because it's fun to see the roots develop. In soil, one can only imagine except for seeing that the cutting hasn't wilted. I recently rooted salvia in water because I was going to be away for a week and knew potted cuttings might need some attention during my absence. Will see how it goes, transferring to soil. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  • donnaroyston

    Yes, very true that it's fun to watch the roots. I save clear Starbucks (and other) cups for individual humidity domes when rooting cuttings, and sometimes use them for the pots, as well. It's exciting to suddenly spy the roots coming up to the clear barrier of the cup. And useful ... so you can see exactly when the plant is ready to be transitioned to the garden.

  • albert_135   39.17°N 119.76°W 4695ft.

    The first gardening experience I remember was probably in the summer before I turned 5 years old. My grandmother planted some seeds in between the glass and the soil in a mason jar to show me how the roots went down and the shoot went up.

  • jolj

    Try rooting something new & share with us.

  • Carol love_the_yard (Zone 9A Jacksonville, FL)

    Cali-Girl-Not-in-Texas, how much rooting hormone (powdered?) do you add to how much water? What are your proportions?


    Carol in Jacksonville

  • donnaroyston

    If you want to root hydrangeas in water, no rooting hormone is needed, in my experience. I've never heard of mixing it with water. Not sure it would have any effect. But if you want to use it for rooting:

    Powdered rooting hormone (Hormex is one brand; Homodin is another) usually comes in a pack of three strengths. Choose the one most suitable and shake a little powder out onto a dish or napkin or whatever. Wet the end of the cutting and dip it into the powder to coat the cut end for an inch or so. Then poke a pencil or something into the medium, insert the cutting, and gently firm the medium around it. (You are trying not to scrape off the powder.) Cover the cuttings with something clear to retain humidity while the cutting makes roots. Do NOT dip wet stems directly into the container of rooting hormone.

    The proper order of things is :

    Prepare your medium, i.e.. a soilless mix that is damp but not soaking wet. I use a mix of peat + perlite. Since peat is hard to wet when it's dry from the bag, it's best to put it in a bowl or small plastic bucket and add water and stir till it's moistened. Then add the perlite and stir. Some say a half peat and half perlite ratio, but I find that you don't need as much perlite to get a nice, loose mixture. I guess I use 30% to 40% perlite.

    Put the medium in whatever container you want to use. A single Starbuck's cup for one cutting, or a tray with a clear plastic cover that you buy from the nursery for many cuttings.

    Then prepare your cuttings, 4 inches long perhaps, lower leaves removed. Coat the ends in hormone and stick in the medium. Cover, and place under plant lights or in a bright window with no direct sun. Depending on the plant, you will have roots in 10-30 days, or occasionally longer.

  • Carol love_the_yard (Zone 9A Jacksonville, FL)

    Thanks for the reply, Donna. My experience is just the opposite - unable to root in water - hence, the question to Cali-girl.

    I am usually able to root by directly planting in ground, though. My secret is to plant a long cutting, deeply enough. I use a thin piece of rebar and a hammer to pound a deep hole. Then, getting as long a cutting as I can, slide it all the way down into the hole, only leaving the top leaves exposed. Then water like crazy, every day. No rooting hormone necessary. That method has worked great for me (and for a number of different plants, too). But rooting in plain water? No. So I'd still like to hear from Cali-girl.



  • donnaroyston

    Upstream on this thread, another poster said she used liquid (not powder) hormone on cuttings before putting them in water. I have no experience with that.

    Well, it's always fun to experiment. Maybe I'll do a comparative trial with plain water vs. water with some hormone mixed in, and see what the difference is.

    As always, remember to use a non-blooming stem for much better results.

  • PRO

    It's not appropriate to pitch a particular brand or type of
    rooting hormone because different plant species respond to different
    chemicals. The
    most effective concentration levels of rooting aids vary by species and type of cutting and the most effective
    chemical to use also varies primarily by6 plant species and can be much more important than
    concentration levels; so, it is a combination of the concentration
    AND the choice of chemical + type of cutting and time of year that
    determines the effectiveness of a rooting chemical.

    Rooting aids are synthesized forms of the plant hormone/growth
    regulator 'auxin'. Indole butyric acid (IBA) and naphthalene acetic
    acid (NAA) are the two most common chemicals that have been found to
    be reliable in the promotion of rooting in cuttings. IBA is widely
    applied in general use because it is non-toxic to most plants over a
    wide range and promotes root growth in a large number of plant

    plants respond better to either IBA or NAA, some respond to ONLY one
    or the other, some may have a toxic reaction to one but not the other
    which will lead to poor or no growth and actually, mortality; and,
    some respond best to combinations of both chemicals, or to other
    variations of either IBA or NAA based on K (potassium). Both IBA and
    NAA are commonly available in talc or in liquid formulations of
    varying concentrations.

    do lots of propagating of several hard-to-root
    species, but only use a rooting aid occasionally for the most
    difficult. As a generalization, you should know on a per plant basis
    which chemical and concentration is most apt to be effective before
    applying it. I have found it mostly unnecessary. Learning a little
    about the cultural conditions cuttings prefer and some other tricks
    (like methods of wounding) along with cleanliness will add more to
    what it takes to be successful at propagating (plants) than rooting
    aids (except in the very hard to root plants).


  • donnaroyston

    Al, I wasn't "pitching" them. I mentioned the names of two that I've used, one in my college plant propagation class, and the other that was stocked by a local nursery last time I noticed.

    I haven't used either in years. I generally stick cuttings without hormone and they root just fine.

  • PRO

    Hi, Donna. That was an "in general" comment & not a shot over your bow. ;-) When the topic of rooting aids comes up, the lion's share of forum responders have no idea what chemical and/or concentration is appropriate and what is counterproductive, yet still wouldn't give a moment's pause before recommending a brand/type of synthetic hormone.


  • donnaroyston

    Thanks, Al. It is interesting to hear that some plants have adverse reactions to IBA. But then, I am astonished at some of the plants people say (in this thread) they have rooted in water, which I would not have thought possible.

  • shane11

    Sorry if this has been answered, if it has I missed it. I wonder if air temperature would make any difference in how well things root in water? I have a room in my house that I keep closed off and is not air conditioned. Obviously it is warmer and I wonder if things would root better in warmer temps. Anybody noticed any differences? And for that matter I wonder would things root better in water if placed outdoors in the shade where it would be much warmer if done in late spring and summer. This is a very interesting thread and I plan on trialing a lot of plants over the next couple weeks. I have had good luck rooting Gardenia in water in the past.

  • PRO

    I don't root in water and have little interest in beginning that practice, so I have little to no first hand knowledge of what the impact of temperatures are in plants rooting in water; and, since professionals rarely (if ever) root in water, it might be hard to find anything but anecdotal observations re your question. When rooting in a solid medium, most seeds/cuttings prefer the soil to be about 10* warmer than air temperature up to a soil temperature of about 75*. When the ambient temp is above 75*, bottom heat usually becomes inhibitory. Immediately after roots have formed, soil temps that lag ambient air temp by 10* or so seem to be best. This variation in root/ambient air temps for containerized plants is close to natural and is due to evaporative cooling of the medium.


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