Water roots

This Christmas cactus (just now blooming) is actually planted in dirt, but water roots began to grow into the pot below, which holds water away from the soil.

Darla Horner Menking | Herald

All roots are not created equal, but they all serve at least one if not two of the most essential of purposes — providing a plant with the needed water and nutrients, and holding the plant firmly in place in its growing medium. Today, I wanted to discuss how you can start rooting plants right now, while the winter chill is in the air.

Because it’s winter, it’s not a great time to plant tender plants and flowers in the ground. Trees and natives with an already established root system should do fine. But if you are interested in multiplying your favorite house plant, or a potted plant you have protected from the cold, you can begin the process indoors. One way is by rooting in water.

Some plants form roots in water better than others, like African violets, wandering Jew, succulents, ivy, coleus and many herbs. Any plant with thicker leaves is a good bet. All that’s needed is a good healthy plant or two, clean containers and a clean pair of shears.

To begin, water the parent plants a day or two before beginning to make sure the stems and leaves are well-hydrated. Making a clean, diagonal cut is important. Cut the stems above a leaf but with a couple of leaves at the most still remaining above the cut. Place your cuttings in the containers filled with enough water to cover the end where the cut is but not the leaves. These cuttings will need indirect sunlight as well as consistent water levels. If the water gets cloudy, change it.

As with planting seeds and potted plants, there’s usually not a 100 percent success rate. If one or a few cuttings get soft, brown or mushy, remove them and clean the container before using it again. You may want to look for different species, or ask a neighbor for a cutting from one of their plants you like.

Watch the healthy cuttings for tiny roots to begin forming at the cut end of the stem. Continue monitoring the water until the roots are a couple of inches long. Many plants can live this way, but if you want to transplant them, make sure you have a good, moisture-retaining planting mix. Try to find one without added fertilizer, since this would be too harsh for the new water roots. Start the newly rooted plants in small containers and keep the potting mix very wet. This will help the water roots continue their function until the dirt roots form.

Once the new plants feel firmly rooted in the soil (gently tug on it), let them begin to dry out a little between waterings. Depending on the species of plant, be sure and wait until the soil warms up this spring before transplanting outside.

Darla Horner Menking is an outdoor enthusiast and Herald correspondent. Contact her at darla.menking@gmail.com.

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