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I’M ROOTING FOR YOU

The growing season is a great time to do some propagating and grow your collection of plants. While water propagation is rewarding and relatively easy to do, knowing when and how to transfer your cuttings to soil can be difficult to gauge!

 I’ve done a lot of propagating over the past few years and I think I’ve finally got the transplanting process figured out. Here is my guide on how to grow happy, healthy plants from cuttings!

Before getting to grips with how and when cuttings should be transferred to soil, it’s helpful to understand what roots are and why they’re so important. 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THEM ROOTS!

Roots are essential to a plant’s development and growth because they:

  • Help plants anchor themselves into the ground
  • Absorb oxygen, water and nutrients from the soil for the plant
  • Store energy produced by photosynthesis
  • Resist forces from wind, water and mud flow that could damage the plant
  • Support the microorganisms in the soil that benefit plant life

There are two main types of rooting systems that a plant can have: a fibrous rooting system or a tap rooting system. 

Fibrous root systems have large networks of thin roots that spread out underground, while a tap root system is one where a main root grows deep into the soil with multiple lateral roots growing out from it.

Plants are truly amazing because they can grow roots in both soil and water. There are, however, some key distinctions between the roots that develop in each environment.

When propagating in water, the roots that develop are fragile, thin and white with many root hairs. They require less energy because they can ‘breathe’ in water and have easy access to water and nutrients. 

These roots are beneficial in the beginning, but over time, plant growth plateaus in water and this is why cuttings should be moved over to soil. 

Once cuttings are planted into soil, the roots change to adapt to their new environment. They become dark, thick and sturdy as they grow in the ground in search of nutrients. They require more energy to grow. They also don’t have the ability to ‘breathe’ underwater and become more susceptible to root rot.

TRANSFERRING CUTTINGS TO SOIL

Knowing when to pot your cuttings up is a fundamental step to the propagation process. If you don’t get the timing right, the plant can die (and we don’t want that to happen!)

It’s really important to give cuttings time to develop a good rooting system before they are transplanted into soil. I like to leave my cuttings to root for as long as possible, but the rule of thumb is that you can pot them up when the roots are 4 or 5cm long. 

There are two different ways you can transition cuttings to soil:

  • Method A: transfer rooted cuttings straight into a pot
  • Method B: gradually replace water with soil in the propagation vessel before transferring the rooted cuttings to a pot

Here’s a run-through of each method:

A: Straight-up transfer

  1. Fill half a pot with soil.
  2. Stick your finger in the soil to create a small hole.
  3. Carefully place your rooted cutting into the soil. Try to spread the roots out a bit so that they aren’t planted as one big clump.
  4. Fill the rest of the pot with soil.
  5. Gently push down on the soil to secure the cutting in place and top up with some soil if needed.
  6. Water the plant thoroughly until water starts to flow out the bottom of the pot.
  7. Place the pot in a warm, humid spot and wait for it to grow!

B: Transitional transfer

  1. Pour half the water out of your propagation vessel and replace this with some soil.
  2. Gradually add a teaspoon of soil every couple of days until the rooted cutting is mostly sitting in soil.
  3. Fill half a pot with soil.
  4. Transfer the cutting and most of the soil/water mixture to the pot.
  5. Fill the rest of the pot with soil.
  6. Gently push down on the soil to secure the cutting in place and top up with soil if needed.
  7. Water the plant with any remaining water from the propagation vessel.
  8. Place the pot in a warm, humid spot and wait for it to grow!

There are pros and cons to each process. Method A is easier and faster to do, but it comes with more risk. The plant can go into shock when it doesn’t get a lot of time to adjust to its new home (soil). 

Method B has a high chance of success because it allows cuttings to acclimate to the new, drier environment and adjust the structure of their roots to survive in soil. However, it is a gradual process that can be quite time consuming. Either way, both methods can work really well.

In terms of the potting mix you should use, young plants require a light, well-draining potting mix. A combination of perlite, peat moss and fine bark works well for me.

CARING FOR NEWLY ROOTED PLANTS

Once the cuttings have been potted up, you’ll need to keep the plant in a warm space that receives lots of indirect light (no direct light). You’ll also want to keep the soil moist (but not waterlogged) for the first couple of weeks. Monitor this carefully to ensure the plant doesn’t burn or rot.

It’s fairly common for newly rooted cuttings to go into shock once they’ve been potted in soil. This can be managed by increasing the humidity around the plant to help it acclimate better. A sealed space works best.

I often use plastic tubs, Ziplock bags or big cookie jars as ‘little humidity dome boosters’ for my plants. Ziplock are also particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with unhappy plants or propagations that need special care and attention. Humidity works wonders!

Keeping the plant in a sealed space can encourage algae and mold, so make sure you air the plant every couple of days to prevent this.

When it comes to fertilising your newly rooted plant, I’d advise against this in the beginning. Young plants are quite fragile and their roots can burn quite easily.

With some time, patience and practice your cuttings should start to thrive and grow. It’ll feel like such an accomplishment when you get it right!

Nonetheless, if you still struggle with this process and want some help, know that I’m just an email away! Propagation is what we do and I’d love to help you in a one-on-one consultation.

Brittany Miller, Owner of Mamma’s Plants

Instagram: @mammasplants

Website: www.mammaplants.com