How to Propagate Houseplants by Stem Tip Cuttings

Care and How To

Stem cuttings are produced using the tip or section of a stem with leaves and buds on it to produce a new plant.  New roots form from buds on the lower portion of the stem.  Stem cuttings work well for species such as dracaena, weeping fig, English ivy, philodendron, and dumb cane, among other plants.  

cutting of pothos Photo by Adobe Stock
Pothos and philodendron stem cuttings ready to be rooted.

Several factors have to be considered to successfully propagate houseplants by cuttings, such as the rooting media, rooting hormones, decreasing water loss, and finding the right environmental conditions (humidity, light, and temperature).


 When to Propagate  |  Rooting Media  | Decreasing Water Loss  |  Rooting Hormones  |  Light & Temperature  |  How to Propagate by Stem Cuttings  |  Houseplant Species Propagated by Stem Cuttings  |  More Information


When to Propagate

Early spring is the ideal time to propagate by cuttings.  Although, most houseplants can be successfully propagated any time of the year.  


Rooting Media for Cuttings

Many different types of media can be used to root cuttings.  The rooting media needs to have a good balance of water and air holding capacity to support the formation of new advantageous roots.

perlite in a container
Perlite is a great rooting media for cuttings because it holds a good balance of water and air for rooting.

Common Media Types include:

  • Perlite – good drainage holding just enough water for cuttings, excellent aeration, neutral pH, and provides good support to hold cuttings in place
  • Sand – good water drainage and aeration, holds cutting upright well, may need to be sterilized before use
  • Coarse sphagnum moss – high moisture retention; good aeration when not compacted, can be difficult to wet thoroughly if it dries out completely
  • Vermiculite - holds water well and has a neutral pH
  • Peat moss – great moisture holding capacity, can occasionally stay too wet, acidic pH, great to mix with other media types
  • Potting soil – use only if amended to be very well-drained; tends to hold too much water and not enough air

You can also use mixtures of these different media types.  Popular mixtures include sand with peat moss and perlite with peat moss.  

The container used to hold the rooting media needs to be clean and sterile with good drainage.  Containers or trays should be at least 2 inches deep to allow for enough media depth to hold the cuttings upright. Moisten or wet the media before sticking the cuttings.

Using Water Instead of Rooting Media

monstera rooted in a jar of water
Many houseplants easily root in a jar of water.  The roots that form in water are more coarse in texture.

Water can be used to root cuttings.  While several species will readily root in a glass of water, the roots that form are more coarse in texture and not as well adapted to growing in regular potting soil. This means that once cuttings rooted in water are planted in potting soil, they will often show signs of stress, such as wilting, leaf drop, browning of the leaves, or tip die-back.  Providing good consistent care will help the small propagules recover after planting.

If water is used, change the water frequently (one to two times each week) and never allow the water level to drop and expose the developing roots to air.  Transplant cuttings into potting soil when the roots reach about 1 inch in length.


Decreasing Water Loss

Because stem cuttings are missing roots, they have a very limited capacity to take up water.  Decreasing the water lost from the cutting is important for success. To reduce water loss:

  • Start with fully hydrated cuttings. Water parent plants the day before, so leaves and stems are fully hydrated.  
  • Process or stick cuttings as quickly as possible. 
  • If cuttings need to be stored, store them with the cut ends wrapped in a moist paper towel in a cool location with low light.
  • Stem cuttings with large leaves should have some of the leaves removed or the large leaves trimmed down in size to reduce the surface area where moisture can be lost.
    pothos cutting with bag to increase humidity
    Placing a bag over the cuttings can help keep humidity high.

High humidity is essential for successful rootingEnclose the pot in a plastic bag or clear plastic dome to help keep humidity levels high.  Use chopsticks, straws, wire loops, or other devices to keep the plastic off the stems and leaves.  Do not seal the bag tightly to allow for some air to be exchanged.


Rooting Hormones

Rooting hormones are often applied to cuttings to promote root formation.  They are typically used as a powder or as a concentrated liquid in which the cuttings are dipped.

The two synthetic auxins most frequently used are IBA (indolebutyric acid) and NAA (naphthaleneacetic acid). Various concentrations are available. Consult the label to determine the appropriate concentration based on the type of cutting you are taking.

When using powder forms, start by placing a small amount of powder in a separate container or on a paper plate or towel.  Never return leftover material to the original container or dip cutting directly into the original container as disease issues can be easily spread this way.  To apply, dust or dip the cut end in the powder. 

When liquid forms are used, submerge the cut ends for a few seconds as directed on the label. Do not over-apply. Too much rooting hormone can sometimes slow root development.

Store rooting hormones in their original containers in a cool, dark location.  After approximately two years the efficacy of rooting hormone drops sharply and they should be replaced.


Light and Temperature

Plants need to photosynthesize to produce new roots and shoots, so 4 to 6 hours of bright indirect light is important.  Too much light can burn foliage or elevate temperatures too high, especially under plastic bags or domes. Too little light will slow the root formation process and could allow the cutting to rot or dry out before new roots form.  

Cuttings root faster in warm air and rooting media.  Air temperature between 65°F and 75°F is ideal. For good results, consider using a heat mat to raise the rooting media temperature to between 75°F and 80°F.


How to Propagate by Stem Cuttings

  • Cut stems with at least two nodes that are 3 to 6 inches long
    • Either stem tips or stem segments from lower on a branch can be used. Be sure to maintain proper orientation, as stem segments will not root upside down
  • Remove lower leaves and any flowers or fruit (if present)
  • Treat cut end with rooting hormone if desired
  • Stick the cutting into the media with at least one node and no leaves buried in the media
  • Water the rooting medium and allow it to drain for a few minutes
  • Place the cutting in a warm location with bright indirect light and high humidity.  A plastic dome or bag is a good way to raise humidity
  • Check cuttings frequently
  • Most houseplant stem cuttings will form roots in 3 to 6 weeks
  • When adequate roots have formed (approximately 1 inch long or more), pot the new plant in regular potting soil
  • Once potted, keep the new plant well-watered and in bright, indirect light
    • The plant should be well established within a few weeks and can then be moved to its preferred location indoors
  • Once established, begin regular fertilization

taking a cutting of pothos
Cut stems with at least two nodes that are 3 to 6 inches long

Cuttings that are lower on stem - up is cut at an angle
Stem segments from lower on the branch can be used. The bottom cut is angled to help remember which end is down

cutting ready to be inserted
Remove the lower leaves so one or two nodes can be inserted into the media

cutting with rooting hormone
Treat cut end with rooting hormone 

making a hole in perlite with pencil
Use a pencil or chopstick to create a hole for the stem to be inserted

cutting in the perlite
Stick the cutting into the media with at least one node and no leaves buried in the media

pothos cutting with bag to increase humidity
Placing a cover over the cutting helps keep the humidity high

 


Houseplants Best Propagated by Stem Cuttings

  • Citrus species (Citrus)
  • Codiaeum variegatum (Croton)
  • Coleus scutellarioides aka Solenostemon, Plectranthus (Coleus)
  • Dieffenbachia species (Dumb Cane)
  • Dracaena fragrans (Corn Plant)
  • Epipremnum aureum (Devil's Ivy, Pothos)
  • Euphorbia lactea (Candelabra Plant)
  • Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig)
  • Hedera helix (English Ivy)
  • Hoya carnosa (Wax Vine)
  • Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plant)
  • Philodendron hederaceum (Heartleaf Philodendron)
  • Pilea peperiomoides (Chinese Money Plant)
  • Schefflera arboricola (Dwarf Schefflera)
  • Schlumbergera species (Holiday Cactus)
  • Tradescantia species, Zebrina species (Inch plant, Wandering Dude, Tradescantia)

A complete list of plants well-suited for propagation by cuttings can be found in this article: Propagating Houseplants


More Information

Authors: 

Aaron Steil Consumer Horticulture Extension Specialist

Aaron Steil is the consumer horticulture extension specialist at Iowa State University where he works with county Extension offices across the state to answer home gardening questions for all Iowans.  This includes information related to trees, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, herbs, perennials, ...

Last Reviewed: 
December, 2023