How to Propagate Plants in Water with Kids

Have you ever wondered how some plant cuttings, when put in water, “magically” grow roots? Read on to learn the science of how plants propagate in water and how you can propagate plants like pothos, Chinese money plants, and spider plants with your kids at home!

What is Plant Propagation?

Plant propagation is the process of growing new plants from existing plants. There are two ways to propagate plants. Sexual propagation involves crossing the pollen and egg from two parent plants. This method creates a genetically unique offspring from its parents and is the typical reproductive process flowering plants use to naturally reproduce. 

Asexual propogation, however, takes a cutting from one parent plant and stimulates it to produce a genetically identical new plant.  Most often, asexual propagation happens by cutting a root, stem or leaf from an existing plant and placing the cutting in water to stimulate new growth.

How Does Propagating Plants Address the United Nations Sustainable Developments Goals? 

Growing and caring for plants is an important sustainable living habit and supports several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many of the SDGs are intertwined and sustainable living activities propel us toward multiple SDGs.  Plant propagation, specifically, helps us achieve certain Sustainable Development Goals like Good Health and Wellbeing, Climate Action, and Life on Land.

SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing

Although recent studies have shown that having houseplants does little to increase your indoor air quality, the presence of indoor plants can create a more inviting and calming living space. In addition, caring for indoor plants has been found to reduce anxiety

Further, caring for indoor plants does not directly translate to edible gardening skills, but it creates a connection with plant life that can encourage an interest in growing food and native plants at home. 

SDG 13: Climate Action

Plants require carbon dioxide and water to make their own food and create oxygen, in the process known as photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means that it is efficient at trapping heat. As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, so does the heat-holding capacity of our atmosphere, causing climates to change around the globe. Propagating and caring for plants sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and contributes to climate action. 

SDG 15: Life on Land

We’ve seen significant reductions in biodiversity on the planet in the last several decades. Biodiverse ecosystems are healthier and better adapt to climatic changes. Plants contribute to a diverse ecosystem by promoting soil health and native insect populations, which in turn supports the diet of larger animals, creating an intricate food web. Understanding the basic needs plants have and how they grow is critical knowledge to decrease the loss of plant biodiversity on Earth. 

The Science of Plant Propagation from Cuttings

So, how does plant propagation in water actually work? Here’s the science to explain how some species of plants, such as pothos plants, Chinese money plants, and spider plants can grow new individual plants from cuttings of the parent plant.

Plant Propagation in Water 

When cut from a parent plant, the cutting forms a group of cells called a callus to protect the area that was cut. The callus has the unique ability to respond to the plant’s chemical messages and differentiate, or transform, into root cells when placed in water. When the root cells multiply, they create a new root system for the “baby” (or propagated) plant.

Propagating plants in water is a simple yet powerful visual demonstration to introduce your kids to botany (the study of plants) and give them the confidence to grow something all by themselves with little maintenance required.

Pilea Peperomiodes
Pothos species
Chlorophytum comosum

Plant Species We’ve Propagated at Home

My kids and I have successfully propagated the following species of plants in water:

  • Pilea Peperomiodes, a.k.a the Chinese Money Plant or Friendship Plant
  • Pothos plants (there’s a huge variety of these plants – we regrew Golden Pothos)
  • Chlorophytum comosum, a.k.a the Spider Plant

Many plants propagate in water.  Search online to see if any of the plants you already propagate in water. If you don’t happen to own a pothos, Chinese money plant, or spider plant, don’t rush to buy a new plant. Reach out to your community members in your local Buy Nothing Group, Facebook Marketplace or Next Door community to see if anyone plant cuttings to share with you. Local gardening groups might also be great resources to find plant parents interested in sharing their plant babies. Many gardeners love to share their cuttings and watch their plants turn into new plants in new homes.

How to Propagate Plants in Water

After selecting a plant to propagate, you need just a few simple supplies to start your plant propagation experiment.

Materials To Propagate Plant Roots

  • a baby clone or small cutting of your parent plant (see image above for reference)
  • a sharp blade
  • a small container of water
  • a plastic lid (optional)

Instructions to Propagate Plant Roots

  • Obtain a small cutting of the parent plant and cut it from the base or stem of the parent plant using a sharp blade
  • Submerge the stem of the baby clone in water. Do not submerge the leaves. You can a) poke holes in a plastic lid to float on top of a jar of water to keep the leaves dry and the stem wet. b) fill your container with a small amount of water so only the stem of the cutting is submerged.
  • Change the water every few days or more often if it becomes cloudy or slimy.
  • Within 1-2 weeks, roots will emerge.
  • Allow roots to grow at least 2.5 cm before transplanting the plant into soil.

Incorporating STEM Skills Into Plant Propagation

My kids’ loved checking on the growth of the roots every few days. And it’s easy to incorporate STEM skills into this plant propagation activity. Encourage young learners to measure and record the change in growth of the plant’s roots every other day and create a line graph to visually track their data. They learn the proper way to use a ruler as well as basic graphing skills.

If your learners are younger (ages 2-4), you can use coins, paperclips, or any other small household item you have in multiples instead of using a ruler to take measurements. Align the items end to end and count how many items it takes to match the length of the roots at each observation. 

Potting A Newly Propagated  Plant

The new plant needs plenty of roots before being durable enough to survive in soil. Wait until the newly grown roots are at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) long before transplanting your plant into potting soil. 

Materials To Pot A Newly Propagated Plant

  • Propagated plant
  • Potting soil
  • Water
  • Pot 

Instructions to Pot a Newly Propagated Plant

  • Fill the pot with potting soil
  • Use your finger to make a small indentation in the center of the soil
  • Place the plant in the indentation. Cover the roots with soil and leave the stem and leaves above the soil surface.
  • Moisten the soil with water. 
  • Allow the soil to dry out before watering again to help the plant establish a strong root system.
  • Place your plant in the appropriate amount of light needed for the species chosen. In my experience, pothos plants, Chinese money plants and spider plants have done very well when placed in indirect sunlight on windowsills and bookshelves.

Making Recycled Planting Pots with Kids

Do you want your kids to create their own recycled pots for their new plants? Head over to Thoughtfully Sustainable to access a free, step-by-step printable to let your kids make pots using a few simple household materials!  

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How to Propagate Plants in Water with Kids

How to Propagate Plants in Water with Kids

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 20 minutes
Additional Time: 14 days
Total Time: 14 days 30 minutes

Have you ever wondered how some plant cuttings, when put in water, “magically” grow roots? Read on to learn the science of how plants propagate in water and how to propagate plants like pothos, Chinese money plants, and spider plants with your kids at home!

Ingredients

  • Baby clone or small cutting of your parent plant 
  • Sharp blade (parent/guardian supervision suggested)
  • Small container of water
  • Plastic lid (optional)
  • Potting soil
  • Water
  • Pot

Instructions

Instructions to Propagate Plant Roots

    1. Obtain a small cutting of the parent plant and cut it from the base or stem of the parent plant using a sharp blade.
    2. Submerge the stem of the baby clone in water. Do not submerge the leaves. You can a) poke holes in a plastic lid to float on top of a jar of water to keep the leaves dry and the stem wet. b) fill your container with a small amount of water so only the stem of the cutting is submerged.
    3. Change the water every few days or more often if it becomes cloudy or slimy.
    4. Within 1-2 weeks, roots will emerge.
      Allow roots to grow at least 2.5 cm before transplanting the plant into soil.

Instructions to Pot a Newly Propagated Plant

    1. Fill the pot with potting soil.
    2. Use your finger to make a small indentation in the center of the soil.
    3. Place the plant in the indentation. Cover the roots with soil and leave the stem and leaves above the soil surface.
    4. Moisten the soil with water.
    5. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again to help the plant establish a strong root system.
    6. Place your plant in the appropriate amount of light needed for the species chosen. In my experience, pothos plants, Chinese money plants and spider plants have done very well when placed in indirect sunlight on windowsills and bookshelves.

Notes

The new plant needs plenty of roots before being durable enough to survive in soil. Wait until the newly grown roots are at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) long before transplanting your plant into potting soil.

About The Author

image of Jess Purcell, co-founder of RGK

Jess Purcell

Jess Purcell, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a science educator who is dedicated to making the science of sustainability accessible to all learners. She creates sustainability science lessons and nature activities written for students of all ages to be done in the classroom or at home to foster critical thinking skills and a love of the natural world. You can find more of her work at Thoughtfully Sustainable.

Jess lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats and can usually be found outside, working out the kinks of an experiment, upcycling trash into “treasure”, hiking with her family, or attempting to read a book while being cajoled into a game of hide-and-seek.

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