Propagation experiment

Introduction: Plants can be propagated by a variety of methods, with mixed results. Success may be understood differently by each person and may be affected by the species and health of plant, environmental conditions (such as time of year, lighting, and temperature), the skill of the person performing the procedure, and the materials at hand.

Purpose: Determine whether Tradescantia zebrina cuttings result in more aesthetically pleasing (read: compact, rather than leggy or etoliated) plants when propagated by placing in water to form roots or when dipping in rooting hormone, then placing in soil.

Hypothesis: The cuttings dipped in rooting hormone and then in soil will result in a more aesthetically pleasing plant.

Method: This experiment will use two easy methods of propagation of a Tradescantia zebrina that make use of tools at my disposal.

Method 1: Water propagation

  1. Snip five 2- to 3-inch cuttings from the mother plant.
  2. Trim the lower leaves until a node is exposed.
  3. Place node of each plant into a glass container with filtered water, keeping leaves out of the water as much as possible.
    Note 1: Due to the shape of the container, cuttings require more length to keep the leaves out of the water than the cuttings in Method 2. Some of these cuttings are angled between different nodes and leaves, resulting in more overall length.
  4. Place the glass container and cuttings in a well-lit window.
  5. Change the water every 5 days to 1 week, as needed to keep the water clear.
Water Propagation

Method 2: Soil propagation

  1. Snip five 1- to 3-inch cuttings from the mother plant.
  2. Trim the lower leaves until a node is exposed. Trim the cutting so that the length between the node in the soil and the top leaves is as short as possible.
    Note 2: Due to the shape of the nursery pot, cuttings in this method are much shorter than in Method 1.
  3. Place well-draining potting mix into a nursery pot that is as small as possible.
    I used a 2.5 inch square pot and made a mixture of 1 part perlite : 1 part African violet mix, because it was on hand.
  4. Dip the stem and node of each plant into rooting hormone.
    I used Wilson liquid root stimulator.
  5. Bury the stem past the first node into the potting mix.
  6. Place the nursery pot and cuttings in a well-lit window.
    Note 3: Although they are placed about 6 inches apart in the same window, the cuttings from Method 1 and Method 2 may receive different amounts of light, as they are shaded by an external tree or by nearby indoor plants.
  7. Water every 3 days to 1 week, as needed to keep the soil moist.
Soil propagation

Observations: They both got equally leggy over the next two weeks.

Conclusion: No difference, even with the benefit accorded to the cuttings propagated in soil. Lighting is probably more important as a variable to ensure compact plant growth. I gave the water-propagated cuttings to a friend after transferring to soil.

Here is the in-soil prop; I’ll likely repot it with the mother soon to create a fuller plant.

A family member gave me this pot, knowing my problems very well

Field notes — August 25, 2021

Oxalis triangularis, Leija

Unhappy due to the slight disturbance of having the top layer of soil replaced. Cry cry cry wilt.
  • Soil: moist; watered a couple days ago and then isolated after having seen pests in soil
  • Light: ~500 FC at 3:20 pm
  • Signs of pests: shiny things in the soil
  • Signs of care issues: none
  • Repotting:
    • removed top 1/2 inch of soil
    • refreshed with 1 part perlite : 1 part African violet mix : 1 part worm castings
  • Other care:
    • topped soil with diatomaceous earth as a pesticide

Scindapsus pictus ‘Argyraeus’, Argus

Elegant in temporary pot until the wall-mounted one is installed.
  • Light: ~240 FC at 3:20 pm
  • Signs of pests: none
  • Signs of care issues: none
  • Repotting:
    • moved from original pot into custom pot from bubble tea cup (to fit in ceramic wall pocket)
    • 1 part perlite : 1 part African violet mix : 1 part worm castings

Tradescantia zebrina, Audrey Tautou

Well that’s a, erm, haircut for you.
  • Soil: moist; watered a couple days ago and then isolated after having seen pests in soil
  • Light: ~500 FC at 3:20 pm
  • Signs of pests: shiny things in the soil, some leaf damage
  • Signs of care issues: some leaf damage (perhaps due to rough handling), yellowing leaves
  • Propagation: snipped ends off nearly all strands, as they’re quite leggy and I would like a dense little plant. Will be doing water and soil propagation as an experiment.
  • Repotting:
    • removed most of soil, but let what clung to the roots remain
    • refreshed with 1 part perlite : 1 part African violet mix : 1 part worm castings
  • Other care:
    • topped soil with diatomaceous earth as a pesticide

Kalanchoe marnieriana, Jareth

This is a deliberately not-sexy photo because I have such lovely ones coming up for the introduction post for this plant.
  • Soil: moist; watered nine days ago. Aerated soil today with a chopstick.
  • Light: ~500 FC at 3:20 pm
  • Signs of pests:
    • one mealybug
    • shiny coppery tiny things moving in the soil
    • orangey spider mites only on the soil (the mite might have checked on one of the coppery things as it was walking past? So it seemed).
  • Signs of care issues: Some leaf damage (perhaps due to rough handling or watering issues), yellowing, wilted leaves (likely due to overwatering and poor light previously)
  • Other care:
    • topped soil with diatomaceous earth as a pesticide

Field notes —August 23, 2021

Tradescantia fluminensis, Lorraine

Judie, owner of House of Plants, recommended round pots for trailing plants. I really have to agree the shape works so well!

When I visited my aunt a couple weeks ago, I saw her one indoor plant and said, “Oh! I have propagations of that one!”

And she said that this is her only indoor plant because it’s the only one that she doesn’t kill. And then she insisted I take some cuttings!

So I brought it home, and it’s been happy! Unfortunately, with the thrips outbreak, I ill-treated my original props while attempting to kill any thrips in the soil (there were no signs on the plant, but I saw larvae in the soil), and also killed the roots. I had to snip my props off before the spreading rot and stick them back into water to root again.

About a week and a half later, I don’t see any issues on either plant, so this morning I added my refreshed props to the pot my aunt gave me, and the height of the props well-matches the new plants. So it’s all working out and it’s now a nice, full-ish looking plant. Together, they will still be called “Lorraine”, because why not.


  • Soil: slightly dry
  • Light: grow light LEDs (white full-spectrum on a Dr Octopus-style fixture + red-blue seedling grow light LED panel), combined about 100 FC
    • Note: this was such a good reminder to check; the Dr Octopus light was not enough on its own by any means. I used the Lux app on my phone to measure.
  • Longest strand: 25.2 cm soil to node
  • Number of strands: 11
  • Largest leaf: 8.1 cm long
  • New growth: at the end of each strand, new leaves are coming–I just looked up how to branch the plant and learned that I can pull these out to encourage branching, so I’ve done so.
  • Signs of pests: None
  • Signs of care issues: None
  • Propagation: After just over a week, the props in water had good roots! Much faster than last time.
  • Repotting: Today, added props to the pot with others.
Grow light LED panel + Dr Octopus fixture from Amazon

Leaving the plants behind

I was out of town for just over a week, leaving behind a husband and dog who care for plants about equally well, so to keep it easy I moved all my “keep-it-moist” plants into the bathroom (and a couple there into the shower) and all other plants onto my desk where they receive medium light.

Plants on the desk.

I asked my husband to check the bathroom plants and give them water if the pot was light, which he did and they all look great!

The desk plants all seemed pretty healthy too; some needed water, some had some mold growth on top of the soil. I checked them over and moved them all to their original or better locations in the home.

And then, the next day…

For the first time ever…

I saw a small, thin, black bug hop away from me when I took a look at one of my plants. A thrips? Surely not? And then I saw it scurry under a leaf. And I saw a thing that looks like a thrips larva. Isolated the plant (peperomia hope) and sprayed it with insecticidal soap. Checked all my other plants–nothing seen. Whew?

But the next day: saw another thrips on the peperomia hope, and what seems to be thrips larvae in the soil of my tradescantia fluminensis, but no visible adults. Garbldfdjsksj. More spraying. I’ve ordered some neem oil and diatomaceous earth to hopefully combat existing thrips and guard non-affected plants from infestation. Checked all my plants again, but so far, I only see signs on these two. But they were placed several plants apart over the week I was away… so I’m not hopeful that they’re the only ones affected.

Hop, skip, and a jump for a thrips?

Oh, plant care. Why are you surprisingly anxiety-inducing instead of just happy chillness? But at least it’s fun.

Field notes — July 23, 2021

String of turtles, Irena

Irena with a too-small cache pot
  • Soil: moist; pot is heavy (last watered 3 days ago)
  • Light: 713 FC at 10 a.m., from the office window
  • Longest strand: 17 cm; that is 4 cm growth since purchase just over a month ago!
  • Number of strands: 12 notable strands (including branches), with more branching; up from 9!
  • Largest leaf: 12 mm wide (no change)
  • New growth: Yes! So many new little strands branching and little nodules that I think leaves will form from where strands have grown
  • Signs of pests: none
  • Signs of care issues: none!
  • Other care: Irena now lives with other succulents on the window ledge of my home office

Tradescantia fluminensis, Lorraine

New spot at the window; likely temporary location
  • Soil: dry; watered today; last watered 12 days ago
  • Light: moved from 5 FC at 10 a.m. on dining room plant shelf to 65 FC dining room window today
  • Longest strand: 7 cm from soil to base of leaves; 1.5 cm growth since June 27
  • Signs of pests: none
  • Signs of care issues: none new

Variegated wire vine, Anita

  • Soil: dry; watered today; last watered 7 days ago
  • Signs of pests: none
  • Signs of care issues: several leaves dropped; I think it may need more frequent watering. I should probably use filtered water too; I used tap water for convenience

Good to meet you, Tradescantia number 2

I think I was told that this little guy is Tradescantia spathacea, but it seems images online include a purple-red underside that this one does not have. So let’s see! More likely Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Quicksilver’?

  • Binomial name: Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Quicksilver’
  • Given name: Lorraine
  • Native to: Southern Mexico to Guatemala
  • Bought: June 16, 2021 at Plant & Curio
  • Grown in: Canada
  • Original pot: none; bought as a cutting with a couple roots; allowed to continue rooting for nearly two more weeks
  • Current pot: 3 inch square plastic
  • Soil: moist
  • Longest stem: 5.5 cm from soil to base of leaves
  • Number of stems: 2
  • New growth: little leaves at end of each stem
  • Signs of care issues: browning on tip of one leaf, some spots on an older leaf (likely due to transport; the leaves are very delicate); I cut off some very brown tips in the earlier week


  • Light: bright indirect; low light will result in more green than purple
  • Humidity: moderate, 40%
  • Temperature: 18 to 27 degrees Celsius is ideal; minimum of 13 degrees Celsius; keep away from drafts and fluctuation of temperature


  • Preference: lightly moist, occasionally dry; allow the top two inches to dry out; reduce watering in winter; too little water is better than too much

Soil, fertilization, and pots

  • Soil type: peat-based, loamy, good drainage; good-quality all-purpose mix
  • Fertilization: every 4 weeks with balanced, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer
  • Repotting: every couple years when plant is crowded, move up one size


  • Mature size: 15 to 30 cm high, 30 to 60 cm wide
  • Neat stuff: most Tradescantia grows downwards, but this one grows upwards
  • Common problems:
    Lack of humidity (signs: brown leaf tips)
    Spider mites (signs: webbing between leaves; pale, spotted, curled leaves; cut off affected areas and treat with insecticidal soap)
    Aphids (signs: sticky residue on leaves, especially new growth; isolate plant)
    Over-watering (signs: soft, limp stems; may cause root rot)
  • Propagation:
    Division: in spring; remove rooted offshoots from mother
    Stem cutting: cut with sterilized tool, root in soil or water

Research sources: North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant ToolboxGuide to HouseplantsHouseplant Central

Wave hi to my Tradescantia zebrina

Turns out the wall close to my window, where this little friend has been sitting, doesn’t get enough sun and it has been losing its purple colour. So, I moved it to the shelf against the opposite wall that does receive more sun and hopefully we can turn this situation around.

Look, the way the strands are oriented like fingers and thumb. It’s waving hi back!

Let’s get to know you

  • Binomial name: Tradescantia zebrina
  • Given name: Audrey Tautou
  • Native to: wetlands and rainforests in Mexico, Central America, Columbia
  • Given: June 6, 2021 by a friend
  • Original pot (current): 4 inch plastic

Field notes — June 26, 2021

  • Soil: 7 (moist-wet; watered two days ago)
  • Longest strand: 15 cm from edge of pot to base of leaf
  • Number of strands: 9
  • New growth: new leaves at ends of each strand
  • Signs of care issues: fading purple to green and leggy (needs more light)
  • Propagation: pinched off leggy section; placed in water

Research notes


  • Light: bright, indirect
  • Humidity: slightly more humid; otherwise leaves will brown
  • Temperature: 13 to 27 degrees


  • Preference: moist but well-drained
  • When: the top 50 to 75% of soil is dry, then drench

Soil, fertilization, and pots

  • Soil type: moist but well-drained
  • Soil pH: neutral to acidic
  • Fertilization: spring and summer, every 4 weeks with liquid fertilizer or half-strength every 2 weeks


  • Grow style: fast
  • Mature size: 15 to 30 cm tall, 30 to 60 cm wide; short lifespan before becoming very leggy, so propagate then
  • Neat stuff: “glabrous” is the term for not-hairy. My plant is hairy.
  • Common problems:
    Root rot (due to: overwatering)
    Spider mites (due to: low humidity. Increase humidity, rinse under running water)
    Too much light (signs: scorched leaves)
  • Pruning: pinch back long vines by 25% to encourage bushiness
  • Other care: skin problems can result from overhandling, especially exposure to sap
  • Propagation:
    In soil: one-inch stem cutting with at least one leaf, set it cutting-side down in fresh potting soil (no need for rooting hormone); water regularly; roots in a couple weeks
    In water: take 7 to 10 cm long cutting of healthy tip with new growth (below a leaf node, 45-degree angle) using a sharp, sterilized cutting tool; remove bottom leaves, place in water; put in sunlight; roots form in about a week, then pot in standard potting soil and treat as mature.

Research sources: WikipediabloomscapeWild Interiorsthe spruceGardening Know How