Rooting succulents in water

Water Propagating Succulent Cuttings

Growing roots on a succulent cutting is one of the most important and exciting parts of succulent parenthood! You may have a succulent that’s grown too big and unwieldy, or one that’s taken a tragic tumble and snapped from its roots. OR you may have accidentally left your succulent where there wasn’t enough sunlight, and it s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d too tall to support itself. Whatever the reason, propagating in water is a fun alternative to soil propagation for those who want to see big results in minimal time.

Let’s dive right in!

Getting Started

1. Prepare your cutting.
If your succulent has an offshoot (a new stem with a rosette) you can snip it right off the mother plant, remove the leaves below the rosette, and use that as your cutting. If none of your succulents have offshoots, you’ll snip the mother plant’s stem an inch or two below the rosette, and remove the remaining leaves. Be sure to leave the rest of leaves on the mother plant to encourage new rosette growth. Let your cuttings callus over for a few days.

2. Pick a jar.
We recommend using a glass jar, like a mason jar or old jam jar. Whatever you choose, just make sure that the jar is clear so that sunlight can pass through.

3. Set it up.
Fill the jar up with water and situate the cutting so the stem is a few millimeters above the water. This will encourage root growth downward, towards the water. If your succulent cutting is too small to balance on the rim of the jar, you can cover the jar with plastic wrap, poke a hole in it, and stick the stem through the hole. Place the jar in a sunny window.

4. Grow time.
The water in your jar can evaporate. Check in on it periodically and top it off if you see that the stem is more than a few millimeters above the water. It can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks for roots to sprout, depending on your climate and environment. Eventually the roots will reach into the water, that is totally okay. Water alone will not cause root rot. Check out this side-by-side of what 3 weeks of root growth looked like for us:

Potting Your New Plant

It’s up to you to decide when you want to transplant your succulent from water to soil. We recommend waiting until you have at least an inch-long root system. Before you pot your succulent, remove it from the water and allow the roots to dry out on a paper towel for a day or two. Your roots will be pretty fragile at this point, so handle with care.

Once dry, gently nestle the roots and bottom half inch or so of the stem into cactus soil. Make sure your soil doesn’t have added fertilizer, they can be too harsh for the new roots. Keep your succulent in a bright location where it can get a day’s worth of bright, indirect light. A couple hours of direct light is ok, but the succulent is still somewhat fragile, so avoid prolonged direct sunlight. From here, simply maintain a regular watering schedule for your new succulent. A good soak about once every two weeks should do it.

More of a visual learner? Check out the how-to video below!

Why choose water propagation?

1. Low Maintenance
Once you set your succulent over the water and into a sunny spot, you can pretty much ignore it for a few weeks while the succulent does it’s thing. At most, you’ll need to check in every once in a while to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated too much.
2. Witnessing the Results
When you plant a cutting directly into the soil, you don’t get to watch the roots grow. And pulling the plant out of the soil to see if it has any roots every week or two can be disruptive for the plant going through that process. With water propagation you can keep an eye on it every step of the way, from the first sprout to the giant root ball at the end.
3. It’s Pretty
If you’re looking for a cool new way to display your succulents (while making more succulents at the same time) water propagation is your jam. Go to your local thrift store and pick up a bunch of glass jars in all different shapes and sizes. Then take cuttings of some of your favorite or most colorful succulents and put them all together on a sunny windowsill! Once their roots get going you’ll be in plant parent heaven!

Remember, propagation isn’t always a guarantee that you’ll get a healthy new plant. It’s all about trial and error. If you have any questions, we are always here to help, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

Ready to try out water propagation for yourself? You’ll need some succulents first! Take $5 off your first Succulent Studios box and we’ll get some super cute succulents delivered right to your doorstep.

The great succulents hoax: Don’t sell those roots short

I consider it a cruel hoax when succulents planted in weird containers adorn the pages of books and magazines. I find them planted in wood, recycled metals, seashells and just about any other item with a depression capable of holding a tiny seedling. Succulents don’t need much of a root zone because they hold moisture in their leaves and stems.

This is why you can put one inside a shot glass and it won’t wilt. But when the stored moisture eventually runs out, how is it replaced with little or no root zone? Inevitably, they curl up and are tossed into the compost heap.

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Succulents are highly variable and not nearly as cast-iron as you might think. Many are born in the moderate coastal conditions of South Africa. These adapt well to humidity in succulent epicenters such as San Diego, with its mild maritime climate. Other succulents are found in the Namibian desert, where it hardly ever rains, surviving on little more than fogs that creep inland from the Atlantic coast. Add cactuses and agaves from the Americas, which are just as diverse in their preferences. With so much variability, how can we stuff succulent plants into super-small containers with impunity and expect them to thrive?

If you’re ready to jump into the succulent-plant melee this summer, beware of these unsustainable examples. Sure, they might work for party favors or garden shows, but this is not a long-term solution. Treat succulents like real plants if you want them to grow large, bloom and produce offset “pups” that yield endless new plants for free.

Succulents need a root zone. Dig up a mature field-grown succulent and you’ll find a rather large root system. Thick roots reach deep and travel far to gather what little moisture falls. Some types are vigorous rooters, filling a 6-inch pot in no time.

Deny a plant enough root zone and it won’t grow larger. Plants have a remarkable ability to just sit there for a long time as they gradually lose interior moisture. The normally hard stems and leaves become more resilient to the touch, with slight surface wrinkles that tell you they’re almost out of gas. If the roots don’t dehydrate beyond function, they will absorb moisture when it returns. If they become so desiccated that the root cells die, adding water stimulates rot that travels rapidly through the tissues. The result is a soft, brown gooey thing where once a succulent grew.

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Succulents need drainage. In short, you can’t plant them in any container that lacks a drain hole. That means that most aren’t good terrarium candidates, despite their popularity in these glass-enclosed environments that have little to no opportunity for moisture evaporation. Sure, a layer of pebbles inside an undrained container can help keep the root zone drier, but when this reservoir becomes full, then what? While in theory the pebbles should work, this inevitably becomes an ugly bacterial soup of pathogens that love to attack succulents.

Succulents need oxygen. If you study most cactuses and other succulents in habitat, they tend to grow in extremely porous soils that are more like sand or gravel compared with typical ground. Often they’re found in dry stream and lakebeds of southern Africa, where the soil is so coarse no other plant can survive there. The gaps between soil particles should never fill with water, because it replaces oxygen to create anaerobic conditions. This is not uncommon when the wrong potting soils are used for succulent plants. It also occurs when drainage holes are too small or clog with organic matter.

Succulents are easy, but don’t fall for decorator ideas that aren’t rooted in plant science. Give them the right home with a root zone, well-drained soil and long periods between watering. Do it right, and your plants will grow and bloom as nature intended.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at [email protected]

Root Rot and Succulents

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Root rot is the bane of many succulent enthusiasts’ existence. A seemingly happy and healthy succulent can practically up and die overnight.

Don’t worry – we’re going to discuss how to identify root rot, how to treat it, and how to prevent it. Your succulents (and your sanity) will survive!

Table of Contents

What is Root Rot?

Root rot refers to a range of diseases that affect plant roots. Most of them simply cause the root to rot and die, which starts a chain reaction that kills other roots and, eventually, the whole plant.

Most root rot is caused by overwatering. Many people don’t realize it, but plants do most of their “breathing” through their roots – that’s why loose, aerated soil is important. They also use oxygen, not just carbon dioxide, to do photosynthesis. When roots stay wet for a long time, either because you water too frequently or the soil doesn’t dry out fast enough, the roots don’t get enough air and so they “drown”. This process starts slow but spreads pretty quickly, rotting all of the roots and soon the whole plant.

Some root rot is pathological in origin, meaning it’s caused by some aspect of nature. In this instance, by a harmful fungus or bacteria. This is pretty rare for succulents, especially since most are grown in pots or in the ground far from their native habitat. Root rot caused by disease is functionally the same, but requires different treatment.

How to Identify Root Rot on Succulents?

There are two primary ways to get a positive ID on root rot.

From roccommunity.org

The Roots

If you unpot your plant and clear off the dirt, you can get a good look at the roots. Healthy roots should be white or yellow. Ideally, you’d also be able to see a very light fuzz on the roots which is either root hair (the natural root structure for drinking water) or a mycorrhizal fungi (a highly beneficial symbiotic fungus that helps with nutrient uptake). Realistically, though, unpotting the plant will have destroyed most of the fuzz (which isn’t a big deal but can be harmful if done repeatedly).

If you check the roots and see that they are a light brown it means they probably dried out. That’s not root rot. Root rot appears as dark brown or black roots that are almost always wet and slimy. They will likely disintegrate if you touch them (or as you pull them from the soil). Rotting roots are often accompanied by a mild smell of rotting vegetation.

Realistically, though, most people don’t check up on their plant roots all that often. It would be a big coincidence if you were repotting and just happened to find the beginning stages of root rot.

The Stem and Leaves

At the advanced stages of root rot, symptoms will begin to appear on the stem of the plant and then the lower leaves. In both cases, they will gradually become paler and turn yellow. Eventually, it will become mushy and that means the damage is done. Once it’s mushy, there’s no fixing it.

It’s possible to catch a succulent’s stem turning yellow and reverse root rot, but it’s very difficult. Several kinds of succulents’ leaves obscure the base of the stem. Once the rot has spread into the stem it’s unlikely to be able to be healed anyway.

Here’s an important note – if only the lower leaves are turning yellow, it’s probably overwatering. If only the top leaves (or the whole plant) are turning yellow, it’s probably a nutrient deficiency.

How to Treat Root Rot on Succulents

Whether or not you can fix root rot before it kills the plant is dependent on how early you catch the issue. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty sneaky illness and is rarely caught early enough to be cured.

From Garden.org

Drying

Letting your succulent just “dry out” is a potential fix, but it doesn’t usually work.

It’s only very effective if the rot hasn’t spread past the roots into the stem yet. I’ve seen it work before once the leaves start turning yellow, but waiting for it dry out and hope it heals is a pretty risky strategy at that point. If you happen to be repotting and see some struggling roots, you should leave it unpotted for a few days to air out and dry while you try the next strategy.

Trimming

Again, this is only helpful in the infrequent circumstance of one discovering root rot while repotting. You can trim off the affected roots liberally, making sure to cut a few centimeters above the last obviously infected root. The idea is that it’s possible the internal part of the root is rotting too, and it’s important to remove ALL the rot or else it can continue to spread.

Root trimming is part of positive pruning practices anyway, so don’t be worried about chopping up plant roots.

Beheading

If the rot has spread past the roots and into the stem or leaves, this is your best bet.

Arguably, you’re not “treating” the succulent. Beheading is just a type of propagation, after all. It’s more like salvaging a part of the plant. I’d definitely recommend this in most situations, however. A succulent with rot in the stem has maybe a 10% chance of survival, but cuttings propagate successfully at least 80% of the time.

You can even use this in combination with the other strategies. Cut well above the rotted part – at least two inches if possible since rot travels up the center before being visible on the outside. Treat the cutting as you would any other cutting (throw it in some dirt and don’t water it for a bit). Clean up the base of the plant by trimming the roots and letting it dry, then replant it. It might start growing again. It might die. Who knows? At least you saved something.

Sulfur

Sulfur is occasionally recommended to treat root rot, so I’d like to address it. Sulfur does not cure root rot caused by overwatering.

Sulfur’s purpose in gardening is to acidify the soil. It’s sometimes dusted onto plant roots when they are replanted to act as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent. While it is certainly effective at killing off microbes, it also harms the beneficial ones. You shouldn’t use it in a preventative manner because you’ll harm your local microbiome (and your plant’s future health). Only use sulfur to treat diseases you know are already present and infecting the plant or soil.

Since the overwhelming majority of root rot is from overwatering, sulfur is useless. If people say it helped, it’s probably just because they took the time to unpot it and dry the roots.

How to Prevent Root Rot

Preventing root rot is pretty easy.

If you’re concerned about the pathological kind – don’t be. It’ll probably never happen. If you’re super paranoid, sterilize your potting soil by baking it it in the oven at 250 degrees F for 30 minutes.

As for the overwatering kind of root rot… just, uh, don’t overwater.

If you need a more detailed explanation of how to water properly, check out this in-depth guide. Here’s the short version:

  • Water infrequently, but use a large volume of water when you do.
  • Ensure your container has drainage holes. Planting succulents in a terrarium or teacup or whatever is begging for root rot.
  • Use good, well-draining soil (has to be used in combination with drainage or it doesn’t matter). We recommend a gritty mix like Bonsai Jack. Otherwise, check out this other detail guide on succulent soil and how to make your own.

Are aerial roots on succulents normal?

Notice how these Crassula rupestris are extremely dried up at the bottom and have put out a lot of new air roots.

This plant is also very stretched out due to lack of sunlight. Lack of sunlight can sometimes cause a succulent to put out air roots.

While this isn’t always the case, it is more likely for a succulent to send off aerial roots when it is starting to stretch out.

Do all succulents grow aerial roots?

Nope. It tends to be the succulents with a stem, such as Echeverias or tender Sedums. Generally you won’t see aerial roots on Haworthias or Aloes.

Also, if you are watering correctly, you likely won’t see aerial roots at all.

You are more likely to encounter air roots with succulents that grow quickly and are in their active growing season. For example, these Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ and Graptopetalum paraguayense grow quite quickly and tend to stretch out easily if they don’t get enough light.

Again, you’ll notice that these plants are all very stretched out. The Graptopetalum paraguayense also has limp wrinkled leaves indicating that it needs more water.

What should I do about the air roots?

You don’t need to remove the roots, although you can if they are getting too unsightly. However, be sure to water your succulent more deeply (not necessarily more often) and make sure it is getting plenty of light.

If you leave the roots attached, they may eventually harden or thicken and look like a small branch. This is normal.

While aerial roots aren’t a huge problem, they are something you should be aware of so you know how to adjust the care of your succulent. This is an early warning sign that your succulent isn’t as healthy as it could be.

And remember, if you haven’t already, be sure to download my free cheat sheet to see what it looks like when your succulents need more or less water. Click here to get the cheatsheet.

If you have had your succulents for a while, you may eventually notice aerial roots or air roots forming along the stem and obscuring the beauty of the plants. While this isn’t a major problem and would not cause the plant to die, this is a sign that your succulents are not as healthy as they should be. It’s time to take notice of them, water them and put them under the sunlight.

When you see aerial roots along the stem of a succulent plant, it only means it needs extra attention from you. After all, you’re the only one this plant depends on, so you have to know as many information as you can about what aerial roots are and how they can be addressed.

Aerial roots are just roots that grow on the stem of the succulent rather than the soil. They are usually pink or white in color. They form on succulents that are either not getting enough water or not getting enough sun. When the plant is in a humid environment, this could cause the aerial roots to grow from their stems, too. Remember that succulents absorb water through their roots from their surrounding environment.

When growing succulents, make sure to use a soil with large particles because this is essential for the health of the plants. If the succulent plants are not getting enough water, they will start to search for more and would eventually branch out through the stems. This is when aerial roots start to form. The message is: “Hey, I’m thirsty and I need more water to grow and thrive.”

Lack of sunlight would also cause a succulent to form aerial roots. You will notice that a plant is lacking sunlight when it looks stretched out. Just like in water, the plant itself is telling you that it needs more sun. One of the first signs of an unhealthy succulent plant is the dried up leaves at the bottom. If you notice that the leaves are starting to dry, then you could probably expect the aerial roots to form in a day or two.

Not all succulents grow aerial roots even when they are dehydrated. Aerial roots tend to grow from succulents with a stem such as Echeverias or tender Sedums. You won’t see aerial roots on Haworthias or Aloes. And of course, remember that if you are watering correctly, aerial roots won’t start to appear.

In terms of plants, you are likely to see aerial roots on succulents that grow quickly and are in their active growing seasons. The Graptoveria Fred Ives and Graptopetalum paraguayense grow quickly and stretch out when they don’t get enough sunlight.

Don’t worry because your problems with aerial roots can be solved easily. You don’t have to cut them off, though you can remove them if they are getting too unpleasant. Simply plucking them out carefully would do the trick. More than that, what you need to do is water the plants correctly and make sure they are getting plenty of light. That should do the trick of preventing these aerial roots from growing.

This entry was posted in Succulents and tagged in succulents.

Aerial roots is a topic I see coming up repeatedly in the questions people ask me about their plants. It is a really common problem and it can be quite alarming to suddenly see roots where they aren’t supposed to be.


So first off, what exactly are aerial roots? Aerial roots are roots that grow out from the stems of your plants. They are usually white or pink and can seem to appear quite suddenly.
Aerial roots are not a great sign, they show that your succulent is struggling a little. The good new is, with a little care, it is usually quite easy to put things right again.
First and foremost check that your succulent is getting enough water. Aerial roots can be your plants way of reaching out to grab any moisture they can. The leaves on your succulent should be plump and firm, if they are looking wrinkled or are a little soft to the touch then you might be under watering or not watering deep enough. When you water your succulents you should give them a nice drenching, a little spritz of water isn’t enough.

The wrinkled leaves on this succulent show a need for water

Another possible cause is lack of nutrients, just like you your plants need to fed the right nutrients to stay healthy. If you haven’t re-potted your plant in a few years now might be a good time. Some nice fresh soil will help to give them some much needed nutrients. Fertilising over Spring and Summer is important too. I fertilise one a month over this time.
Lastly check your plant is getting enough light. Often aerial roots will happen on plants that are etiolated . Make sure that your plant is in a bright spot.
Going through this list and making any changes that may be needed should help to stop aerial roots. If you think the aerial roots are unsightly you can chop them off but do make sure you find and treat the root cause.

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