Why Do My Cuttings Keep Dying?

leafy02(6 Central Kentucky)August 29, 2011

I am starting to wonder what I'm doing wrong, because I am having no luck with cuttings of plants that should be "easy" to get started. Last summer my mom gave me several cuttings of two kinds of grape ivy--all the stems of one variety died. About two weeks ago I potted four rooted cuttings of variegated wandering Jew, and they are all dead today-- crispy and brown despite the fact that the soil mix is still damp :(

Am I keeping them too wet? Not wet enough? I am so sad about the wandering Jew, they were so pretty and fresh looking with nice root development when they arrived.

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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)


Sorry you're having trouble w/ this, but you don't offer any of the info. we need to assess this.

You haven't said how you're growing these, or where or how you are watering, or how much & what kind of light you are giving it. Without any of that info. we can't begin to guess if it's under or overwatering, wrong mix, too much sun or something else. If you could pls. answer the above questions & we could then TRY to help you.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:45AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Ditto Pirate Girl. We don't know what you're doing wrong until we know what you're doing PERIOD!

Keep your chin up, once the light bulb goes on you'll be able to root almost anything! There's lots of ways to be successful at this.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 12:16PM
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leafy02(6 Central Kentucky)

Sorry for leaving out the details. I planted the cuttings in newly purchased potting mix (I'm not home now so I can't look at the bag to name it) and the pots sit in my living room on the lower shelf of a table in front of an eastern window. They get a lot of light but no direct sunlight as the lower shelf sits well below the window level.

Other plants that are doing well in just about the same spot are a hoya, a Florida beauty, a dracaena marginata, and the sprigs of grape ivy that did not die.

In trying to get the wandering Jew cuttings established, I kept the soil moist at all times, not allowing it to dry out between waterings. I use tap water, usually that has sat out overnight or longer. The pot is a ceramic McCoy pot with drainage and attached saucer.

Does this help?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 1:20PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I would suspect too much fertilizer in the potting soil, in conjunction with possible overwatering. You said the plants "arrived." Were the cuttings mailed? Were the roots from water or soil (if you could tell?) It sure has been hot...

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 5:06PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The rooting of cuttings is energy-driven, and most houseplants 'peak' insofar as their energy levels are concerned in late summer, so late summer will find hobby houseplant growers realizing their highest strike %s if they follow a few simple guidelines.

Oxygen is an element essential to the success of cuttings. You want LOTS of air in the medium you're using to root cuttings. Use a coarse medium that doesn't support perched water; or, if it does support perched water, be sure you use a container deep enough that the proximal end (closest to the roots) of the cutting is NEVER covered by a film of water. Think 'DAMP', not 'WET'. You'll also want to reduce the leaf surface area in most cases, eliminating some leaves or cutting them across the veins. This is to help reduce the amount of transpiration. If the plant can't keep up with the volume of water lost through foliage, the plant will SHED the foliage as a normal drought response, which is not conducive to rooting.

Essentially, when you're trying to propagate cuttings, it's a race to establish a healthy hydraulic connection between roots and shoots before fungal organisms rot the plumbing. For that reason, try to steer clear of a medium that contains any form of mineral soil - garden soil, topsoil, unsterilized sand ......

Here is an effective way to keep humidity levels high & assure a high success rate:

Neatly cut the top of a clear gallon jug. Stick your cuttings in a coarse, sterile medium like washed and screened perlite (in open shade). The plastic tray has holes in it so it drains after you water the cutting. After the cutting strikes, remove the screw on cap to allow more air circulation, then gradually remove the 'tent' entirely. I've probably done at least 100 cuttings to share already this summer using this or a similar set-up.

Here is a Ficus microcarpa recently rooted under the milk jug for a friend.

Notice the wick hanging down to drain excess (perched) water from the soil - practicing what I preach about the 'damp, not wet' thing. Let me know if you want a pic of some of the other cuttings done in such a manner; especially let me know if you have questions .....


    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 9:08PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Hey, leafy...I think that I've misunderstood your posting. Are you trying to keep ROOTED cuttings alive or are you trying to root some cuttings. ;-)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 10:29PM
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leafy02(6 Central Kentucky)

Hmmm, I'll try to answer as best I can.

Purpleinopp, my wandering jew cuttings did arrive in the mail. They had no soil on them when I got them, had been packed in wet paper towels and looked perfectly healthy when they arrived. The roots area was about the size of a penny on each one and the cuttings were about six inches long. My grape ivy cuttings I took myself from my mom's plant, wrapped in wet paper towels to get them home, sat them in water until I saw roots starting to grow, then planted. That was back in early spring and not the same potting mix as my recently departed wandering Jew.

tapla, so it sounds like you're saying the problem might have been too much leaf surface for the root development to support,fungus, or too wet soil?

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:17PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's difficult for anyone to pinpoint an exact cause of failure from an armchair ..... much easier to outline the areas that need attention if you're to expect consistent success. Soggy soils and too much transpiration for the plant to keep up with water loss, as well as exposure to fungal infection are all common causes. Also, cuttings taken from weak parent material have the deck stacked against them from the outset.

For most plants, 'ideal' would be a highly aerated, sterile medium (like screened perlite or screened Turface) that is damp, but not wet. Root zone temperatures in the 60-75* range with air temps being about 10* cooler than root temps. Bright light but not direct sun, and high humidity (90%+) surrounding the cutting. If you want me to, I'll take some photos to show you how I would prepare a herbaceous and a woody cutting for propagation .....?


    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 8:58PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I agree with the surface-area theory and mostly strip something like coleus but, assuming that by "wandering jew" you mean one of the Tradescantias, that wouldn't ordinarily be a factor. I do think it would have been wilted if it was damaged by heat in transit. So that doesn't sound like the culprit. Sometimes plants don't adapt well when they go from "water roots" to soil. But definitely not usually total failure of several known-to-be-easy-to-root cuttings.

Some potting soils come with fertilizer in them that could overwhelm "water roots."

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 11:33AM
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I'd place the Wandering Jew in water until they're fully rooted. Once roots are 4" or more, pot in soil.
WJ roots fairly fast, though quicker in spring/summer.

Grape Ivy roots in water too, but might take longer. Toni

    Bookmark   September 2, 2011 at 2:31PM
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