Why can't I "soil" root any plants?

Lamora(4)October 25, 2012

Hi all. I hope everyone is doing well :)

I have been looking up on soil vs water rooting, watching videos, reading and listening, and for the life of me I can NOT figure out why I cannot soil root my starts! I can water root them, and they do fine,they go into a bit of shock when I put them in soil, but they do fine in a few days. (I know water/soil roots are different and they change from one to the other)

I recieved a Christmas Cactus a few weeks ago, no roots, put them in soil like was told to, and NOT to my surprise, they are not doing well at all. No roots yet. I don't see how you could water root those, I tried to on a TC once, didn't turn out well, but I tried.

I have tried several different types of soil and mixes, and the end results are the same, either they die or I end up putting them in water to root.

I keep the soil/mix moist, not wet. Small containers. Light is as good as I can get right now, but even in summer with natural light, results are the same.

I am hoping that someone will say something new that will click and I will understand what I am doing or not doing...

Any advice or sugesstions would be very much apprecieated, by both me and my starts~~ :)

Marjie~ (afraid to start anything new now)

p/s-- excuse my spelling-- stupid spell check went bye-bye and doesn't seem to want to come back- lol

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Hi Margie,

Don't feel bad, I have the same problem. :(

I rarely take cuttings these days, but when I do/did, cuttings are rooted in water. (except for succulents.)

As for TC's. Some claim they root TC's in water..It's possible, but I'd worry about rot.

When plants are outside, often, strong winds knock plants down..I can't tell you the number of times CC segments broke off during a fall.

Ironically, I'll stick a TC cutting in another pot, let it be..it roots..But if I'm trying to root a TC cutting, more often than not it fails.
I've stuck TC segments in an aquarium, 'odds and ends,' w/hood, and they rooted. Fairly high humidity, but soil dries quite a bit..whenever I remember to water.

If you have extra cuttings, root some in soil others in water.

I've never had problems changing water rooted cuttings to soil. They might appear a little wilty at first, but within days look fine.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 2:04PM
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Perhaps because the soil's always wet? See my response to a similar question in the link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Play Misting For Me

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 2:19PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Here are some of the reasons that I can think of off the top of my head:
- not taking the cutting at the right location on the stem
_ cuttings are too long or of too large diameter
- the mother plant is weak or sick
- rooting medium is crappy, mucky
- wrong time of year
- rooting medium not watered properly
- being too impatient.....pulling the cutting frequently to check
- too many leaves on the cutting

Once you get it figured out, you'll soon expect close to 100% success. Do you have any idea what you might be doing wrong or are you questioning some of the steps?

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 3:57PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

What other plants are giving you trouble with propagation?

Toni, you and cactusm had what I thought was a similar point. A piece stuck in another plant's pot doesn't have to worry about the soil staying wet, the established plant is using the water in the soil.

I think high humidity helps a lot with this kind of thing, so why I usually try to do it outside.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 4:18PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Hmm, I find that TCs and others will produce ariel roots while growing, and if you take a piece with a root attached you might get better luck.
Me I just take a piece off, allow it to dry for a few days to a week, then plant it up. I put one piece back in with the mother plant, it soon rooted.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 5:08PM
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rhizo~ thanks for the list, there were a few that I had to think about that may have gone wrong.
The starts were pretty long, some segments were already divided, where there were 3-4 on the divided ones. I didn't take any off, just planted them like that.I didn't know a start could be too long.. learned something today..

I haven't pulled any out to look at the roots, just the ones that have died already. The ones left over look wrinkled and limpy, so right now I am just assuming they have no roots.

purpleinopp~~ just about any un-rooted plant. Even my baby spider plants do this. I had some that I just let go and grew roots before taking them from the mother,(air rooting) and they barely survived the soil rooting, think from now on I'm just going to let them stay on Big Ma-ma Spider!

greenlarry~ I didn't think about letting them sit for a few days, and I even heard of that too! Silly me. No mother plant to plant with. These were a gift from someone here, so they are on their own.

Ok, so being what they are, do you think it is too late to start over? Maybe take them out, dry for a few days, put back in mix and mist daily? IF they have no roots, that is.

Another question, should I be feeding them at this stage? I have been feeding them when I water, could that be the problem too? Do you feed your starts? Any starts~~ Or just water them. I have been using filtered water for all my plants, (yes, I'm picky) is that good for starts too? Maybe it is a combination of everything.. I've never had to deal with un-rooted plants before, this is new to me. Very exciting when it works, but a big let down with it doesn't. ;)

Anyway thanks for the info and input, it was all very helpful and something to learn about. And yes, I am taking notes!

Thanks again,
Marjie :)

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 11:44PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Ah you never feed cuttings! Only feed healthy established plants.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 3:23AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

On doesn't fertilize cuttings. When newly potted the fresh soil has what they need for a few months at least.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 7:23AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

pls pardon my typo, meant to say 'one doesn't...' sorry.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 7:25AM
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Some things when rooting need bottom heat, especially this time of year when the temperature in my house is about 60 degrees. This can improve your chance of success if you are doing the rooting at the "wrong time". So keep them warm. And yes, it makes no sense to fertilize until the plants have the roots to take it up, Yes also to misting cuttings, which gives you something to do that doesn't include giving the cuttings more water than they need to their detriment.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 8:23AM
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Barbara just mentioned bottom heat I was about to suggest - you can put pots with your clippings on top of the fridge, that will keep them bit warmer (or buy heat mats - but no need to spend $$$)

Leave the limpy-wrinkled up ones in the pot, they still may root. How long ago did you pot them? Just make sure not to overwater.

I have couple of cuttings in the pot for about 2mo, actually they were pieces that fell of/broken off. They were sitting on the plant table for at least couple of weeks, so definitely callused (that is recommended to do with succulents).

One on the right has a little 'sprout' now right in-between the segments. One on the left is little limpy, but I'll just leave it there until after New Year or so, & will see.
(There are some other succulent leaves in the same pot to be rooted; I only mist the pot couple times a week).


    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 9:08AM
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I tryed water rooting too. Never worked though. I have tryed rotting with bark based media but it was hard to keep it watered. Potting soil worked 100%. I only wtaered if the soil got bone dry. They are either thanksgiving or christmas cactus. They are blooming now so I think they are thanksgiving cactus. They took a month to get nice sized roots though.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 11:29AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)


We've said this repeatedly, but when they bloom doesn't determine what kind they are, that can be forced & manipulated.

If the segments' edges are rounded, they're likely CC, the jagged, angular edged ones are TC (Easter cactus have rounded edges, sometimes red tinged, but a completely differently shaped bloom). Pls. search for the link called Holiday cactus.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 11:40AM
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OK~~ no feeding starters! got it! I was just watering them with the same water I use on the other plants, when dry, of course, it had food in it.. so ok, now I know.

I potted them Oct 5, so it has only been a few weeks. I just don't like how they look now. They looked so much better in the box they came in! :(

And the top of fridge? HAHAHAHAHA! (now I gotta go pee! ok I'm goofy tired, sorry) No room on it! Small house, so little space for real storage. But the house is kept pretty warm (mom is cold all the time) so I don't think I need a bottom heat source... but something to think about, we do have a heating pad if I need it.

So change of plans, keep them where they are, mist a few times a week, do NOT feed them, let them be, keep fingers crossed and hope they decide to be the plants I know they can be.. right? Anything I mist? (pun intended /sigh... gonna be a long day if I start out like this.. lol)

thanks again everyone :)
Marjie~~ learned something today already!

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 11:54AM
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Warmth, bottom heat if possible, some sun and regular spritzing will root almost any succulent plant in / on top of soil (I like insertion rather than contact rooting because you don't have to replant it intothe soil). Bottom heat, especially in times of ambient cold / less sunshine (like fall in most northern places), is a real bonus. I say almost any because you don't want to try to root something seasonal (like a Tylecodon) in, for example, summer, when that plant is dormant anyway. Except for the hottest times of the year, if you can provide the above elements in sufficient quantity, almost any succulent plant cutting / leaf can be rooted at any time of the year. I've got a picture I'll go all Missouri and show you - those little nubbins are forming inside and in quantity. One leaf to rule them all....

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 11:57AM
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Purple, that's the problem...soil doesn't stay wet. Maybe too dry?

With all the rain we've had, plants rooted in-ground are growing like weeds..
Speakiing of weeds...Warning about Callisia. Remember I planted ONE cutting? Now it's growing in several areas, including the back yard..lol.
Since your plants take off like a jet, 'I've seen your garden,' the one Callisia you planted will be everywhere.

Marjie. I don't fertilize...but do add SuperThrive.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 11:58AM
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This is what it looks like, to me the color is still good, but what do you think?

Think it has a chance? If I follow the advice here, that is.. ;)

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 1:48PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

lamora, have you tried putting a plastic bag over the cuttings (not if they are cacti or succulents) rather than spraying? And also not watering them so often? This would only be for real cutting ie no roots. Not necessary for spider plants which already have roots. My other thought is that maybe you are expecting results too quickly. I propagated a white TC by simply letting the pieces callus (as greenlarry mentioned) and then sticking them in a pot and ignoring them for a couple of weeks before watering, then ignoring again. A watched pot never boils and a watched plant never roots, maybe?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 1:52PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

It's fine as is, you just need to pls. leave it alone & give it time to establish (on its own timetable, not one you may have in mind, sorry).

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 2:25PM
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flora_uk- yeah, I'm guilty of expecting too much too fast, but when they start dying on me so soon after planting, I tend to panic.. I'm working on that too. Forgot about the plastic bag trick, another note to take.

pirate_girl, I think that is what I am going to do. Just let it sit and hopefully take off. Keeping an eye on it all the time.. kinda like watching paint dry, or grass grow..lol. I guess it is a waiting game... and don't be sorry, I need to be reminded.. :)

But I do feel better about this subject now, it is a learning exp. Even failure is good, then you know what won't work and you can do something else that may work. Right?

Thanks again :)

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 3:56PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

One of my cardinal rules is that I never try to root a cutting that looks sick or wilted. Some of those cuttings of yours don't look so hot. Do they?

BE SURE THAT THEY HAVE SOME MOISTURE! I'm a little worried that you are so paranoid of watering too much that the plants are becoming dessicated.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 4:07PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

I wouldnt cover a pot of succulenr cuttings with plastic!
No need, put it in soil and forget about. Theyll root...

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 5:24PM
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rhizo~~ they didn't look like this when I got them :) and no, they don't look well. this all happened after I put them in soil.. and this is maybe only half of what I recieved. The others did not make it this far. :( poor things.. The watering thing, can't seem to get that either, they are either too wet or too dry, can't seem to find the "just right" for them. So maybe the misting will help in that area.

greenlarry~~ to tell the truth, I am very afraid to try plastic bags. Thinking I would sufficate it. I would need someone to show me just how to do it before I try that.. on any plant, Just a 'me' thing I guess.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 7:29PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

It won't suffocate them because plant dont breathe oxygen. What it does is create high humidity, which is the death of succulents.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 5:19AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

greenlarry - I did say "not if they are cacti or succulents".

Lamora - put the bag over the top of the pot, making sure it has air inside and is as 'blown up' as possible. Don't let it touch the cutting. Put an elastic band around the top of the pot to secure the bag. You want it airtight so the humidity in the air stays inside the bag and the plant doesn't dessicate.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 8:32AM
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Larry...although TC's are true cactus, they're epiphytic, therefore don't have the typical requirement of other succulents.
TC's require humidity.

That's where plastic comes in.

Marjie, do you have a clear, plastic bag lying around? If so, place the pot inside the plastic.

If you enclose the bag airtight, you may not have to water, but check soil periodically in case soil does dry.

If you fear wrapping the plant entirely, you can cut slits in the plastic for air circulation.

Either way will work.

As I stated above...when a TC segment broke off mom, I tossed the cutting in a pot atop soil...with success..Didn't apply effort, no digging a hole then placing segment inside. But, during summer humidity is high so nature takes care of greenery. 'Outdoors.' There's no need to place TC cuttings in plastic during humid, summer months.

Indoors, especially this time of year when air is dry, a different approach is needed.

Don't fear using plastic. Think about it as a temporary green house. :) Toni

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 10:51AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Sorry, do I misunderstand Toni? Are you asking she bag up the TC cuttings rooting above? If so, I believe she'll have quick rot on her hands.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 12:50PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

TCs require humidity, cuttings of them dont.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 1:43PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Thanks for the nice email, Marcia. :-) I wasn't criticizing you at all and am sorry you took it that way. Your picture of the wilted cuttings simply reminded me of another factor that might help contribute to your success in rooting cuttings in soil.

You might be interested in knowing that I've seen more problems with holiday cactus due to under watering than over watering. With a nice looking, coarse textured medium such as the one I see in your picture, you shouldn't worry about drenching your plants upon occasion.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 4:21PM
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Anytime I repot a member of the Crassulaceae (Echeverias, Crassula, Kalanchoe, Graptopetalum and the like) and I want more plants, I sprinkle some leaves from the mother plant onto some spare surface of mix in a pot. As you can see below, aside from the mother plant (it's a cristate of some Pachyphytum / Graptopetalum ilk), all those starts are from rooted leaves on the surface of the soil mix which have been misted about 3x a week the last month and a half they've been inside. I think that with the Crassulaceae, which have a proclivity for rooting when a few basic requirements are met, we can have an offset party any day of the year.

The Haworthia will come out of there when it's rooted, which should be about now.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2012 at 7:56PM
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