How to root an epiphyllum cutting Best Practices

How to Root an Epiphyllum Cutting: Best Practices

Most people have rooted a plant cutting or seen it done. There are a variety of ways that work for different plants. Some do best rooting in water, some in dirt. Some do better with rooting hormone, some don’t need it. Some people use cinnamon or honey to treat cuttings. There are many different rooting options and combination of options, but what works best for epiphyllum cuttings? Here is our considered opinion.

How long after the cutting is removed from the parent plant should I wait before attempting to root it?

When the cutting is made, there is an open wound along the edge of the cut. This soft area allows much easier access for bacteria, viruses, and may attract certain insect pests. It is much more likely to form rot than properly dried and callused edge. Therefore, we strongly recommend waiting about 7 days from the time the cutting was made before attempting to root it. There is some evidence that the callus material that forms around the edge during this time has a higher concentration of auxin and helps promote faster root growth. Wait about 7 days, but how long could I wait after removing the cutting from the parent plant? Depending upon how and where it’s stored, a cutting can remain viable a considerable amount of time. Easily three months, some have reported much longer under ideal storage conditions. We may see it start to lose moisture over time causing it to appear to thin out and become wrinkly. That’s ok. If it gets too dry, you’ll see the edges begin to get potato chip-thin and crispy- that’s dead tissue and will spread if conditions are not changed. Conversely storing it in an environment that’s too moist can cause infection and rot.

Should I use Rooting Hormone on my Epiphyllum cutting?

Rooting hormones help create more roots faster. Most are either natural or synthetic compound that are identical or similar to the hormones that plants produce when trying to produce roots. A common one is Indole-3-butyric acid or IBA. This is a natural compound that is found in low concentration in plants. According to a joint work by Robert L. Geneve, Professor, University of Kentucky, Sandra B. Wilson, Professor, University of Florida and Fred T. Davies, Jr., Professor Emeritus, A&M University, IBA results in a higher number of roots per cutting than other rooting hormones or lack of an added rooting hormone. That said, Epiphyllums are epiphytes meaning that they grow adventitious or aerial roots that they use to cling to tree back high above the forest floor. In their natural environment, they put down roots at almost every opportunity. In domestication, they root easily and reliably without the addition of rooting hormone. The short answer is, rooting hormone isn’t needed for epiphyllums, but may increase initial root density to some extent if used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Overuse of rooting hormone can damage the tissue and lead to issues with rot.

Which End Goes Up?

When you get your Epiphyllum cutting, you may notice that is already has small aerial roots often at the top or growing tip of the cutting. In the wild, these would help it find anchor points on the bark of tropical forest trees. In time, these would also be able to absorb water and nutrients from the nooks and crannies in the tree bark. If you plant the cutting upside down with these aerial roots in water or soil, they will grow out into roots and the plant will do fine. The branches will tend to grow downward from the areoles instead of upward as they would normally. The overall development of the plant may be slower as well. Epiphyllum cutting rooted upside down

CAPTION: Epiphyllum cutting rooted upside down, showing inverted branch growth and new basal growth. Photo by EpiphyllumsOnline.com, all rights reserved

We recommend planting the cutting with its natural orientation: the lower end (where the cutting was made) in the ground, and the growing tip above. This leads to a more natural appearance and faster overall development. If you have many cuttings from your own epiphyllums, you can experiment. We've even tried bending them over and planting both ends. (Both ends rooted and new branches formed all along the sides and we got good basal growth as well.) Double rooted epiphyllum cutting

CAPTION: Epiphyllum cutting rooted at both ends. Photo by EpiphyllumsOnline.com, all rights reserved

Should I root Epiphyllum Cuttings in Water or Soil?

 Both methods work for Epiphyllums, but we recommend rooting in a light, well-draining potting mix. In our propagations we use a compost-based potting mix and add roughly 1 part perlite (or sand) to 4 parts potting mix. The soil should be loose and not packed down so as to allow proper aeration and “wiggle room” for the roots to grow easily. Why do we choose soil? Roots formed in water tend to be more delicate and are accustomed to being wet. Transitioning them to soil can damage them during and after the replanting, giving the cutting and root formation a setback and an additional risk point. Because the water roots are delicate they can be physically damaged when handled and buried in soil. Dead root tissue may be an invitation to rot. Secondly, because they grew in water, the roots are suited to be wet and may become desiccated and die when the environment is radically changed. Typically, the finer root hairs have difficulty making the transition. In other words, when moved from water to soil, the roots are challenged, and the plant needs to take a step back to regrow or repair roots. If rooted directly in soil, the roots may be somewhat slower to start, but once they start, they don’t face a sudden change in environment that gives them a setback. 

Secondly, water rooting increases the chance of the cutting rotting before rooting. Rooting in a dry nutrient-poor soil gives the lowest chance for decomposition to begin before roots appear. High nutrient soil at this stage can inhibit root growth since very small roots are able to draw plenty of nutrients they don't need to reach and grow as much.

Where Should I Put my Epiphyllum Cutting While Waiting for Roots to Form?

As true members of the Cactus family, Epiphyllums don’t grow leaves (except as spines on some varieties). Instead, their stems and branches contain chlorophyll and take care of all the plant’s photosynthesis. So, an Epiphyllum branch cutting can produce energy from light to help power the growth of roots. Placing your rooting cutting in bright indirect light can help it to root faster and begin new growth above the surface more quickly. Remember, Epiphyllums live naturally between the forest floor and the upper canopy in dappled sunlight. They can be burned by direct sunlight. While rooting, normal household temperatures are fine, 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit works pretty well. Colder temperatures may slow the plant’s metabolism and inhibit root growth. The addition of a heat mat under the soil (for those being rooted in soil) can help increase the rate of root growth somewhat.

When should I Start Watering my Epiphyllum Cutting?

If your Epiphyllum cutting has no roots, it derives no benefit from water in the soil. As a cactus, it stores water in it branches and stems and can survive for many weeks or months without water. There is no need to water your epiphyllum cutting at all until roots have formed. In fact, watering before roots have formed may encourage bacterial growth, insects, fungus, and rot. You can check for root formation without digging up the cutting by very gently tugging on the stem. If there are roots, you should feel them trying to hold the cutting in the soil and resisting your gentle pull. It will take about two to six weeks for roots to form- your mileage may vary. Once roots have formed, you can begin watering. Start lightly. You want the majority of water to drain through the potting medium and out the bottom. When there are few roots, the plant has a lower capacity to remove water from the soil, so water lightly at first and increase over time. At any stage in the plant’s development, you want the soil to dry out down to 2-3 inches from the top before watering again, but never bone-dry all the way through.

How do I Know if My Epiphyllum Cutting Has Successfully Rooted?

Aside from gently tugging to feel resistance from the roots grabbing the soil, new growth is the best indicator of a successful rooting. If your cutting had thinned out during the process, you may notice it plump back up before new growth starts indicating that it is successfully taking up water from the soil. Then, you may see either new branches growing from the areoles (notches) on the sides of the stem, or new stems growing up from the soil around the base of the plant (called basal growth). Both are clear indications that your epiphyllum cutting has successfully rooted.

Cinnamon?

Cinnamon is said to have antifungal and antibacterial properties. It is also said to promote rooting. Many Epiphyllum enthusiasts and growers of other tropical plants swear by it. We've never used it, nor had any issues from not using it. If you want to learn more about it, here's a link to a video in which the maker of the video tested cinnamon vs. non-cinnamon treated cuttings for root growth. His sample size is too small for a conclusive finding, but certainly shows no harm in using cinnamon. 

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