Pass-Along Houseplants: Grow a Jungle of Hanging Baskets from CuttingsBy Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologist)
December 23, 2008
Pass-along plants are a favorite feature of both my outside garden and my houseplant collection. Not only are they free, they're also usually easygoing plants that are readily propagated and grow well in a variety of conditions. In addition, pass-along plants carry the memory of the person or place they came from, and that makes them special.
My hanging basket plants started with a big spider plant from a discount store and a few sprigs of green trailing philodendron from my dear friend next door. Although I've added a few purchased plants, most of the trailers filling my mixed containers have been passed along to me as gifts or trades. My green and purple wandering jew came home in a paper cup from a BBQ place. Many of my other trailers came from DG friends. I've passed along a lot of snips from my plants in turn.
When you're rooting cuttings in water, change the water regularly to keep it fresh. Once roots are a quarter inch or longer, the cuttings can be potted up. Sometimes, I'll pot cuttings up one or two at a time in little 2-inch pots and transplant them once they've filled those pots with roots. Other times I'll use a shortcut method, taking clumps of cuttings and put them directly into larger pots. If I only have one or two cuttings available, I don't take shortcuts. But if I'm propagating from my own plants I usually have plenty of material.
I'd like to introduce you to some of my easy-to-grow favorites.
Wandering jew adds fast growing color and texture to mixed baskets. In addition to the familiar solid green, green and white striped, and purple varieties, you'll find smaller-leafed cultivars such as ‘Tricolor' (pink and cream). Root cuttings in water or moist potting mix.
Pothos vines are the toughest houseplants I know. They're commonly found in green and gold-variegated colors. Brighten corners with silvery variegated cultivars such as ‘Marble Queen' and ‘Satin'. Pothos will grow in any light, even in a windowless office lit only by fluorescent ceiling fixtures. Cuttings root quickly in water.
Swedish ivy will branch if you pinch it back to make a wonderful filler as well as a trailer for a container. I love the bright apple-green color and shiny scalloped leaves. It seems to do well with both wet and dry soils, so it makes a good companion for a lot of other plants. Root cuttings in water or moist potting mix.
Spider plants most often are seen in variegated or solid green forms. I also have a slower-growing ‘Hawaiian Spider' and an adorable curly version, ‘Bonnie'. The "spiders" can be snipped off the mother plant and root readily in an inch of water or in moist potting mix. My kitty enjoys "pruning" these plants for me to keep them under control. I'm not too concerned, as I've been told spider plants aren't toxic. They are also especially good plants for cleaning and freshening inside air.
Coleus are often included in my summer window boxes and containers, and I especially love trailing varieties. They are easy to overwinter by rooting cuttings in water to tuck here and there in your hanging baskets. Pinch them often to promote branching, and you'll be able to clip a lot of little tip cuttings for your spring planting.
Christmas cactus works nicely in the center of a mixed hanging basket or as a single-specimen planting. I like the texture of the succulent foliage when it's not in bloom. Pair it with spider plants, Swedish ivy, or another succulent such as an ice plant or sedum with similar water requirements. To propagate, take two or three "segment" cuttings (just twist or break to separate segments) and stick the base of the cutting below the surface of moist potting mix.
Philodendrons come in large upright cultivars but also in smaller trailing versions. Heart-leafed types come in green, lime, burgundy, and variegated shades. ‘Pink Princess' and lime-splashed ‘Brasil' are striking cultivars that may grow more slowly. Root cuttings in water or in moist potting mix.
Cane and rex begonias like a little more moisture than some of the above plants, so don't let them get too dry between waterings. They can be propagated from leaf cuttings, or you can separate rooted crowns from the main clump of the plant (easy to do when you're repotting). Even unrooted crowns will usually strike roots in moist potting mix, especially with a baggie over them for extra humidity.
There are a lot of other possible plants to add to hanging baskets. By starting with some of the above, mixing and matching among the different colors and cultivars available, you'll soon have a wonderful assortment of foliage baskets.
When your hanging baskets need a trim, pop the cuttings into a vase of water. That way, when a friend admires your lovely plants, you'll be able to send them home with an assortment of rooted cuttings to pot up. Before they know it, they'll be on their way to a pass-along jungle of their own!
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.
Move your mouse over the images for additional information.