Propagating Fittonia | In water or soil

The popular Fittonia (also commonly known as nerve plant) is mostly appreciated for its spectacular colors and pattern, as well as its small size. But did you know that this diminutive houseplant is also very easy to multiply? Propagating Fittonia is the perfect way to expand your own collection or to obtain free plants to give away.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about propagating Fittonia in water or soil, as well as how to care for your brand new plant(s)!

Propagating Fittonia through division

If you have a good look at your nerve plant, you’ll likely realize that the planter is actually filled with multiple separate shoots. This is because at the nursery, it’s common for a few cuttings to be placed together to make for a fuller look. On top of that, Fittonia can also produce its own offsets.

The above is good news for us houseplant enthusiasts, because it makes it easy to “propagate” your Fittonia through division, without actually having to take cuttings. Each new plant will already have its own established root system, meaning you don’t have to wait and hope a cutting roots. Quicker, easier and a bigger chance of success!

Dividing your Fittonia is best done by taking everything out of the planter, soil and all. Gently crumble the soil between your fingers until the individual shoots start loosening and can be separated. If you start pulling at them from above, after all, you’re likely to damage that precious root system.

Carefully separate the shoots and pot them up separately. If you’re not sure about the right potting soil type and planter for a Fittonia, scroll down to the last paragraph of this post. Although your newly potted nerve plants may look a bit cranky at first – they don’t particularly like being uprooted and moved – they should soon get over the shock and keep growing as usual.

Close-up of pink leaves of a nerve plant houseplant | Propagating Fittonia in water or soil

Taking Fittonia cuttings

If you prefer taking cuttings from your Fittonia rather than dividing the plant, that’s absolutely possible as well. This is a great method if your plant has gone a little leggy, which is actually common with this species. You just snip off the top, re-root it and then plant it back into the original container to give the whole thing a more compact and bushy look.

Fittonia roots well in both water and potting soil. You only need a small bit of the mother plant to cultivate a whole new nerve plant.

Here’s how you take a cutting to root:

  • Use a small pair of clippers, preferably cleaned with some rubbing alcohol.
  • Find a healthy shoot with enough stem to be able to make a cut.
  • Clip the stem right above the soil line. You’ll want a cutting that’s at least an inch or two (5 cm) long and has a few healthy leaves.
  • Don’t worry about the beheaded shoot left behind. It should regrow just fine with normal Fittonia plant care.
  • Good job! You’ve obtained a Fittonia cutting, which you can now root in water or soil (or even sphagnum moss, perlite or LECA if you’re being daring!).
Close-up of a pink nerve plant (Fittonia), a popular houseplant.
Today’s victim, which I used to illustrate this guide.

Propagating Fittonia in water or soil?

Water

Whether you prefer propagating houseplant cuttings in water or soil is mostly a matter of personal preference. Propagating in water is a bit easier and cuttings tend to root more quickly in water. Aside from that, little vases and propagation stations strewn around the house just look very decorative! The downside is that you’ll have to pot up the cutting at a later stage, and they can react to the switch from water to soil in a bit of a cranky manner.

There isn’t much to propagating Fittonia in water:

  • Find a container that fits the cutting’s small size, like a shot glass.
  • Fill the container with water and remove the lower leaves from the cutting. Leaves placed underwater can be a rot risk, after all.
  • Pop the cutting into the water and find a spot for it that’s warm and light, but doesn’t receive direct sun, as this can quickly overheat the water and cause algae growth.
  • Change the water every few days.
  • During the summer months, you’ll likely see the first roots pop out within a week or two.
  • If you’re propagating in winter, it can take significantly longer. No worries, as long as your cutting looks alive, it still has the capacity to throw roots at any time.
  • You can pot up your new Fittonia once the roots have reached an inch or two in length.

Soil

Placing your Fittonia cutting in soil means you won’t have to pot the plant up later. The disadvantage: you won’t be able to see the roots growing, meaning that for the first few weeks, you have no way to check whether your propagation attempt has been a success. You won’t be sure until the first new leaves start to grow, which can take a while if you happen to be propagating during the winter months.

Propagating Fittonia in soil is done like this:

  • Prepare (a) container(s) for your new plant(s) using a suitable soil mixture for nerve plants. Always use a pot with a drainage hole in the bottom to allow excess water to drain easily.
  • Remove the bottom leaves from your cutting so they won’t be buried in soil and start to rot.
  • Bonus step: dip the cutting in rooting powder. This can really speed up root formation.
  • Press the cutting’s stem into the soil, in such a way that it can’t fall over, and lightly moisten the soil. I like to do this using a spray bottle.
  • Bonus step (though definitely recommendable for an easy propagation experience): place the cutting and planter in a translucent plastic bag or propagator. Fittonia likes a bit of warmth and air moisture!
  • Place the whole thing on a nice and warm windowsill so it can receive plenty of light. Do avoid direct sun.
  • Keep the soil around the cutting lightly moist, but don’t soak it. Again, I find spraying works well to maintain a good moisture balance in this case.

You can give the cutting a light tug after a few weeks to see how things are going. If you feel resistance, great! It means a root system has formed. You can now treat the cutting like a “real” plant and switch to a normal Fittonia watering schedule.

Did you know? As mentioned in the introduction, you can also use other materials to root your Fittonia cuttings. Sphagnum moss is easy to keep moist, while perlite is great if you’re looking for a sterile medium.

Example of Fittonia propagation (nerve plant) in water and soil.

Fittonia care

As mentioned, once you see new leaves appearing on your cutting, you can be sure you’ve successfully produced a brand new Fittonia plant. Let’s quickly go over how to care for this popular houseplant to help yours live a long and happy life!

I have to admit: I’m not great with nerve plants, as I tend to treat all my houseplants like succulents. This works well for many tropicals, but not this drama queen. Woe unto you if you forget to water her! She’ll droop her leaves dramatically, only to come back to life after a sip of water. Just try not to leave your plant to dry out too often, as every “faint” does tend to cost a few leaves.

It’s also important to provide your Fittonia with plenty of light. This species is prone to stretching in low light conditions, which results in long, leggy stems with leaves growing further and further apart in an attempt to get closer to the light source. Not really nice to look at, so place your nerve plant on a bright windowsill.

Still want to know more, including about soil and potting? Have a look at the full Fittonia care guide. It has all the details you need to help your plant thrive.


If you have any more questions about propagating Fittonia or if you want to share your own experiences with this colorful little houseplant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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