Propagating Succulents and Cacti Back »

A variety of succulent cuttings.

Succulents are often some of the easiest house plants to propagate vegetatively or asexually, because so many of them can root and produce a new plant from a stem cutting, a division, an offset or even a single leaf! Another important aspect that makes propagating them so easy is that you do not need any special equipment to do it. All you need is a pot of potting soil, a brightly lit location and some patience.

Cacti and succulents are becoming more and more popular so many indoor gardeners are looking to either expand their collections or share some of their plants with friends. Asexual propagation is the easiest and fastest way to do this. Propagating a plant asexually means doing it by using a plant part, other than the seed. That does two important things for you right away. First, it will produce a clone or exact genetic copy of the parent plant and secondly, you will get a larger plant a lot faster. If you try to start cacti or succulents from seed, it might take a couple of years to get a plant the same size as it would take to root a stem cutting and get it growing.

Propagating Succulents

Asexual propagation is a common means of multiplying many kinds of plants, including house plants. Stem and leaf cuttings are fairly common among other house plants but the challenge with non-succulent type house plants is that you have to prevent them from wilting while you are waiting for them to form roots. One way to do that is to stick the cuttings in some rooting media or potting soil and cover everything with a plastic bag to keep the humidity high to prevent wilting. When these plants are propagated on a commercial scale, they are often placed in a rooting room with intermittent mist or fog that humidifies the air and keeps the growing media constantly moist.

Young offsets growing in small pots.

Succulents are much easier to propagate because generally you do not have to worry about the cuttings wilting. Succulents have a thickened, waxy cuticle or outer layer on their leaves and stems so they are resistant to water stress. In fact, it’s a good idea to allow your succulent cuttings to dry out for a few days or even a week or more, to allow any cut surfaces to callus over before you stick them into moistened potting soil to root. If you don’t allow them to callus, some may rot before rooting. Once you have them stuck in the potting soil, just sprinkle them every few days to keep them from getting too dried out.

Many succulents will root from stem and leaf cuttings like this jade plant.

Selecting Offsets & Cuttings

Select your cuttings from healthy plants. Generally stem cuttings from the tips of branches will work best but you can also use stem segments from lower down the stem too. Cuttings that are about 1 to 3” in length work best. Carefully remove the lowest few leaves so that there is a bare portion of the stem to stick into the potting soil.

Use sharp pruning sheers or a knife to remove cuttings from the plant.

Don’t throw away the leaves though, many succulent plants can be propagated by the leaves as well as the stems. Lay the stems and stripped leaves out on a piece of paper to dry in a location out of direct sunlight. Cacti can also be propagated this way, particularly if they produce offsets.

Cacti will often produce offsets that can be removed and rooted. Some cacti and aloe offsets.

Growing Offsets & Cuttings

Carefully remove the offsets and allow them to callus before pressing their bases into the propagating media. A few days to a couple weeks later, you can then stick the cuttings. You can use an ordinary flower pot or a flat, if you have a lot of cuttings to root. Fill the pot or flat with commercial potting mix or propagating mix so that it is about ½” from the top of the container. Insert the stem cuttings in, up to the lowest leaves and firm the potting mix around the base of the cutting so it does not tip over. Insert the bottom ¼ of each leaf into the potting mix. They can be lined up in a row if you wish or you can place several in a single pot. Space the cuttings or leaves a few inches apart to give the new plants room to grow.

Some leaves, like those of Kalanchoe, can even produce multiple plants from a single leaf. A new little plant can grow in the base of each “notch” along the outside of the leaf. It is best to just lay these flat, right side up, on the media so that the new little plants will be able to grow roots down into the potting soil. A single leaf can produce up to about a dozen little plants or more. Once they get a little size to them, separate them from their neighbors and pot them up, spacing them farther apart in a new pot.

Kalanchoe leaves will produce plantlets in the notches in the leaves.

Transplanting Tips

It will generally take six to 10 weeks for cuttings or leaves to root and start to show signs of new growth. Some cuttings may have some small roots, already beginning to grow before you remove them from the plant – those will root even more quickly and start growing in just a few weeks. Once you see that your cuttings are growing again, that is a sign that they are pretty well-rooted and can be transplanted to a new pot, which you will probably need to do if you spaced them pretty close together in a pot or flat.

A variety of cuttings that have rooted and are beginning to grow.

Leaf cuttings will generally take longer to produce a new stem than stem cuttings. Wait until the new plant is at least 1 to 2” tall before transplanting. Use a plastic label or small stick to lift each individual rooted cutting from the potting soil and place it in its new pot so that it will be growing at about the same depth as before. Firm the potting soil around the new plant and place in a brightly lit location for a few days before gradually moving it to a location with brighter light.

Echeveria leaf cuttings root easily and form new plants. Sometimes stems will already have roots, if not remove a few bottom leaves.
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