How to successfully propagate succulents
Anyone with a plant habit knows it can be an expensive hobby, whether it’s blowing a small fortune on the rare plant you’ve always wanted, or when your single plant purchase turns into five.
Luckily for plantophiles, growing things are skilled at reproducing themselves fairly quickly, either by producing babies naturally or rooting from cuttings. And when it comes to propagating (the process of cloning a new plant from a parent), there’s really no easier place to start than succulents. You can throw a handful of succulent leaves on a pile of dirt, water them now and then, and watch little plants form in a few months.
However, if you want to make sure your rare plant cuttings are successful, there are a few things you can do to maximize your results. Here are a few of our tried and true tips for succulent propagation:
Choose good soil
Buying a high quality, organic cactus mix is the easiest and fastest method for most people. If you already have organic potting soil on hand, however, you can add equal parts natural sand and perlite to the soil for the same effect. I fill seedling trays about an inch and a half deep with a well-draining mix, giving my tiny plants room to grow before they have to be re-potted.
Take good cuttings
Unless you’ve decided to use the entire plant for propagating, you’ll only want to take 3 or 4 leaves per plant. Choose the shiniest, healthiest midsized leaves for propagating—tiny leaves tend to dry out and die before they can root, and older, withered leaves are also less likely to reproduce.
For some succulents, all you have to do is press down at the base of the leaf to separate it cleanly from the stem at the node (the slightly larger part of the stem where leaves form). For others, you’ll want to use a pair of sharp scissors to trim as close to the stem as possible.
Some people lay their leaves on a tray or dish for a couple days, allowing the cut to callous over. I skip this step and place them flat on the soil, moving the tray under a bright light or to a south or west-facing window. I never water during this stage—without the callouses, the leaves are more likely to suck up too much water and explode.
Once two or three days have passed, you’ll want to mist your plants regularly and thoroughly. Some people recommend watering every other day, but I’ve found this largely depends on the time of year, your climate, and the amount of light you get. In winter, I watered my propagating tray whenever I thought about it (which was really not that often) and still had a pretty high success rate.
After the roots form and babies pop up, you’ll begin watering for real—it’s very important they never get too dry at this point. These babies are thirsty, and they need moisture to grow.
I always use a plant light for my propagating tray—we have a lot of grey, rainy days around here, and I like to keep succulents going year-round. If you have lots of sunny days, however, you’ll be fine with a south or west-facing window during the spring and summer. If you want to keep succulents propagating during the winter, you’ll need to take them out of the window once temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
Depending on the plants, you might see roots forming as soon as two or three weeks, and teeny little plants start forming in two or three months. I don’t recommend cutting off the parent leaf until it is completely brown and dry; at that point, the baby has taken all the nutrients it needs and it can manage on its own.
Repotting your succulents
You can transplant the babies once the parent leaf is dead and it is well rooted, but chances are higher it won’t survive the shock. Some people recommend waiting until the succulents are the size of a quarter, but I’ve found many varieties are sturdy enough to move when they reach the size of my pinky nail.