How to Propagate Plants

How to Propagate Plants and how to propagate succulent plants from cuttings

by megan
Published: Last Updated on
How to Propagate Plants, propagate succulent plants from cuttings
My propagation station

The beauty of plants is that if you look hard enough, creating an abundant indoor jungle can be super cheap if done through propagation (though, you know, I do love me some exotic plants). If you’re interested in finding out how to propagate plants, and the method I use specifically to propagate succulent plants from cuttings, then keep reading. I’m going to show you my favorite tricks and my success rates.

I’ve found pieces of plants dropped on the ground outside of farmers’ markets, stores, and on the streets (note that I’ve never clipped from plants that weren’t mine. Please don’t steal!) and had great success getting them to turn into little wee baby plants all their own.

note that I’ve never clipped from plants that weren’t mine. Please don’t steal!

What is propagation?

First, let’s define what it is we’re talking about here. Propagation is the process of growing plants from cuttings, seeds, or root sections. There are many ways to propagate plants, and the most common methods are by rooting cuttings taken from stem, root, or branch tips; layering; and seed propagation. You can also plant seeds and let them grow into new plants, though this isn’t really “propagation” as much as growing plants from seedlings.

For a quick run-over, to “propagate” means to create a root system from a piece of plant that previously had none of its own. This can include leaves, stems, cuttings, or flowers. The level of success when trying to cultivate new plants from each of these sources depends on the method of propagation, time, and the ability to leave it alone.

How to Propagate Plants

The trick is knowing which way to propagate plants! There are a few different methods. But I’m going to cover the three most popular ways: air, water, and soil. (Getting some The Craft calling-the-corners vibes here.)

So let’s cover the different ways and some tips to make sure you pick the right method for your plant; whether you want to expand your indoor houseplant collection or want to propagate succulent plants from cuttings, it’s easy to get the hang of no matter what type of plant you’re using:

Water propagation

This is the way I learned first and has been the most successful with clippings or when I’m trying to save a plant by propagating a fallen leaf (Calatheas seem to really work well for this). Water propagation is just sticking a clipping in a clear vessel (I use shot glasses for smaller guys and mason jars for bigger cuttings) with distilled water or rainwater and putting it in a sunny spot. After a few weeks, little baby roots will start to form.

Once it’s stemmed, the plant can be moved to soil BUT this doesn’t mean that the plant is good to go.

Those roots developed in water, so they’ll be accustomed to moisture. You’ll have to slowly train the roots to become adept at handling drier soil mediums.

The best thing to do is set up a plan to transition the plant from water to soggy soil. Once it’s become acclimated you can then transfer it from soggy soil to a more “normal” soil and watering routine.

Don’t stick them in soil right from the water propagation and expect it to flourish! It will take a few extra steps before the plant becomes strong enough to handle regular soil and watering routines.

Alternatively, I’ve also just stuck clippings directly into my aquariums as semi-aquatic plants. They love the nutrient-rich water but be advised: Once they go into the aquarium, they can’t go back into soil.

Soil propagation

Soil propagation works best for flowers, leaves, and stems. To ensure success you may want to use a rooting medium to help give it a little oomph. Make sure the cutting has been cut cleanly with sterile tools as you’re introducing soil into a fresh wound on the cutting. So the fewer germs and bacteria involved, the better. I use Isopropyl Alcohol and make sure to wipe it off (don’t let your shears soak!) before doing a clean cut. Use little seedling pots and make sure your soil mix has additives that allow oxygen to get into the soil and the cutting.

Air propagation

I’ve only tried to propagate succulent plants from cuttings using air propagation, so I can’t say how successful it works with other types of plants. Air propagation simply means lying the succulent leaf on top of the soil. Don’t worry about having to drive it directly into the soil; since desert plants typically live in dry, loose soil it’s fine to sit the cutting on top and leave it be.

I will mist the leaf, but rarely do I actually water the soil and after a few weeks, a little baby succulent plant will grow. Once you see the baby (it’ll look like a mini succulent stuck onto the leaf) you can pop it off and discard the “mother” leaf. However, it’s not a requirement to discard the mother; I usually just leave it alone and let it do what it’s gotta do with the discarded materials. 

How to Propagate Succulents

Thankfully, most succulents are prolific breeders, and propagating them is fairly easy.

To propagate succulents, you must first understand their growth habits. Succulents grow best in well-drained soil that is kept moist but not wet. You can propagate succulents by division (AKA cutting), but be sure to use a sharp knife to avoid damaging the plant’s roots.

step 1: Take a cutting.

Take a cutting from a succulent you want to propagate. Make sure the cutting is healthy and free of any diseases. If the succulent is in a pot, make sure to remove any of the roots before taking the cutting. You can also try propagating fallen leaves from succulents but make sure the leaf is plump. If it’s begun to wither, chances are it won’t make it through the propagation.

step 2: Set the cutting on fresh potting soil tailored for succulents.

Succulents require dry soil like the soil they typically grow in naturally in the desert. I just use the Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix that you can pick up at Home Depot or Lowe’s, but I’ve also heard good things about their Succulent Potting Mix, too.

step 3: Keep the cutting in a warm, bright spot.

Keep the cutting in a warm, bright spot and water sparingly until it roots. Once it roots, you can water it more regularly.

step 4: Once the cutting has rooted, repot it into a new pot.

Once the cutting has rooted, repot it into a new pot and water well.

A Note about how to propagate succulent plants from cuttings

propagate succulent plants from cuttings

To me, trying to propagate succulent plants from cuttings is the easiest way for any beginner to get started. Succulents typically like to be left alone to do their own thing. If you’re going to focus solely on succulents (which I recommend if you’re starting out), look for plump cuttings that haven’t started to get flimsy or feel moist. Those are typically too far gone. Try to look for cuttings that are bright in their color (I know some succulents are pale shades so use your best judgment) and that have a little bounce if you lightly squeeze them.

Succulent cuttings typically develop roots around 2 weeks if they’re viable. Remember that these desert plants like to be left alone, so don’t baby the cuttings too much or you’ll love them to death.

Troubleshooting common houseplant propagation problems

1. My cuttings aren’t developing strong roots

There are a few things you can do to try and help your cuttings develop strong roots. One is to make sure the soil is wet when you take the cuttings, as this will help them absorb water and nutrients. Another thing you can do is to place the cuttings in a container of water with some plant food added, like fertilizer. Finally, make sure the cutting is kept moist and protected from direct sunlight or cold temperatures.

2. My succulent leaves get mushy instead of developing roots

If you’re trying to grow a succulent plant from a leaf but the leaf feels soft and mushy, it’s likely that the succulent isn’t getting enough water. Make sure to water your succulent regularly and make sure the soil is well-drained. You can also try placing the succulent in a sunny location or adding a layer of moist sand to the soil around it.

3. My cuttings keep withering in the soil

If your cuttings keep withering in the soil, it’s likely that the soil is too dry. Make sure to water the soil regularly and add a layer of moist sand to the soil around the cutting before you plant it. You can also try growing your cuttings in a succulent potting mix instead of regular potting soil.

4. The mother plant is dying after I’ve taken a cutting!

The mother plant may have gotten bacteria in its cuttings, which will cause the mother plant to die. Be sure to sterilize your cutting tools before use and make sure to avoid getting any bacteria on the mother plant. Try to give it a little TLC by ensuring the soil stays moist, the plant gets indirect sunlight, and give it a light fertilizer to help it get back on its feet.

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