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Make more succulents via vegetative propagation |
Jessica Walliser, Columnist

Make more succulents via vegetative propagation

Jessica Walliser
Jessica Walliser | for the Tribune-Review
Succulents, such as the varieties growing in these containers, are easy to propagate via cuttings.

Succulents are very popular plants due to their tough, resilient nature and interesting looks. Known for their fleshy, water-filled leaves, succulents are drought-tolerant. They come in a wide diversity of unique forms and sizes, and depending on the species, they can be grown indoors or out.

While cacti may come to mind first when thinking about succulents, the truth is that cacti are only one type of succulent. There are thousands of species of succulents that are not cacti. In fact, most of today’s popular succulent varieties are not covered with spines. Instead, they have smooth leaves.

Because succulents are such trendy plants at the moment, they sometimes come with a hefty price tag at the garden center. This is especially true for varieties that are more difficult to find. Thankfully, succulents are easy to propagate at home, and you can grow dozens of new plants from a single mother plant.

Succulents are easily propagated via asexual, or vegetative, propagation. These propagation techniques use a piece of an existing plant (called the mother plant) to grow new daughter plants. Unlike animals, plants exhibit totipotency, which means that every cell in a plant contains all the genetic information necessary to form a whole new plant. To vegetatively propagate a succulent, a piece of the mother plant is cut off and used to generate new plants by planting it in a particular way. Vegetative propagation is fast and easy.

Two techniques

The best way to propagate succulents is through leaf cuttings. This can be done in one of two ways.

Technique 1: Use a clean, sharp knife to cut a single leaf from the mother plant. Dip the cut end of the leaf in a dusting of rooting hormone (available online or from local garden centers). Tap off the excess hormone before inserting the base of the cut end into a pot or flat of clean, sterile potting soil.

Water the leaf cutting in and keep the soil around it consistently moist, but do not keep it saturated like you would with some other types of leaf cuttings. Succulent cuttings are prone to rot in overly wet conditions. But, do not allow the soil to dry out, either.

Also unlike some other plants, do not cover your succulent leaf cuttings with a plastic bag to retain moisture. Just put the pot with the new leaf cutting on a bright windowsill, out of direct sunlight. All you have to do is monitor the moisture level, water when necessary and wait.

A month or two after taking the cutting, a new little plantlet will grow at the base of the leaf cutting. The original leaf rots away, leaving a brand new baby plant behind. Watching the new plant form and grow over the coming weeks is really fascinating.

Technique 2: This method also involves using a single leaf from a mother plant. But instead of inserting the cut leaf base into the soil to grow one new baby plant, the entire margin of the leaf is used to grow many baby plants at once. Large-leaved succulents, such as sedums, kalanchoes and echeverias, work best, though you can try it with smaller-leaved species, too

Start by severing a leaf from the mother plant. Then, use a sharp, clean knife to make a series of small, quarter-inch nicks every half inch around the entire margin of the leaf. Once the cuts are made, roll the margin of the leaf in rooting hormone, making sure to dust every cut with a sprinkling of the rooting hormone powder.

Lay the hormone-dusted leaf down flat in a tray or pot filled with sterile potting soil. Hold the leaf down flat against the soil by tucking the entire margin of the leaf down into the soil just a little bit, or pinning it into place with a few pieces of wire bent into a hairpin shape. If it’s a larger leaf, you probably won’t have to do anything at all to hold it in place; the weight of the leaf itself will keep it flush against the soil.

As with the previous technique, keep the soil constantly moist, but do not cover the pot with plastic. Place the pot in a sunny windowsill.

A new baby plant will begin to grow from each cut you made around the leaf’s margin about four to six weeks later. You can sever the baby plants from the mother leaf as soon as there’s a bit of resistance when you tug on them (this can take several months). You’ll see delicate, little roots growing out from the bottom side of the mother leaf. Each tiny plantlet can eventually be transplanted into a larger pot. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they grow.

Starting succulents from cuttings is fun and easy. Plus, it’s a great way to expand your succulent collection or grow plants to share with friends.

Sometimes, however, making more succulents is even easier than taking a cutting. Some succulent varieties naturally form offsets from the mother plant. These tiny plantlets form to the side of the mother plant and can easily be dug up, separated and repotted into another container.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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