How to Propagate Succulents
The camels of the plant world, succulents store water in their leaves and stems and are extremely tough and drought-tolerant.
Succulents are easy to care for, come in a variety of shapes, colors, and textures, and make a great household plant.
Once you buy one, you’ll want more. The great news is that it’s very easy to propagate a succulent, and expand your garden with new plants at very little cost to you.
What is Propagation?
Propagation is the process of making new baby plants from different parts of an existing mother plant.
You can propagate succulents by using its leaves, stem cuttings, buds or offsets, and even seeds. The part you’ll use depends on what kind of succulent you want to propagate.
Why Should You Propagate?
Propagation is an easy and inexpensive way to grow your garden.
It’s as simple as plucking a leaf from one plant to start the process of growing another.
Plus, succulents make nice gifts for friends and family, and propagation allows you to make these fun, unique gifts for practically no extra expense.
The Best Time to Propagate
You can propagate succulents all year round but the best time is during the spring and summer months when they are actively growing.
If you already have succulents at home, you might have noticed they tend to grow soggy over time. Propagating soggy succulents helps guarantee your plants stay full and lump.
Also, look to see if your succulent appears stretched out. This is called etiolation. Etiolation is when a plant, having not received enough sunlight, stretches itself to search for the sun.
Pruning during etiolation is easier and helps your parent succulent maintain its shape.
Preparing for the Propagation
Before you start cutting or plucking, follow the steps below to set yourself up for success.
Identify your succulent
Identifying the type of succulent you have is crucial in determining the proper propagation technique. Unfortunately, succulents come in all shapes and sizes and can be tricky to identify.
However, you can learn the genus of the succulent by observing a few details, and knowing the genus will help you pick a propagation technique.
Alternatively, upload a picture of your succulent to plant-identifying apps, like PlantSnap. If neither of those options works for you, a local nursery will be able to help.
In trying to identify your succulent plant, answer these questions:
- What kind of leaves does it have? Spike-like, pebble-like, or rosette-like leaves?
- Are they any flowers on the succulent?
- How tall is the succulent?
- Do you see “babies” growing on the big leaves?
- Does the succulent have any unique colors on its leaves?
Then conduct a simple search on the internet to classify your plant into its suitable genus.
Select the Right Type of Propagation Technique
Like we said earlier, most succulents in the same genus propagate through the same ways. Here’s a list of plants sorted by different propagation techniques.
Propagation by leaves:
Propagation by cuttings:
Propagation through buds and offsets:
After reviewing some optional tools for the process, we will cover each of these propagation methods in detail.
Tools to Propagate Your Succulent
Although tools aren’t required, it’s good to have them handy. It makes the job easier, faster, and cleaner.
Plus, some succulents may be full of spines and not ideal for plucking by hand.
So, what tools should you have with you before you start propagating?
Sharp shears or scissors
While you can always pluck a leaf by your own, it’s recommended to have at least two pairs of shears in order to not damage the cutting.
One pair should be a strong set of pruning shears and the other pair a set of trimming shears, in order to cut in tight places.
Shears don’t always work the best when cutting tough succulents with a dense core, like agaves and cacti. So, keep a clean, sharp knife handy.
Remember to keep your knife sheathed when it isn’t being used, to reduce the risks of an accident.
As you move from cutting one plant to another, the cuttings may develop infections.
Apply some rubbing alcohol onto a paper towel and gently wipe the blades of your tools after each time you make a cut.
Gloves protect your hands when propagating plants, especially when working with plants with spikes or poisonous sap. Gloves can also work to help the chances of accidentally cutting yourself.
How to Propagate Succulents
Before you start propagating, make sure the plant is healthy and plump. To do so, water the succulent properly a day or two before, using the “drought and flood technique”.
This allows the leaves and stems to soak up enough water to survive on their own until they form their own roots.
Now, onto the actual propagation techniques.
Propagating via Leaf
The most simple and most common form of propagation, propagation by leaf, is a great option for succulents with leaves and stems.
Some genera that work well with leaf propagation are Echeveria, Graptopetalum, Graptosedum, and Pachyveria.
Remove the leaf
As mentioned above, it’s best to remove a leaf a day or two after the plant has been watered. Why?
The water provides much needed nourishment until the leaf starts developing its own roots. Think of it as preparing your car for a long ride with a full tank of gas.
Cut the desired leaf with a pair of clean, sharp shears or with a knife. Start at the bottom of the succulent and work your way up until you find a healthy leaf.
Make a clean cut and you’re done.
However, it is also possible to pluck a leaf yourself without using a knife. Again, start with a healthy leaf at the bottom and wiggle it back and forth, and up and down.
Make sure that you are really close to the stem so you don’t want to rip out the leaf. Keep wiggling it left to right and up and down until there’s a clean break.
Don’t limit yourself to just one leaf. They aren’t all going to be viable, so the more leaves you have to work with the better.
Allow the leaves to callus over
When the leaves are removed from the stem, they form an “open wound” and are susceptible to diseases.
So, just like us when we have a small cut, they create a layer to protect themselves from all the possible bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This protective layer is called a callus.
It happens on its own and takes anywhere from 3 to 10 days.
Keep the plant and the leaves in a clean tray or dish, away from sunlight and moisture, until a callus forms.
You can also keep the leaves on the top of the soil of your current succulent, but then make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight and don’t water your succulent while the leaves are present.
Wait for roots
Once fully calloused over, simply move the leaves to a spot with sufficient indirect sunlight. This helps the roots grow without burning up the leaves.
Take a plate of pebbles or a tray of dirt and place the leaves on top. Remember, at this stage the leaves do not need any water.
You will start seeing roots within a few weeks
What to do when the roots appear?
When little pink or white roots sprout, slightly cover the leaves up with dirt or pebbles. Try to keep the roots moist and alive until the plant is further established.
This is the only time when misting or spraying water on your succulent is ideal. Still, this new succulent doesn’t need much water, so mist conservatively.
Caring for the new plantlet
A sign that you are doing good is when a little baby plant starts to form attached to the leaf. You might feel tempted to pop them off the leaf because they are just so small and cute.
But doing that takes away their main source of nutrition and that’s going to decrease their odds of surviving.
Restrain yourself, because once the new plantlet is ready, the leaf is either going to fall off or dry up completely.
That’s when you know the baby has matured enough and the shriveled leaf can either be cut off or planted along with the baby. (Keeping the leaf inside the soil).
Propagation via Cuttings and/or Beheading
Beheading may sound intense, like some sort of medieval capital punishment, but it is actually a healthy process for your succulents.
Normally, when we cut branches from succulents we say we are “taking a cutting”. But when it comes to rosette-shaped succulents, it is commonly referred to as “beheading”.
Similar to leaf propagation, beheading is suitable for plants with pronounced stems. Some genera that work well with leaf propagation are Echeveria, Sedum, Graptopetalum, Graptosedum, and Crassula.
This type of propagation is mostly used to correct etiolated succulents. When a succulent is placed at a spot where it doesn’t receive enough sunlight, it becomes elongated and “leggy”.
It doesn’t look attractive and doesn’t go back to normal even if it receives enough sunlight afterward.
So, the best option you have is to behead the rosette and you will have two beautiful succulents. Just make sure they receive enough sunlight this time.
Decide where to cut
Ideally, you would want to cut the outward stem that is furthest from the main stem. And how much to cut off? It’s up to you really.
But cut at least 3 inches from the top of the terminal end. The length of the cutting has no effect on how fast the roots grow.
Just make sure the cutting is a healthy section of the plant with full leaves. The healthier the cutting is, the higher the odds of survival and the faster the rate of growth.
Make the cut
Now that you have your spot figured out, it’s time to bring in the shears or knife Just make sure it is sharp enough to make a clean and precise cut perpendicular to the stem.
If you accidentally crush the stem as you cut it, just go a little upward and cut again, making a clean and nice cut.
But be careful, as crushed stems are less likely to successfully heal again or develop roots.
Preparing the cutting you just made
As with propagation by leaves, place the cutting on a clean surface with sufficient indirect sunlight to let the it callus over.
You don’t need to place it over pebbles or dirt as we do with leaves. The cutting should be calloused within a week.
After it’s calloused, stick the bare end into a pot with proper succulent soil mix.
If you plant the cutting before it calluses over, you’re doing more harm than good.
This exposes the cutting to a bunch of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and the chances of survival greatly decrease.
Propagating via Buds and Offsets
All the work in this propagation method is done by the plants while you just water them on a regular basis and provide them with all the necessary conditions.
Mother plants create baby plants and they are called by a variety of names: buds, offsets, plantlets, and runners.
“Budding” is the most common asexual reproduction method in the plant kingdom. Lots of succulents and cacti propagate through this method naturally.
The infamous Sempervivum, aka Hens and Chicks, makes all its ‘chicks’ by budding. Other genera that do the same thing are Aloe, Haworthia, Sansevieria, and Gasteria.
Identifying the buds and offsets
It’s not tricky to identify the bud or offset. It’s just an identical little baby plant that is attached to either the stem or root of the mother plant.
It’s very small and looks all cute like the buds in leaves. But, again, don’t bother the buds until they ‘come of age’.
Knowing when to separate buds
A baby succulent can be snipped when it becomes mature enough to sustain life on its own. How do we know when it’s ready?
Well, most babies can be transferred into their single pots once they are at least one inch in diameter.
Sometimes, the buds can hit one inch in diameter and may still not have developed roots. It’s important to ensure that the baby has developed roots (by digging it up a little) before snipping it.
So check the diameter of your succulent and also look to see if roots have sprouted.
Separating the buds from mom succulents
This process is similar to taking a cutting. But let’s go over the basics to make sure we are on the same page. You can skip to the next part if you are confident on how to do it.
- Get some clean and sharp scissors
- Find the stem that is attached to the baby plant
- Make a clean, precise cut without damaging leaves and roots
- If the root is attached to the mama plant, snip more root into the baby
The mama plant is already a well-grown, established plant and is capable of growing more roots. So, the baby plant needs to get enough root when separating. It will increase its odds of survival.
Voila — you have a little baby succulent to pot! This is probably the only propagation method where you start off with a full-fledged plant with all the little baby leaves and the baby roots.
Caring for the buds and offsets
Plant it immediately after separating it from the plant. Although it still has an open wound from the cutting, it doesn’t need to callus.
Avoid watering for a few days.
Then, treat the bud as you would a small succulent. Lots of sunlight, drying out between watering, and posting a lot of stories on Instagram stating you’re a proud succulent mom or dad!
Propagating Tips and Tricks
Now that you know all these propagation techniques, you can decide what’s best for your succulent. Here are a few tips that will further help you with propagating succulents.
Use rooting hormones
Rooting hormones aren’t required as cacti and succulents have natural propagation abilities. Rooting hormones are made for plants that cannot grow roots out of just anywhere.
But some gardeners still use rooting homes on their succulents, as it helps the plant create even more roots. When using this hormone, apply it to wound before the callus forms.
There are rooting hormones specifically made for succulents and you can get them in the local nurseries.
Use honey for propagation
Honey works as an alternative to rooting hormones. Just dip the ends in a mix of honey and cinnamon. Again, make sure to do it before callus forms.
This mixture works just like rooting hormones. Aiding the leaves and cuttings to form more roots than they normally would.
Propagate through water
Offsets and cuttings can also be propagated using water instead of soil.
After the callus forms, place the offset or cutting in a jar of water, suspending them just above the surface of the water. Make sure that it is not soaked into the water.
Place the jar in partial sun.
Over time, roots will develop. At this point, let the roots dip into the water. When there are sufficient roots, it’s time to plant your new succulent.
Pot your succulent
Succulents are very forgiving plants and require low-maintenance. However, keep in mind that low-maintenance does not equal no-maintenance.
Making the right choices in the beginning can go a long way. One of the most important choices? Putting your succulent in the right pot.
Choose the right pot
Choosing the right pot for succulents is often overlooked but it is crucial for the overall development of the plant. Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the right pot for your succulents:
Always get a pot with drainage holes. It allows better air circulation in the root system and prevents root rot.
Opting to get fancy containers without drainage holes, means the soil may not properly dry and your succulent is at greater risk for developing root rot.
Some sites online still claim you can put gravel beneath the soil to “create” drainage in a pot without drainage holes. This simply isn’t true and this “hack” comes with its own set of risks.
For a happy, healthy plant, find a pot with drainage holes.
Next thing you need to consider is what material the pot is made of. Common materials include terracotta, ceramic, plastic, glass, and metal. So which one is the right pot for you?
Terracotta and ceramic are both fairly porous, they work well in areas that do not have a lot of air flow.
But in direct sunlight, they can heat up really quickly, which is not a huge deal but something to consider when it comes to how often the plant needs to be watered.
Plastic pots are much lighter but aren’t porous. In fact, it’s very hard for water to evaporate from the soil. But, if you use a well-draining soil and have drainage holes, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Glass pots look very sophisticated and elegant but they do not have drainage holes. You can make drainage holes in glass containers but you have to be very careful as to not break the pot itself.
Glass containers make beautiful terrariums where the succulents are watered sparingly.
Metal pots may not be suitable in the long run as metal is easily affected by temperature. It may heat up and cause the soil to heat up, which again, isn’t ideal for succulents.
Plus, unless you get a metal pot that is specially designed for planting, it could develop rust from all the watering, which is unhealthy for any plant.
It is often hard to decide the size of pot for your succulent.
It is ideal to have a slightly larger pot than the succulent. There should be about half an inch of space from the succulent to the edge.
That will leave them with some room to spread and grow.
Choosing the right soil
Overwatering is the number one cause of death of succulents and drainage holes alone can’t save them. It’s essential to choose the right soil for your succulents.
Succulents love well-draining soils. These soils don’t hold on to the water, which is perfect for the “drought and flood” technique of watering, and mimics a succulent’s natural habitat.
A great option succulent and cacti mix, which can be bought at any nurseries.
You can also mix the soil from home. Just mix 3 parts of regular potting soil, 2 parts of coarse sand (turface or poultry grit), and 1 part perlite (or pumice).
Choosing the right spot for placement
Place your succulents near windows where they can get sufficient sunlight, but also make sure to avoid the scorching midday sun.
Your succulents don’t have the succulent SPF cream to protect themselves from the harsh rays of the sun.
A pro-tip from gardeners: don’t forget to rotate your pot around every week so that all parts of the succulent receive enough sunlight and maintain the same color throughout.
Making beautiful succulent arrangements
Get a pot with drainage holes, well-draining soil and lots of succulents of different shapes, sizes, and colors. The “formula” for creating beautiful succulent arrangements are “thriller, filler, and spiller.”
For “thriller” succulents, choose a large, possibly dramatic succulent.
It should stand out from other succulents in the arrangement. Common “thriller” options are Jade plant, Pearl plant, Cacti or even other plants like Palm Sago.
“Filler” succulents are used to fill the pot complementing the “thriller”. Fillers aren’t boring, they provide visual interest through their color and textures.
Common filler options are different varieties of Echeveria, Sedum, and Haworthia.
“Spiller” succulents hang from the pot and provide a depth and complete the arrangement. While it is entirely optional, the trailing action from the pot gives it an interesting look.
Common succulents used as “spiller” are String of pearls, String of bananas, String of hearts and Burro’s tail.
Taking Care of Your Succulents
While succulents are one of the easiest plants to take care of, there are certain things to consider.
Succulents are particular when it comes to their watering method and the fertilizers they prefer.
How to water your succulents
Again, the number one cause of deaths of succulents is overwatering. Succulents are highly prone to root rots because of overwatering. It’s crucial to allow the soil to dry completely before watering.
The key to proper watering is to water them when they start to droop down. It’s okay for a little drooping action, it’ll perk right up after a few hours of watering.
Give them enough water — to the point where water is dripping from the drainage holes. Succulents prefer to have infrequent but intense watering sessions.
Remember: a succulent can come back from too little watering, but not from too much watering.
Should you use fertilizers?
Fertilizing your succulent isn’t a must but light feeding once a month or during the growing months in spring and summer can be of great benefit.
Fertilizing adds nutrients in the soil that get washed away when watering.
But be careful to not add too much. Overfertilization can cause succulents to become weak from growing too quickly. It could also attract bugs.
Get rid of bugs easily and quickly
Indoor succulents do not normally have bugs or pests. Occasionally, gnats or mealy bugs may sweep in when the soil is too wet and there’s no proper drainage (we can’t stress more on how important drainage is).
To get rid of the bugs, spray the soil with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and keep the infected pot away from other plants.
To grow a healthy and happy succulent, do not overwater or overfertilize, and keep it free of bugs.
When is it time to repot your succulent?
Generally, you want to repot your succulents once every year.
However, there can be other reasons to repot, such as: water not soaking through, roots getting all tangled up or tight inside the pot, or succulent outgrowing the pot.
Keeping your succulents clean
All indoor plants pick up dust from the environment, and dust inhibits growth.
To keep your succulents clean, get soft paintbrush or damp cloth and brush or wipe down the leaves and stem once a week.
Succulents make a great addition to your house all the while bringing nature inside with a little bit of all the wonderful colors.
To help grow your garden, take your favorite plants and propagate them with one of the methods detailed above. It’s easy, fun, and a great way to earn your green thumb.