Succulents are like potato chips—you can’t have just one! For many people, once they buy their first plant to grow indoors, they find themselves wanting another, and another, and then another. Thankfully, this desire doesn’t need to become an expensive habit. Succulents are extremely easy to propagate or grow new plants from mature plants.
Ways to propagate succulents
Succulents are commonly propagated in one of three ways, two of which are asexual—division and cuttings—and result in exact clones of the original plant. The third option, starting plants by seed, is a sexual method of reproduction that results in the new plant having a slightly different genetic makeup than the parent, so it isn’t identical.
Propagation by division occurs when you take a plant and gently break it apart or divide it into numerous smaller plants. The divisions are then planted in their own pot; these divisions grow into full-sized specimens over time. There are two different ways to divide plants: splitting up the root ball or removing small “pups” the plant produces.
- In root division, the entire plant is removed from the container and carefully separated into smaller plants. This method works well for plants that grow like grass and have many stems. Aloe, sedum, sansevieria, kalanchoe, and peperomia are all great plants for root division.
- As some succulents grow, little “pups” or daughters grow around the base of the parent plant. Commonly known as offsets or offshoots, these juvenile plants can be separated from the mother plant and repotted to grow another succulent. This method is the easiest on the plant and works well for echeveria, haworthia, sempervivum, agave, and cacti.
Starting new plants by taking either leaf or stem cuttings is a popular method, especially in commercial nurseries or greenhouses. It allows one to grow an abundance of new plants from a single mature succulent. When done correctly, it has a high success rate and results in an identical clone of the parent plant.
- Leaf cuttings work best for plants with large fleshy leaves like echeveria or jade. Like other herbaceous plants, you simply remove a leaf from the parent and allow it to root. It will then grow into a full-sized plant.
- Stem cuttings work best for plants with “branches.” This method is also useful when plants grow leggy due to lack of sun; the spindly branch or rosette can be removed and repotted.
Succulents can also be propagated via seed. This method is the least common of the three, though. It is typically avoided because starting new plants from seed takes much longer than dividing plants or taking a leaf or stem cutting. Growing from seeds also results in genetic variation in the offspring, regardless of the type of succulent.
Chances are if you have indoor plants already, you likely have most of the needed supplies on hand. To propagate succulent plants, you will need a healthy adult plant to take plant material from and then a container and growing media to plant the start. Depending upon the propagation method you’re using, you may need another tray and rooting hormone as well.
- Mother plant of your choice, to take starts from. The propagated plants will be exact clones of the original.
- Containers for your new plants. Terra cotta or unglazed ceramic are good choices; the porous sides allow better air movement through the root zone, so the soil dries out faster.
- Shallow tray for hardening off cuttings and getting them ready to plant. Seed trays are available to purchase in various sizes, or you can use a clear plastic container commonly used for packaging leafy greens or fruit.
- Growing media to fill containers. Potting mix and coconut coir are great options. If you have a succulent soil mix available, use that since it’s mixed to have even better drainage. Or you can mix some sand into a standard potting soil. Sand or perlite is helpful for hardening the cuttings.
- Cutting utensil for taking plant cuttings. Sharp scissors, shears, or a sharp knife will all work. When working with smaller plants, a small pair of sewing or embroidery scissors are an excellent tool for cutting leaves. Make sure they are disinfected before and after use.
- Rooting hormone to encourage quicker, successful rooting of cuttings. These products contain hormones naturally found in plants to hasten cell division and differentiation.
- Spray bottle for misting plants before they are rooted.
Step by step instructions
The following instructions detail the steps of taking either leaf or stem cuttings for propagating new succulents since it’s the most involved method. Dividing plants is relatively straightforward, especially if you’ve ever split perennials outdoors or even repotted your houseplants. And since succulents are rarely started by seed, there isn’t much need to discuss how to plant seeds.
1. Take cuttings
- For leaf cuttings, you want to remove an entire fleshy leaf from the plant. Grasp a leaf between your thumb and forefinger and either twist it gently or rock it back and forth until the leaf separates from the stem. The leaf needs to have a clean break. Continue with step 2.
- For stem cuttings, use your disinfected scissors to snip off a stem section about four inches long and has 3-4 nodes on it. Make sure the end has a clean cut. Remove the leaves off of the bottom couple of inches. Then skip to step 4.
2. Form callous
When using leaf cuttings this step, and the following are essential to increase propagation success. The cut end of the leaves needs to dry out or callous before planting to avoid rot.
- Fill the bottom of the shallow tray with potting mix, sand, or perlite. Or simply lay a couple of paper towels down on the bottom.
- Dip the ends of the leaves into rooting hormone, gently knocking any excess off the tissue.
- Lay the succulent leaves across the tray, leaving space between each to allow air circulation.
- Let them sit someplace warm and dry for three or four days, out of direct sunlight.
3. Grow roots
Once the ends have a thickened layer or callus, you can plant them directly into containers (step 4) or leave them in the trays to form roots.
- If you leave them in the tray, you can either bury the callused end slightly or leave them on top of the medium.
- Every few days, use the spray bottle to mist the leaf cuttings to keep them from drying out.
- Keep trays in bright, indirect sunlight.
For leaf cuttings: after roots form, it’s time to move the cuttings into larger containers.
- Fill containers almost to the top with slightly moistened potting soil.
- Create a shallow hole in the center of the container.
- Gently set the leaf into the hole, making sure not to break off tender roots.
- Tamp the soil around the base of the leaf to cover the roots and secure the cutting.
For stem cuttings:
- Fill containers almost to the top with slightly moistened potting soil.
- Using your fingers or a spoon, dig a hole in the middle of the container.
- Dip the cut end of the stem into rooting hormone, gently tapping to remove any excess.
- Place the stem into the hole so at least two nodes will be below the soil surface.
- Tamp the soil around the stem to secure the cutting.
5. Caring for your plants
- The day after planting, water the containers from the bottom. This helps to prevent disturbing the cuttings. Repeat when the top of the soil dries out.
- Keep the cuttings out of intense sunlight for a couple of weeks. As roots develop, plants will not be able to take in as much water. This lower light environment means photosynthesis slows slightly, so water needs are lower, and the soil moisture doesn’t evaporate as quickly.
- Once you see new growth forming above the soil, you can move the plant to brighter light.
Easy succulents for propagation
One of the best parts of propagation succulents is that the process is overall relatively easy. Succulents are known for how simple they are to start new plants from mature ones, even if you are new to houseplants or container gardening. If you are nervous about trying it, the following are great plants for beginners.
- Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
- Burro’s tail
- Aloe (Aloe barbadensis)
- Sempervivums — hen and chicks
- Ghost plant
- Only propagate a healthy mature plant. Stressed plants—whether from insect pests, diseases, or nutrient deficiencies—don’t have the same energy reserves to grow new roots.
- The best time for propagating a succulent plant is during the summer months. Warmer temperatures and long day lengths contribute to the fastest growth rate in plants. This gives your succulent cuttings the best chance of survival.
- Keep all of your cutting tools clean and disinfected, making sure to wipe the blades down with isopropyl alcohol or a diluted bleach solution between cuts.
- Never dip your plant material into the original container to avoid contamination when working with a rooting hormone. Pour a small amount in a separate bowl or cup and dip into that. When finished, get rid of the smaller amount you poured out.