Introduction: How to Propagate Succulents
Succulents make beautiful table decorations and are very fashionable right now as wedding favors. But buying them is very expensive! If you have a couple of plants, some pretty pots, and a little time and patience, you can grow all the plants you need yourself. And what could be better than the gift of a plant you have lovingly raised yourself?!
Succulents are an awesome plant for people like me, those born without green fingers. I'm a terrible gardener. Luckily, succulents are, by and large, a tolerant bunch who pretty much look after themselves, as well as looking beautiful. The full extent of care that I provide is occasional watering, and yet my little succulent friends thrive! So much so that every now and then I have to trim them back before they become unmanageable.
When that happens, I propagate them and end up with lots of small plants that I can then pass on to friends and family. There are always a lot of takers for them!
Step 1: Gather Your Starter Plants
Not only am I a bad gardener, I am a forgetful one. Here is a pot full of baby plants that I fully intended to transplant out into individual plants... and completely forgot about until now. But that is fine, because it means I have a variety of starter plants to propagate. At the moment some are suffering a little from overcrowding and a few of them have grown a little leggy, but all of them should be fine and happy now that I am about to give them a little TLC!
Step 2: Prepare Your Growing Medium
The growing medium that I prefer is equal parts potting compost, perlite and vermiculite. All three are easily obtainable from any garden centre or online.
- Potting compost provides nutrients to the succulents. While succulents do not need an awful lot of nutrition (and many will do far better in low-nutrient growing medium) they do need some. One fourth of the growing mix is quite enough for them
- Perlite helps to provide aeration, preventing compaction and helping with drainage. Because of this, perlite will help to encourage root growth.
- Vermiculite also helps to aerate the growing mix, absorbs excess moisture and then releasing it as needed. Its gritty texture also gives new roots a good anchor.
A top dressing of vermiculite will help protect the plant and its growing medium, as well as looking very attractive, as it looks almost like gold nuggets when the light hits it!
Step 3: Offsets
Some succulents, such as the aloes and sempervivum (houseleeks) that I have here, create offsets (also known as pups) to propagate themselves. In the case of sempervivum, this has been utilised by growers for many years, to provide ground cover and even to fill in gaps in the roof of houses. Sempervivum are pretty happy when allowed to grow in carpets as they produce offsets. Most other succulents will need to have their offsets removed regularly as they can steal the energy from the mother plant. So far as I know there is nothing you can do to force a plant to produce an offset, but most do of their own accord anyway, so all that is needed is patience ;-)
To remove an offset from the parent plant, remove some of the growing medium and look for an obvious split between the mother plant and the offset. Very often the offset can just be gently teased away, sometimes though you will need to carefully cut them off using a sharp, sterilised knife. Do not remove offsets until they have some roots of their own, and when you do remove them, try to do so leaving the roots of both the mother plant and offset intact.
If you have to cut the offset away, place it in a warm, shaded area to allow the cut to heal. Then you can simply replant it in some growing medium, being careful not to damage the roots. Water well and the plant should thrive!
Step 4: Stem Cuttings
Some succulents, such as this one, that grow very tall single stems, can be propagated by taking a cutting from anywhere along the stem, not just the top!
All you need to do is cut the stem into sections using a sterilised knife, ensuring that each section has at least one set of leaves (I usually make sections of three or four). Allow each section to heal for a few days as before, then plant into the growing medium. They will take a while to get going, but when they do each will grow into a separate plant. I like to grow several in a single pot as they will appear to be a single plant with a lot more body than a single stem on its own.
Step 5: Leaf Cuttings
Most succulents can be propagated through leaf cuttings. The new plant will grow from the base of the leaf.
As before, use a sharp, sterilised knife to cut the leaf from just where it joins the stem. Try to get a clear cut - if any stem is left attached, it may not take. Once again, allow the leaf to heal for a few days before planting in growing medium. The new plant will form at the cut edge of the leaf, though this can take a little time. Propagating in this way you can get literally dozens of new plants from one small mother plant!
Step 6: Cacti
Okay, so although cacti and succulents are not the same thing, the propagation techniques are the same. I found this little cactus in the Ikea bargain corner. It was a little neglected and far too large for its tiny pot! I took several cuttings that should grow into more cacti, as well as giving the mother plant more space to grow.
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