Succulents have a reputation for being easy to grow. However when it comes time to propagate the plants, many people struggle. If you want to learn how to propagate succulents this guide is for you.
How you propagate your succulent depends in part on what type of succulent it is. The methods described here can be used on a range of succulents and require no specialist skills. As we discuss each method, I will also share tips and advice that will hopefully make learning how to propagate succulents even easier, and more likely to be successful.
Attractive, resilient and easy to care for, succulents are a popular houseplant. Learning how to propagate the plants is a key part of caring for them correctly.
How to Identify Succulents
One of nature’s most efficient plants, succulents come in a range of sizes, shapes, textures and colors. A type of xerophyte, unlike other plants they require little water to survive. Instead xerophytes store water in their fat, fleshy leaves or stems. This enables these succulents, despite their shallow root system, to thrive in dry climates.
The term succulent encompases a range of plants from echeveria to lithops and Christmas cacti. These are versatile plants that are equally at home in rock gardens, planted in the crevices of stone walls, well draining pots or terrariums.
Whichever variety you grow and wherever you grow it, this how to propagate succulents guide will look at 3 different propagation methods. All of which are suitable for a range of plants.
Here is our complete how to propagate succulents guide.
How to Propagate Succulents by Division
If you want to learn how to propagate by division there are two methods to consider. These are plantlet removal and root separation.
For either method, you will need:
- Pots or trays
- A suitable potting medium. This guide shows you how to make your own cacti potting medium.
- Gloves, if handling prickly plants
- A trowel or gardening tools if planting in the garden
How to Propagate Plantlets
Plantlet removal is one of the easiest ways to propagate plants. As the name suggests, plantlet removal is simply the removal of offsets, or plantlets, that have emerged alongside the mother plant.
Plantlets are fully formed, separate plants with their own root system. They grow independently of the main plant. The most common succulent that uses this method to propagate is hens and chicks. Here the main or mother plant is known as the hen. The plantlets that emerge alongside are the chicks. In addition to hens and chicks, many rosette forming succulents also produce offsets known as chicks.
Barrel cacti offsets are known as pups. These are handled in exactly the same way as other offsets.
Carefully lift the offsets from the soil. Most succulent plants have shallow root systems, making them easy to lift. Pot on either in the soil or in clean pots, filled with well draining potting or succulent soil.
Some plants, such as hens and chicks, propagate by producing plantlets. These are easily removed and planted on.
Other plants such as mother or thousands or Kalanchoe propagate by producing pups on their leaves. These then drop onto the soil and root where they land. Once the plantlets drop from the plant, carefully pick them out of the soil. Carefully brush away any old soil from the roots and pot on.
How to Perform Root Separation
This method of division is similar to the process of dividing other plants. Many plants, such as lithops, begin to naturally divide as they age and mature.
Root separation is best done when repotting plants, so as not to overly disturb them. Gently lift the plant from the soil. If you are lifting particularly shallow plants you simply need to brush away the topsoil to uncover the roots.
Tease apart the roots. The separated plants can then be planted on individually.
Plant immediately after separating the roots in a pot filled with fresh cactus or succulent potting mix. Alternatively you can make your own soil by mixing perlite or sand with potting soil. An even mixture creates a nutrient rich, well draining potting medium.
If your plants are growing outside wait until the sun is not directly overhead before planting. Planting under the direct glare of the sun, when the soil is at its hottest, can cause even the most robust plants to struggle and become stressed. Instead plant earlier or later in the day when the soil is cooler.
Before planting, work the soil over so that it is crumbly. Mound the soil and make a shallow depression large enough to hold the plant’s root system. Position the plant carefully and lightly cover the roots with about an inch of soil. Gently firm the soil down.
After planting wait a day before watering sparingly.
How to Propagate Succulents via Cuttings
Cuttings are commonly used to propagate a range of plants, including succulents. Taking cuttings is not only a good way to propagate plants, it also makes room for new growth to emerge.
This method of propagation begins by simply cutting away a leaf or stem from the plant. The chosen section should be healthy and pest free. Whether you propagate via leaf or stem cuttings, the key to successful propagation is keeping the cutting completely dry.
How to Take Successful Leaf Cuttings
Column varieties of succulents are also propagated by cuttings. As these are essentially one large leaf, cut the top or the side and remove an inch in diameter section. Dry the cut section out, as described below and, once roots have formed, pot on.
Leaves that have fallen from the plant can also be propagated in this manner.
You will need:
- Sharp garden scissors or a small shears
- Gloves, if you are handling spiny varieties
- A trowel
- A tray or saucer
- Potting medium, such as a cactus potting mix
Use sharp scissors or clippers to cut away a few healthy leaves. Sharp tools help you to make clean cuts through even the toughest of plants such as the Christmas cactus. Poor cuttings can struggle to produce roots and are more likely to fail.
If the plant is particularly leggy, cut away a long stem. The top inch of stem can be used for propagation and the rest discarded. This is known as beheading.
Beheading is a particularly useful way to fix leggy plants or those with limbs that are dangling down to the ground. The remaining stem grows new leaves which are more compact. As well as correcting legginess, beheading also helps to make the plant more resilient and attractive.
The Christmas cactus is easily propagated by removing and rooting a few healthy leaves.
Place the cuttings in a tray or container and allow them to completely dry out. Within 5 days a callus should emerge on the cut end. This callus protects the soft or emerging roots from potential bacterial damage.
Once the callus has formed, allow the cuttings to remain in the container or on the tray. Over the next few weeks roots emerge from the callused area.
When roots have formed pot the cuttings in containers filled with a well draining potting medium. If your climate allows you to grow succulents in your garden, the cuttings can also be transplanted straight into their final position. This should be a sunny, well draining spot in your garden.
If you are planting outside, plant in the early morning or late afternoon, when the heat of the sun is not as intense as during the middle part of the day.
Plant the rooted leaves in mounds of soil. This elevates the cutting slightly above soil level, encouraging excess water to drain away from the plant. Gently firm the soil down.
Water sparingly the next day. As the water drains away, firm down the soil again. Once established, new growth is often quick to emerge. An application of succulent plant food, once new growth has emerged, bolsters the plant. Liquid fertilizers are easily incorporated into watering routines.
When the new plant is about half an inch tall, the original leaf dries up completely. At this point remove the old leaf. Be careful not to cause too much disturbance. If you haven’t yet repotted the new plant, now is the ideal time. Gently lift the young plant from the soil and pot on, lightly covering the roots.
You can also root the cuttings by placing them directly onto the potting medium. Now that you know how to handle cuttings you can propagate a number of succulents such as Haworthia cooperi.
Keep the cuttings and soil dry as the callus and roots form. This is a great method if you want to propagate lots of succulents quickly. Place the pot in a bright position, one lit by filtered sunlight is ideal.
Once the callus has formed begin to water a little. If the succulent cuttings begin to shrivel up, gently water the soil with a fine spray. You should also gently spray the soil if it begins to dry out.
If you place more than one cutting on the soil, don’t allow them to touch.
Roots and new growth should begin to emerge within a few weeks.
How to Take Stem Cuttings
This method works best with rosette shaped succulents. Plants that branch out often have a long stem. These can also be propagated by taking stem cuttings. For example, echeveria plants can be propagated in this way.
Propagation by stem cuttings is best done just as the plant begins its active growth period.
You will need:
- A sharp knife or razor blade
- A tray or saucer
- Potting medium
Use a sharp, sterilized knife or razor blade to cut a short active piece of stem from the base of the plant. A whetstone is a useful way to keep your tools sharp.
Cut as close to the base as possible. Try not to damage the stem as you do this. If you do damage your cutting, you will need to begin again with a new stem.
The stems, or branches, of some succulents such as echeveria can be cut and rooted. This is an easy method of propagation.
As with leaf cuttings, place the cut stem on a tray or saucer and allow a callus to form over the cut area. This takes a few days. Once the callus has formed pot on in fresh soil.
Place the stem cutting in a light position and water sparingly. Roots should form within 4 weeks.
How to Grow Succulents from Seed
Many different types of plant can be grown from seed. However, if you want to propagate succulents from seed, be warned, it can be a long process. Of the three methods covered here, this is the slowest way to produce new plants.
You will need:
- Viable seeds
- Pots or a tray
- Potting medium
Succulent seeds are located in the swollen base of the flower. This is also known as the fruit. Collect the seeds once flowering has finished.
The appearance of the seed varies depending on what type of succulent you are growing. While some seeds are easy to handle, others can be small and more difficult to handle. Some succulents produce seed that resembles dirt or dust. This can be particularly difficult to gather and propagate.
Many succulents, such as lithops, require their flowers to be pollinated before viable seed can be produced.
You can also purchase seeds from garden stores and specialist nurseries.
Allow harvested seeds to enjoy a cold period of dormancy during the winter before sowing in the spring. Seeds purchased from a plant nursery or store are usually ready to sow.
If the seeds have a hard shell and you are able to handle them comfortably, soak them in warm water for about 30 minutes. Warm water helps to soften the shell of the seed, aiding germination. Don’t worry if you are unable to do this. The seeds will still germinate, but the process may take a little longer.
Fill a pot or planter with cactus or succulent soil. You can also germinate the seeds in a mix of 3 parts fresh potting soil, 2 parts sand and 1 part perlite or pumice. This recipe creates the light, well draining soil the succulents thrive in.
Spread the seeds on top of the soil, spacing them out as much as possible.
Cover the seeds with a fine top dressing of sand or succulent soil. Don’t bury the seeds. Spray gently with a fine mist. The Repugo Plastic Spray Bottle has an adjustable nozzle. This allows you to select a fine spray that moistens the soil without disturbing the roots.
Place the seeds in a warm environment to germinate. Ther temperature should be consistently between 75 and 80 ℉. Placing in a propagator such as the Tabor Tools Germinator which comes with a humidity dome enables you to regulate the temperature and humidity levels.
Growth is often slow but steady. Don’t allow the soil to dry out. Dry roots can cause growth to stall and plants to fail.
Regularly check the soil surface. Spray or gently mist the soil as soon as it begins to dry. Maintaining a constant, even moisture is vital to the germination process.
If successful germination usually occurs within two weeks. In some cases it can take slightly longer.
After about 6 weeks of careful growth, gradually increase the frequency with which you water the plants. Eventually you should be watering the plants every other day.
Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant into individual pots. Grow on and care for the young plants as you would a larger succulent.
Hardy and colorful, it is easy to see why succulents are so popular. With a little care you can soon learn how to successfully propagate your collection.
When learning how to propagate any plant, it is important that you take your time. Don’t worry if your succulents fail at first. Succulents can die at any point during the propagation process. Keeping a journal helps you to track which methods succeed with which plants. But don’t be surprised if even tried and tested methods occasionally fail. Every cutting and plant is different.
Whichever method you choose remember, as the plants grow, to keep the roots covered with soil. This prevents them from drying out. Once the roots dry out, the succulents stop growing and are more prone to failure.
Don’t worry if growth is slow. Regardless of how you chose to propagate your plants, it can take several months for your new plant to reach a normal size. Learning how to propagate succulents is a long but rewarding process.
Learning how to propagate succulents is also an inexpensive way to grow your collection while expanding your knowledge. Understanding how to propagate plants also helps you to get a better understanding of how they work and thrive.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.