Plant propagation: things to know
Houseplants can be propagated as an affordable way to expand your plant collection and as a way to carry on your most beloved plants, even if the adult is dying off. For plants that require a lot of pruning, it can also be a game-changer. What if that cutting could become a new plant, to keep or to gift? That is what propagation is for, and anyone can do it with just a bit of know-how. Let’s find out how to propagate plants and how different types of plant propagation can work!
What Methods of Propagation Are There?
There are a myriad of houseplants, so it’s no wonder that they can vary so greatly – both in appearance and in how they grow. While many (but not all) plants can be multiplied, the best method for each may differ.
Leaf Cutting Propagation Method
One of the most successful propagation techniques is through using a cut leaf. A healthy mature leaf should be selected and then snipped off with about 1½ to 6 inches of stem left over. This should be accomplished with a nice, sharp, sanitized tool. When possible, it’s ideal to cut just below the node or where the stem connects to a leaf. This is the easiest place for them to regrow. It’s also possible to use leaf bud cuttings, by snipping off the sprig of a viable plant with buds. When properly planted, the leaf will grow its own roots in about two weeks, and in 8 weeks, new leaves should begin to appear.
There are two ways that you can go about leaf-cutting propagation: in sand or soil, or in water. Most houseplants prefer sand or soil, but many also do well (or even do best) in water!
Leaf Cuttings in Water
Some cuttings must be, or simply can be, planted in a container of water. To allow the maximum amount of light through, this container should ideally be clear (or at least transparent, like amber glass). The stem should be fully-submerged, but you should not wet the leaf. In fact, any lower leaves should be removed prior to submerging the stem. These will rapidly begin to rot in the water!
In just a couple of weeks, the leaf should begin to send out small, brand-new roots. You can encourage them to grow with plenty of moderately bright light. To prevent rot, also be sure to replenish water if it starts to look brackish. Water should be kept clean and clear.
So, what houseplants do well with leaf cuttings placed in water? These are a few of the most popular:
- African Violet
- Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
- Papyrus plant
- Pothos (Devil’s Ivy)
Leaf Cuttings in Sand or Soil
The majority of leaf cuttings do best when planted about 1 to 1½ inches deep in perlite, sandy soil, or sand-based potting mix. Make sure the soil is moist but will not cause the cuttings to soak through. This will prevent rot but encourage the new plant to grow! In about 8 weeks, new leaves should begin to appear. The old leaf can be removed as the new leaves get bigger and it dies off.
So, what houseplants do best with leaf cuttings planted in sand or soil? These are a few of the most popular:
- African Violet
- Sedum plant
- Bunny’s Ears cactus
- Jade plant
- Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese plant)
The Division Propagation Method
The division method involves separating a single plant into multiple plants. This is accomplished by removing a plant from the soil and then gently pulling its foliage and roots (including the tubers) apart. The resulting one or more plants can each be repotted in their own container.
Keep in mind, no matter how carefully you undertake plant division, houseplants are sure to undergo some stress. They may show wilting or other signs of duress, but in time they will recover!
The Tuber Cutting Propagation Method
It is also possible to multiply plants from their tubers. Similar to how potatoes are propagated, a big, suitable tuber (and the connected foliage) can be divided from the rest. Depending on the plant, the tuber is then sometimes chopped in half. There should be an ‘eye,’ on each half. These can be replanted an inch or two deep in the soil. In a few weeks, new plants should grow!
The Offset Propagation Method
Some houseplants naturally deposit baby plants around them, and these are known as offsets or “pups.” These little guys are fully-formed and ready to be planted on their own. In fact, it’s best to replant them, or they may begin to crowd the adult pot. To be more comfortable, they also need their own space to grow. Some houseplants that create offsets are:
- Aloe Vera
- Guzmania plant
- Spider plant
The Seed Propagation Method
Seed propagation is a well-known technique, involving the harvesting and sowing of seeds from a plant. It’s generally not as successful as other techniques might be, with many seeds being duds, and it also takes considerably longer. This is because you’re basically starting from scratch. The seeds need to germinate before they can even start to grow!
Stem Cutting Propagation Method
Rooting stem cuttings is another popular method for indoor and outdoor plants, especially for woody plant families. It’s a reliable way to propagate hybrid houseplants, because the new plant will be genetically identical to the parent plant. What you need to do is to snip a bit of stem, place it in a potting media, and wait until the roots form. Once that happens, the stem cutting can be transplanted into a pot.
You can also root stem cuttings by immersing them in water. If you want to try this option, check whether your plant can easily root in water. Not all houseplants can. Also, if you are planning to root stem cuttings of a flowering houseplant, it’s better to take a stem without flowers and flower buds on it. This ensures that the cutting's energy can be directed toward root growth rather than flower production.
Air Layering Propagation Method
Air layering is a good way to propagate houseplants that don't root well from cuttings. It’s also a great way to duplicate a plant without damaging the mother plant by taking several cuttings from it. Air layering entails making a small cut in the plant that you want to reproduce. The damage to the parent plant is minimal, because you don’t remove the stem entirely. You leave it attached to the parent plant until new roots can develop. To encourage root formation, it’s recommended to wrap the stem with damp moss. The best time to air-layer your houseplants is spring and mid-summer.
When Should You Propagate Houseplants?
You can propagate houseplants at any time of year. This being said, the best time to do it is during their growing season – which is typically spring-summer. They will grow more slowly during the dormant months of autumn-winter.
As you can see, you have a few options when it comes to propagating indoor plants. Just make sure that you use whatever method works best for each, whether it be division or leaf cuttings in water. Soon, you’ll have more green friends (whether to gift or to keep) than ever!
Do You Need Special Propagation Equipment?
Here is the list of the most handy equipment to get started:
- Propagation box (clear plastic container with a lid)
We recommend choosing a container that is deep enough to use for large cuttings. After adding your cuttings in the box, secure the lid to retain moisture.
- Micro snips
Ideal for taking cuttings from small stems, these cut as accurately and gently as possible.
- Multipurpose snips
These come in handy for snipping larger cuttings and can be used for different gardening chores.
- Tool sharpener
This device will help you keep your tools sharp so you can always take quick and healthy cuttings.
- Rooting hormone
This product enhances the root growth process which means the plant will grow more quickly. It’s often used to increase chances of successful rooting when propagating difficult houseplants.
When the plant cuttings develop roots, it’s necessary to pot them somewhere. Make sure to choose a pot with drainage holes.
- Plant tags
Plant tags will make it easier to remember what species you have in your garden. You can use them to mark your plants with names and to note important details (like when to water).
- Spray bottle
You can use a spray bottle to mist the cuttings, as they need humidity to develop roots. Also, if you notice that the potting medium starts to dry out, it’s more convenient to moisten it with a spray bottle than with a watering can.
- Heat mat
It’s not considered an essential tool, but using a heat mat will accelerate rooting development, making plant propagation much easier.