STARTING NEW SUCCULENTS
Making more plants is one of the most satisfying tasks for houseplant growers. Not only do you get free additions to your collection, but you also have a much deeper emotional investment in the plant, having nurtured it from infancy. Succulents are some of the easiest houseplants to propagate and now is a great time to do it. All you need are some mother plants, pots and compost, and a sharp pair of snips or pruners.
Choosing the most appropriate method for propagating succulents depends on your plants. Some can be divided, while in other cases, leaf or stem cuttings are most appropriate. If your plant has several clusters of stems in the pot, as is the case with many carrion-flowers (Stapelia), then division is the easiest approach. Carefully remove the pot, then break apart the root ball so you have several clusters of stems, each with its own roots. Pot up each cluster separately, then water. Other good candidates for division are snake-plants (Sansevieria), haworthias, many sedums and crassulas.
Now division is not a challenging process, but taking cuttings requires more skill. The most important factor when taking succulent cuttings is callusing. Succulents of course store great quantities of water in their stems and leaves, allowing them to thrive in arid areas. Cutting the stems or leaves produces wounds into which fungi, bacteria and other pathogens can enter. This is not a problem for the parent plant but can be fatal to the unrooted cutting. Therefore, once removed, leave all succulent cuttings to dry out and develop a callus on the cut surface. For small leaves and stems, this may only take a day or two. For large cactus stems, this may take several weeks. Leave cuttings in a dry place, such as on a windowsill, and only pot them up once the cut surface has dried out completely.
Fill a pot with compost, preferably a mix that is very well drained. Add pumice, perlite, gravel or sand to any standard potting mix and you’ll have the perfect medium. Succulents with long stems, such as money plants (Crassula ovata) or columnar cacti, are best propagated as stem cuttings and once dry, insert the base of the stem into the soil and firm it so the cutting stands upright. Plants with rosettes of leaves, such as Echeveria or Aeonium, can be propagated from leave cuttings. When detaching the leaf, make sure you get the whole leaf including the base. Once the base has dried out, push it into the soil. Water your cuttings infrequently, only when the soil is dry, and keep them in a cool, dry place. There’s no need to use a plastic bag or propagator as the increased humidity will cause the cuttings to rot. Roots should appear in a few weeks and new growth in a month, though large cuttings, especially of slow-growing cacti, can take months to show signs of life. As soon as growth appears, you can treat the plant like its parent. Once we’re free to meet up with friends, you’ll have plants to swap and share.
Dr. Ross Bayton
Heronswood Assistant Director
Photos by Ross Bayton