Propagating Succulents and Cacti
At Tula, we love to say that a plant’s only job is to grow. But growing takes many forms, and plants have evolved countless ways to grow and spread their species far and wide. Nowhere is that more evident than in the world of resilient, tough, and ingenious cacti and succulents. Their strong root systems and adaptable stems and leaves make the process of propagation incredibly easy.
Pruning back and propagating do not harm a plant. When you make a cutting, a succulent will respond by shifting its resources toward growth elsewhere.
In the wild, factors like other wildlife, wind, fire, and extreme weather actively prune back plants. For this reason, a plant losing limbs or leaves is very normal, and some plants even benefit from it. Succulents have evolved to spread through natural propagation. Sometimes the easiest way to proliferate a species is for a piece of one plant to fall off and start to grow elsewhere.
There are three types of succulent propagation - Stem Cuttings, Leaf Cuttings, and Offsets/Pups.
For a visual guide to the different types of succulent propagation, watch this Plant Sessions video with Tula co-founder Christan Summers.
Every plant does best with a different method of propagation. While we have provided examples, consider researching your plant before choosing a specific method.
When you propagate through stem cuttings, you remove a stem with leaves from a mother plant. Jade is a common example of a plant that is perfect for stem cuttings.
Use a clean knife and slice on an angle across the stem. If possible, do this at the joint of a mother plant, so the mother plant looks naturally pruned back. Trim any lower leaves from the stem of the cutting, so when you do put it in soil, you can bury it enough that it is secure.
Before planting, allow the fresh cutting to scab or callus over. Think of the fresh cut as an open wound – you would never put dirt into an open wound. More often than not, this would cause rot on the cutting, because bacteria from the soil can easily infect the plant.
When the cutting has callused, plant in succulent/cactus soil, water thoroughly, give it sun, and continue to water when the soil is dry and light.
Every week or so, test root growth by playing with the cutting gently. Eventually, you should start to feel more resistance as the roots grow and bind with the soil.
Often succulents will push out aerial roots on their stems. You can expedite propagation by removing these stems and planting those aerial roots gently in soil. This way, the cutting already has established roots.
Propagating leaf cuttings is the method of removing healthy leaves from a mother plant and employing them as the “seeds” of a new plant.
Snap a thick succulent leaf like Graptopetalum or Kalanchoe at the base of the leaf, where it meets the stem. It’s best if you get as much of the leaf as possible, snapping where the leaf would naturally snap without tearing if wind of a passing animal removed it from the plant.
Leaf health is also very important. Leaves that are wrinkled or bruised, mushy or yellowing, should be avoided. Pluck choice, fresh leaves for best results.
Bury these directly in soil, about a third of the leaf down, with the rest exposed. Introduce water slowly, misting the soil well whenever it is fully dry. Eventually, you should see a new plant sprout from the soil just off the base of the planted leaf cutting.
Offsets / Pups
Smaller pups on the edges of plants can be planted separately to create whole new plants. There are two methods of propagating pups; one is more invasive to the mother plant but results in quicker propagation of the pups, and the other is not invasive at all, but requires time to let the pups root.
For the first method, uproot the whole plant and massage the root ball to allow soil to fall off without damaging roots. Soon, you’ll be able to isolate a pup and its roots. Remove the pup from the mother, taking some of the roots along with the new pup. You’ll have to tear roots, but isolating the pup and removing soil will help you tear as few roots as possible. Overall, succulents are very resilient in the roots – don’t worry about harming the plant too much by snapping roots. After they have been removed, the pups with roots can be planted directly into succulent/cactus mix as new, small plants.
The second method of pup propagation is to use clean scissors to, without uprooting the plant, snip the pups from the base of the mother plant. Because the resulting pups won’t have roots, you’ll then have to wait for the pups to callus before rooting in soil.