Propagating Tropical Plants
All of our plants come to us ready to grow, flourish, and share themselves with the world. For indoor gardeners, learning to propagate plants can help us become more in-tune with the life we bring into our homes, expand our collections for free, and share our passion for plants with friends and family. The home of a tropical plant propagator has the same plant growing in multiple vessels at once, pups of plants rooting in water constantly, and happy friends coming and going with new rooted plants they can enjoy for years to come.
There are three types of tropical plant propagation we’ll be discussing – Stem Cuttings, Leaf Cuttings, and Offsets/Pups.
For a visual guide to the different methods of tropical plant 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.
This method is best for plants like Pothos and Monstera, which have vines that push out small aerial roots at every node, or joint.
Choose a limb to propagate by counting the amount of nodes the stem has. You want to count at least two between the point you want to snip and the tip of the limb. Snip just below a node where you can see a woody root trying to emerge alongside a leaf. Then, remove the lower leaves from the vine so you can more easily position the stem in a glass of water. Place in a bright-indirect light location and switch out water every week or so. It could take several weeks for roots to form.
Some plants like Sansevieria can be propagated easily with leaf cuttings. Snip the leaf from the plant near the base and place into a glass of clean water. This could take even longer to root than a stem cutting, so continue to switch out the water for fresh water each week, and be patient!
Some plants like Begonias are best propagated using leaf cuttings as well, but the process is much more difficult than any other kind of propagation. This usually is an issue of environment – a greenhouse setting, with its super bright indirect sunlight, humidity, and ventilation, is ideal. Most of us don’t have a greenhouse at our disposal, but it could be an enjoyable experiment to try at home, even if the chances of success are slim.
To begin, create a light, moist rooting medium with a layer of coco coir and water. Choose the leaf of a Begonia, remove it from the plant and stem, then slice it in half lengthwise with a clean knife. Place the leaf halves directly on top of the coco coir, sinking the base of the leaf where it would meet the stem gently into the medium as an anchor. Keep in a well-ventilated area with bright-indirect light while the leaves begin to root. The coco coir medium should be kept constantly moist, but not saturated with water.
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 either have to cut the pup from the mother rhizome in the case of something like a snake plant, or tear roots. In either case, isolating the pup and removing soil will help reduce the amount of stress placed on the plant. Some tropicals are very vulnerable in the roots and excess damage there could lead to leaf drop or even death of the plant. Make sure to research which method of propagation works best for your particular tropical plant. After they have been removed, the pups with roots can be planted directly into soil.
The second method is to use clean scissors to, without uprooting the plant, snip the pups from the base of the mother plant. This works best for plants that freely send out small pups on stems from a central stalk, like Pilea peperomioides. Because the resulting pups won’t have roots, you’ll need to place in water to root. Because a greenhouse setting is ideal for this form of propagation as well, it’s best to wait until pups are well-established before removing them and rooting them at home.