Easy Plant Propagation Techniques for Beginners
If you’re a houseplant lover, chances are you look for every opportunity to grow your collection. But did you know that you can create your own baby plants without a greenhouse or any expensive equipment?
While they do require a few supplies and a lot of patience, these simple plant propagation techniques will have you growing your own plant babies in no time!
What is Plant Propagation?
Propagation is the process of reproducing plants from a single parent plant. There are a number of plant propagation techniques, including division, budding, and grafting, but cutting is the most popular because it presents the lowest risk to the parent plant.
What’s the Difference Between Plant Reproduction and Plant Propagation?
Plant propagation is a form of asexual (one plant) reproduction. While there are tons of ways to grow new plants (like seed starting), plant propagation techniques help you create new plants that are already semi-mature, which means less waiting around for seeds to sprout.
First-Time Plant Propagation With Cuttings
For your first time propagating a plant, it’s best to choose a healthy, hardy, easy-to-grow plant with standard, developed roots that you’ve had for a while. This ensures that its roots are established in its pot and that the parent plant will have no adverse effects from being propagated.
Some types of houseplants are also easier to propagate than others. If you’re new to propagation, we suggest pothos, philodendron, wandering Jew, and spider plants for your first attempt.
Once you’ve chosen your plant, it’s time to get cutting! Here are the supplies you’ll need:
- A plant
- A small vase, old drinking glass, or other glass container
- Clean, sharp scissors
- Find an area that you’d like to cut. The best cuttings contain 2-3 leaves and are around 4-8” long. Then, find the node (the knobby bump opposite where the stems and leaves attach to the main stem) and make a diagonal cut just below the lowest node of your cutting. The diagonal cut helps the new plant take in water and nutrients, and the node at the bottom is where the new roots will develop.
- Fill a tall, skinny glass with water and place your cutting into the water. We recommend using clear glass for these plant propagation techniques because it will allow you to track root growth more easily, but any tall, skinny, watertight container will work in a pinch.
- In about a week, roots will begin to sprout from the bottom of your cutting. Be sure to top off your water level so that the roots remain just below the surface. You should also completely change the water once or twice a week (or whenever it begins to get cloudy).
- Once the root system has developed and you have at least one strong root that is about 4” long, it’s time to pot your new plant. Pot as per usual in a lightweight potting mix in a planter that is just big enough for your cutting. Place the new plant in filtered or indirect light until you begin to see new growth. Once there is new growth, you can move the plant to an area that provides its desired light level.
- Since living in water is all your cutting has ever known, soil moisture and plant propagation go hand in hand. You’ll need to water your new plant heavily in the beginning to help it transition into living in soil. Keep the soil moist (but not soaking) to avoid root rot. Some growers also put a terrarium top or plastic bag over the top of the plant to help it retain moisture (just be sure to poke some ventilation holes for air flow).
- Slowly space out your waterings until the plant is on a normal watering schedule. Congratulations! You’ve propagated your first plant.
Plant Propagation Techniques for Multi-Stem and Rhizome Plants
If you’ve ever potted a ZZ plant, you’ll know their root system looks very different from a typical houseplant. This is because they have rhizomes, or tough, bulb-like root systems. The good news is that plants with rhizomes are incredibly easy to propagate through division. Division is also a great plant propagation technique for houseplants with multiple stems.
- A clean, sharp knife
- A planter or pot
- Potting soil
- Start by removing your parent plant from its pot. Gently loosen the dirt from its roots until you can easily see their structure.
- Decide how you want to divide your plant and how many plants you want to get out of your division. For plants with a single rhizome, find where the stems meet the rhizome. Locate the halfway point, and use your knife to saw through the woody bulb.
For plants with multiple rhizomes, choose a spot between the rhizomes (where it will be easier to cut) and follow the same process.
For plants with multiple stems, gently untangle the roots until you are able to separate your plants. You may need to use a knife to cut through any knots, but note that the less damage you do to the roots, the better your outcome will be.
- Now, simply repot your new plant as per usual! You’ll also need to repot your parent plant, and unless it was rootbound, you’ll likely need to downsize its planter.
- Keep an eye on your new plants for their first few weeks. While they aren’t as unstable as new cuttings, they are still at risk for diseases and may be more sensitive to water and light as they heal their roots. Keeping a close eye on them will ensure they receive the proper care and attention and help you identify any pest problems early.
Succulent & Cactus Plant Propagation Techniques
Succulents and cacti are beloved houseplants due to their compact size and relatively easy maintenance. But they’re also incredibly easy to propagate and turn into more plants!
We’ll be focusing on succulents and cacti that have small, individual sections called “pads” or “pups.” Some examples of succulents and cacti that work with these plant propagation techniques include prickly pear cacti, hens and chicks, burro’s tail, and string of pearls/dolphins/bananas.
- Succulent/cacti potting mix
- Tongs or thick gloves (for handling prickly cacti)
- Sharp, clean scissors or knife
- Start by identifying the “pads” or “pups” on your plant. These are the separate leaves or segments that grow from the main stem or body of the plant. You’ll want to choose pads/pups that are established (medium-large), as they’ll have a better chance of survival than small segments that are newly grown.
- Gently twist and pull off the pups from the main plant. You want to be as gentle as possible so you don’t disturb the rest of the plant. Some plants are softer than others, so if you are struggling to remove the pup, you may need to use a knife or a pair of scissors. If you are working with a prickly cactus, you can also use tongs to remove the pad.
It’s also essential that you remove the entire pup or pad without breaking it in the middle. The nodes at the base of the leaves are essential for root development.
- Place your pads/pups on a paper towel or a piece of cardboard and allow them to callus over in indirect, medium light for a few days. This prevents them from taking up too much water and drowning.
- Once they’ve callused over, it’s time to move your plants to their new homes. Fill your pots nearly all the way with succulent/cacti potting soil, then lay your pads or pups on top. The ends of the leaves don’t need to be touching the soil, simply laying on top of it.
- Over the next few weeks, keep the soil moist but not too wet. We recommend a small amount of water every day or every other day for optimal moisture.
Within a few weeks, you’ll notice roots and new leaves beginning to form. Don’t worry if your original leaf begins to shrivel – it is providing nutrients to the new plant to help it develop leaves and roots.
- Once your new plants have grown roots, you can plant them in their pots. Slow your daily watering as you approach planting day, and be sure that your potting mix is well-drained when you plant your new plants. Your new plants should take root and continue to grow over the next few weeks.