Monday, June 13, 2011

Propagating Succulents

One aspect that I appreciate about succulents is just how easy it is to propagate them! My friends get to share in the fruit of my labors (or enable my addiction!)  I have decades old jade, christmas cactus, and pencil tree cactus that were all started from cuttings.

There are a variety of propagation techniques - cuttings, leaf starts and offsets. Each of these is described below

Succulent Propagation: Cuttings

I've had great success with many species of succulent plant propagating using pieces cut from the stem of the mother plant.  This is the method that we use at Garfield Park Conservatory to propagate succulents that are sold in the gift shop.  Here is the approach for propagating from stem cuttings,
  • Remove cuttings only from healthy succulents.
  • Depending on type:
    •  Those with leaves : try to keep at least three joints, and a few pairs of leaves and remove the leaves from the bottom of the cutting (one node to go in the soil). 
    • Those without leaves, take a cutting that is approximately 2-3 inches long, note on the cutting which end was toward the ground
  • Let the cutting rest for a few days so that the cutting wound heals over (dries.)   
  • Place these cuttings in  a mix of 1/4 potting soil and 3/4 perlite. 
  • Make sure that the cuttings are placed into the medium in the same direction as they would have been growing (top going up, bottom in the mix.) 
  • Water sparingly
  • Over time the energy of the cutting goes into rooting and putting up a new plant. 
  • Test to see if there are roots by lightly pulling up on the cutting - if there is resistance, there are roots. 
  • Leave the cuttings in the mix until there are multiple strong roots
I take cuttings from succulents all year long. I place them in a south facing window - that gets half- sun / half shade.  I'm getting about a 60-70% success rate. This has worked well with Crassula (Jade Trees), Kalanchoes, Echeveria, and many Euophorbia including Pencil Cactus and Devil's Backbone.  

If you are taking cuttings of Euphorbia - take care with the sap.  For several species this can be a skin sensitizer or worse!   Some can even cause blindness if the sap gets into your eyes. Best to just use gloves.

Also take care to have clean and sterile implements when making the cuttings :) 

Succulent Leaf Starts:

Cuttings/Leaves in Dirty Perlite
Another technique uses just a single leaf that is either removed, or has fallen from the succulent. This works amazingly well for Kalanchoes, Crassulas and Echeveria. Same as with a cutting, let the leaf dry for a few days to callus and then place it into medium (same mix as used above).  Put the part of the leaf that would have been attached to the stem into the mix.  The energy in the leaf goes into producing new roots, and then leaves, and before you know it - you have a whole new plant!  The leaf usually dies in this process.

This is particularly easy with Kalanchoe and Jade Trees.  Leaves that fall off the main plant and land into the container start all by themselves. 

Succulent Offsets:

There are lots of succulent plants and cacti that produce small plants at the base of the parent plant. Sometimes these are called pups or offsets.  These can usually be easily separated or cut off the main plant to create a new plant.  (de-pupping!) Similar to a cutting, the pup must dry or heal for a few days. They can then be placed in dirty perlite mix or potted up individually.  The "Mother" plant can just get repotted and continues growing happily.  I have used this technique with Agave and Haworthia, although the success rate is somewhat lower than with cuttings.

Cuttings, rooted and growing in small pots
I leave the cuttings, pups, or leaves sitting in the "dirty perlite" until there are significant roots present. Then I plant them in very small pots in succulent mix. Here are several examples of succulents in small pots. I've also made up container gardens with a variety of succulents grown from cuttings.  Depending on how fast they grow, they can stay in these small pots for several months.
One thing that I've learned is that I have to be patient, not over water, and be patient.  Case in point, here is a picture of a cutting I received from a friend in California. I'm not sure but I think it is a  Gasteria, but I'm not so certain.  There were no nodes at all on the leaves, so my friend just cut off the top.  I let the wound heal and then just popped it directly into this pot. Now, move than 16 months later, I'm just starting to see new growth around the soil line. It's clearly a very slow growth succulent, I'm glad that I didnt' give up.  After another few years I might have to de-pup this guy. :)  I'm wondering if the center portion, the original cutting will eventually decay, or become part of the new plant. This piece is so large, it might take a long time to transform.
Cutting with new growth at base - after 16 months!
 Once this succulent starts growing, then I have to wait for it to flower. I've been told that it's the flower on the succulents that can make identification definitive. Even if I can't tell what type of succulent this is exactly, I'm certain to propagate it and pass it on.

I admit that I'm addicted to succulents.  Propagation is all part of the fun!  It's easy - please give it a try.

Keep singing,

Teresa Marie