In my post How to Deal with Rot Part 2: Saving Your Cacti & Succulents, I briefly touched on how propagating succulents is an excellent way to keep your plant’s legacy alive when you can’t save the mother plant. Aside from saving our cacti and succulents, it’s also a great way to grow your collection without having to buy new plants. Have a sempervivum, echeveria, aeonium, or opuntia you love? Are you dying to have more? In this tutorial, I take you through not only how to propagate cacti and succulents, but also how to propagate and grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables.
Cacti & Succulents
Cacti and succulents can be propagated in 3 ways: cuttings, division, and offsets. The most popular way to propagate these plants is through cuttings, which includes cutting off a piece of the plant or propagating using a leaf or pad. I like using cuttings because they are exact genetic replicas of their mother plant and are essentially clones. The second way to
propagate cacti and succulents is division, which is dividing the root ball of concentrated succulent varieties and redistributing the roots. I haven’t tried dividing my succulents as of yet because they are not particularly concentrated. Another common way is to use offsets, which are essentially baby plants that grow at the base of the parent plant. I’ve done this multiple times with my cacti and succulents and have had success so far! In my plant colony I created a plant nursery for these kinds of cuttings so I could see the different stages of my propagation. Since I have only propagated plants using cuttings and offsets, I’ll only touch on these methods in detail. If you would like to try propagating through division, I recommend reading through this article by Garden Therapy. It’s extremely informative and a great resource.
To propagate using cuttings, you can either a) cut the stem of your succulent or b) use healthy leaves from your plant.
You can cut the stems of your succulents for various reasons including saving it from root rot or preventing further etiolation, or stretching caused by lack of light. In the article “3 Ways to Propagate Succulents,” the author suggests using a rooting hormone when cutting pieces of your mother plant or propagating leaves to help support the new plants. I’ve never used a rooting hormone and I find my plants root well without it. However, without using the hormone my propagated plants grow much slower. I’ve been growing my Mammillaria gracilis (I call him Gael) from a clipping for nearly 2 years now and growth has been very slow. My Opuntia microdasys v. alba clipping however rooted within 2 weeks and has grown significantly in last 3 months. All that to say that rooting or growing hormone may very well start your propagated plants on the right foot, but is not necessarily needed.
What I did to propagate my cuttings was simple in that I cut a piece of my original,
rotting Mammillaria gracilis and placed it in dry cactus soil with the cut piece in the soil itself. I did not water it for about a week so that the cut would callous. After the cutting has calloused, I watered it sparingly once per week. After a month a small tap root began to form and after about 6 months later I noticed growth. After 2
years, Gael hasn’t grown very much aside from tall, which is because of an initial lack of light.
This process is similar with succulents that have leaves, such as my echeveria (unidentified) and Echeveria aphrodite. The key difference is that I don’t put the calloused portion of the succulent leaf into the soil itself. Instead, I lay the leaf on top of the soil and do not water for a month. After a month the leaves are calloused and usually sprouting small roots. Once roots appear, I water the leaf sparingly once weekly.
After about 3 moths is when I begin to see succulent rosettes appearing from out of the soil. These rosettes will continue to grow larger as you take care of them. Be sure to give them plenty of filtered light so that they grow symmetrically rather than upwards.
Propagating offsets is exactly the same as propagating cactus cuttings. Cut the offset from the mother plant with a sterile knife or blade. You can dip the cutting in growth hormone to supplement its growth or you can stick the offset directly into the dirt. Do not water the offset for a week then water sparingly once weekly. My favorite offsets have been my Kalanchoe daigremontiana (Mother of Thousands), Kalanchoe humilis and Mammillaria longimamma. Kalanchoe of the “Mother of Thousands” variety reproduce by creating hundreds of little offsets on their mature
leaves that drop down into the soil and root themselves at the base of the mother plant. Currently I have the mother and 12 offset babies. The Kalanchoe humilis is a flowering variety that reproduces with seeds as well as offsets. Since I don’t pollinate the flowers myself, I propagated this plant using 2 offsets. My Mammillaria longimamma is one of my favorite IKEA finds because the cactus is extremely healthy and has produced 10 offsets since I bought it at the beginning of this year. I removed this one offset because I was concerned that it was unhealthy, but after removing it from the mother cactus 2 months ago it began growing on its own. It currently has new spines and bristles appearing. Within the next month or so I anticipate it growing too big for its corner and I’ll need to find it a new spot or create a new arrangement.
Flowers, Herbs & Veggies
One of the great things about gardening is that as you learn more about how plants reproduce, you can begin to experiment and connect dots that may have otherwise been unrelated. For me, discovering how to propagate my cacti and succulents led me to wonder if I could propagate my flowers, herbs, and veggies in the same way. The short answer:
There are many different flowers, herbs, and veggies, that can be propagated and grown after either purchase from the store or after growing in your garden, such as roses, mums,
basil, lettuce, potatoes, and onions. While my attempts to propagate lettuce hasn’t worked out, my experiment with roses, mums, basil, potatoes, and onions have all progressed extremely well.
I’ve found that rooting flowers and herbs in water is the best way to propagate them. For instance, I’ve grown basil by putting cuttings in a vase by my window where they continue to photosynthesize and take root. Using this method I’ve grown, planted, and used basil for the last 2 years. Just this year I’ve discovered that this same rooting technique can be used with flowers as well.
This past month I’ve rooted a sprig of mum that I accidentally knocked off my plant outside and it has grown new leaves and 3 news roots! In an attempt to grow roses without buying a plant, I recently tried rooting cut roses I bought from the grocery store. The first time I tried was about 2 months ago. I managed to grow the cuttings inside after a week and then transferred them outside to grow in soil. Unfortunately, this was a terrible idea because Georgia summers are too hot for newly growing, delicate plants. I’ve kept my second attempt growing solely in water in my window sill for the last week and have seen promising growth. The plan is to keep cultivating the roses in water for the next several months until it gets cool enough to transfer the cuttings outside.
I followed this same process for growing my green onions. Since rooting them 2 years ago, I’ve successfully planted and over-wintered them. As of this summer, I have 3 new onion shoots! Growing potatoes from a store bought bag was also surprisingly easy. I started by putting a small potato with many eyes into a small pot. After a month I dug up the potato to find that it was quickly becoming root bound and sprouting leaves. I have since planted the potato in a much bigger container where it can spread out as it likes. Right around September or October I should start having new spuds to start digging up on my porch.
Propagating my herbs from store bought food has been an effort, but also a real time and money saver. I feel that if I continue with my success growing onions, potatoes, and roses I’ll have an even more productive urban garden before I know it.
Do you have questions about my propagating cacti, succulents, flowers, or produce? Have you been propagating plants for awhile? Or do you just have questions about your indoor and outdoor plant babies? If you’d like to know more about propagation, have some cool tips and tricks, or if you have questions about your plant colony, leave a comment below or feel free to contact The Garden Generalist. I would love to hear from you!
Want to stay in touch with The Garden Generalist? Keep checking the blog for more features, and don’t forget to visit The Garden Generalist on instagram for sneak peeks and flashbacks of my garden visits, weekly plant baby spotlights, and blog post previews. Next week I’ll be writing about common cacti and succulent ailments and how to fix them.