How to Propagate Succulents from Cuttings or Leaves
Are you trying to propagate your succulent plants but aren't quite sure where to start? Many succulents can be propagated from a single leaf if you follow the proper steps. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton walks through all the necessary steps to propagate your succulents from leaf cuttings.
If you’ve fallen in love with succulents recently, you’re not alone. Many gardeners are sharing their collections online and interest in this fascinating group of plants only continues to grow.
Those who want to join the club may find themselves spending quite a bit on plants, especially the rarer species. But this doesn’t need to be the case with succulents. Across the many species, succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate, growing even from a single leaf.
Follow this complete guide to propagate your favorite succulents from leaves or cuttings, allowing you to expand your collection in just a few weeks.
If you prefer a video version of succulent propagation, this video will walk you through each step of the process. You’ll see each step you need to take when propagating via a single leaf, as well as if propagating succulents with stem cuttings.
If you often forget to water your plants or prefer something more low maintenance compared to your traditional garden favorites, succulents are for you. This group is loved around the world for their interesting geometric configurations, ease of growth, and often stunning flowers.
The term succulent is not an official scientific classification, but rather a general grouping of plants that share similar characteristics.
These characteristics are juicy, thick leaves that store plenty of water, allowing the plants to go for weeks without any moisture.
Succulents are often found in desert environments where water is scarce. Aloe Vera and Hens and Chicks are two plants that have become more popular in recent years, and both are found in desert climates.
They are accustomed to well-draining soil, dry air and quick heavy rains that top up moisture levels stored in the leaves. Some can be found in rocky soil near mountains, while others live in more humid jungle-like habitats.
Although there are many different succulent species and types, they are easy to identify by their thick leaves. Plants with slightly thinner leaves that also store water and are drought-tolerant may be referred to as semi-succulent.
Why Propagate Succulents
Propagation is one of the most exciting gardening activities you can experiment with. It’s like plant magic, allowing you to produce more of your favorite plants completely for free. And when it comes to succulents, the process couldn’t be easier.
Succulents can be propagated in a number of ways depending on the type you are dealing with. One of the most common methods is propagating from single leaves.
Many succulents produce masses of leaves in their tight formations. Simply remove one, follow the steps to propagate and you can make a mini version of your existing plant in just a couple of weeks.
Propagating from cuttings is another option that gives you a fuller-looking plant almost instantly. This method is ideal for succulents struggling with etiolation (stretching caused by lack of sunlight). Individual, more compact cuttings will turn one plant into many without the diminished and stretched look caused by incorrect conditions.
If you have a rare succulent species and don’t want to spend the money on another one, propagating can also produce healthy replicas that you can continue to grow or share with friends and family.
You can propagate succulents at any time of the year as long as the temperatures are warm enough to facilitate root growth. But the quickest results occur when the plant is actively growing, typically in spring and summer for most succulents.
How To Propagate Succulents from Leaves
If you have an overflowing succulent plant with plenty of dense leaf growth, propagating from single leaves is your best option. It takes a little longer for the plants to develop but you can produce far more plants at one time than you would propagating from cuttings.
A few days before you’re ready to propagate, water your succulents to make sure the leaves are plump and full of moisture before removal.
Step 1: Choose a Leaf
The first step in the propagation process is choosing the perfect leaf. Actually, it’s best to choose a couple of leaves at once to increase stock and cover any leaves that don’t root successfully. The amount will depend on the size of your plant and how many little plantlets you are willing to care for at one time.
The leaf you choose should be completely healthy and free of any signs of disease or damage. Healthy leaves are far more likely to root and produce healthy plantlets. While any size leaf can root successfully, larger leaves are easier to handle and tend to produce plantlets quicker.
When identifying the perfect leaves to remove, keep in mind that most need to remain on the parent plant. Don’t remove more than one-third of the plant at one time and keep balance in mind. Choose leaves from all sides and consider what the shape will be after the removal of your chosen leaves.
Step 2: Remove the Leaf
The process of removal for most succulents is incredibly simple. You don’t need any specialized tools or tricks, just your hands and a healthy plant.
To remove your chosen leaves, simply pull them off the plant at the base of the leaf. Pull gently to avoid damaging the leaf itself or the parent plant. As long as the leaf comes off cleanly from the stem, you can either twist or pull upwards or downwards.
Parts of the stem may come with the leaf which is perfectly fine. What you need to avoid is the base of the leaf remaining on the plant. Without this bottom piece, the leaf will not form roots or a plantlet. The leaf will simply shrivel up and die off.
Step 3: Let the Leaf Callous
In this next step, you’ll need some patience. Succulent plants need time to callous and heal before they are rooted. This seals the open wound and stops any moisture around the leaf from leading to rot.
Here you have two options. You can remove the leaves and place them on an individual sheet of newspaper to keep them dry. Or, if the soil of the plant is dry and you won’t be watering any time soon, you can simply lay them around the base of the plant.
As a lazy gardener I tend to prefer the second method, but using newspaper is less likely to lead to growth problems or rot.
This healing process will take a couple of days, depending on the plant you are propagating. Once the ends of the leaves have dried out, you can get ready to transfer them to soil.
Step 4: Prepare Your Soil Mix
Succulents and cacti require a very specific soil formulation that closely matches conditions in their native habitats. It needs to be incredibly well-draining to stop the sensitive roots and stems from absorbing too much water and rotting. This soil mix should dry out quickly after watering, allowing plenty of air to flow around the roots.
When propagating, the same mix is required to give your succulents a strong start. Never use garden soil or regular potting soil as this will hold onto too much moisture for succulents and can carry pests, diseases and weeds from outside to your succulent containers.
Instead, purchase a succulent and cacti potting mix from your local nursery or mix your own. If you want to create your own there are a number of recipes you can try.
For a basic mix, start with two parts potting mix, one part sand and one part perlite or fine gravel. This mix can be adjusted depending on the needs of your specific succulent.
Step 5: Plant in Soil
Fill a container with your fresh succulent potting mix ready to plant. Then, simply lay the leaves on top of the soil. Make sure they have enough space to root without overcrowding.
When it comes to moisture, there are several theories about what is best. Some say the soil should be moistened before laying the leaves on the soil, others say only the tips need moisture, and many opt not to water at all.
As succulent leaves are prone to rotting when moisture levels are high, I tend to prefer leaving them alone completely. However, I live in a climate with very high humidity that is often enough to encourage root growth without any misting or watering.
If you live in a dry climate, you may need to mist the ends of the leaves every now and then to encourage plantlet development.
Then, place the container in a bright spot with mostly indirect light and simply wait for the roots to develop. This will take a couple of weeks depending on the succulent and size of the leaf.
Once plantlets begin to form at the base and grow large enough to handle, they can be transferred into individual pots to grow on their own.
Keep the leaf attached to the plant until there are enough roots for the succulent to survive on its own. Once it has rooted successfully, you can remove the old leaf to tidy the plant.
How to Propagate Succulents From Cuttings
Some succulent species with vines or clear stems are better propagated from cuttings. This is also the perfect method for fixing stretched succulents. Although there are a few more tools required, this process is no trickier than propagating from single leaves.
Step 1: Clean Your Shears
Before you even get your plant ready for propagation, it’s important to prepare your tools. While propagating from leaves doesn’t require anything extra, it’s difficult to remove succulent stem cuttings successfully with just your hands.
To take cuttings, a small pair of pruning shears is usually best. Depending on the type of succulent, a sharp craft knife is also suitable. And for semi-succulent plants like string of hearts with thin vines, regular scissors are perfect.
But before you consider using any of these tools, make sure you clean them before you get started. Garden tools are known to carry diseases from plant to plant and need to be cleaned often to prevent spread. Use soap and water to remove dirt and disinfect with a bleach solution to remove any harmful bacteria.
Step 2: Remove the Cutting
With your sharp shears at the ready, identify the part of the plant you want to remove. As with the individual leaves, your cutting should be as healthy as possible.
Choose an area that won’t make the plant look unbalanced when removed or prepare to take several cuttings at once to shape the parent plant.
Cut just below a set of leaves and remove the bottom few so part of the stem is exposed. This will get rid of any leaves that may rot during rooting. If your succulent species is one that propagates from individual leaves, use these to propagate at the same time rather than wasting them.
Step 3: Let the Leaf Callous
Grab a tray lined with a piece of newspaper and lay the cuttings out to dry. They need a couple of days to dry out and allow the wounds created to seal. This callous stops excess moisture from rotting the bottom of the cutting when planted.
For some semi-succulent plants, you may be able to skip this step and go straight to planting. However, if your succulent stems are relatively thick and hold moisture, it’s best to wait for them to heal. After a couple of days, when the end of the cut has changed color, you can go straight to planting.
Step 4: Prepare Your Soil Mix
Set your cuttings aside and get your soil mix ready. You can use the same soil mix mentioned above for single leaves. Make sure it drains well and doesn’t hold onto too much moisture. Also check that your chosen container has plenty of drainage holes.
Step 5: Plant the Cutting
Now, all there is left to do is plant. Make a hole in the soil with your finger and plant the stem in a shallow hole. All leaves should stay above the soil and away from the soil line. Plant delicately to avoid losing any leaves in the process.
Fill in any gaps around the base with more soil and gently push down to set it in place. Water lightly after planting to encourage new root growth but don’t oversaturate the soil.
Once your leaves or cuttings are planted, move them to a sunny spot to promote new growth. Then, care for them as you would any other succulent in your collection.
If they fail to root after a couple of weeks and begin rotting, discard them and turn your attention to the successful cuttings. Although they grow slowly, these will eventually fill out to become mature versions of the parent plants.
Propagating is an incredibly rewarding activity and equally as easy when growing succulents. It’s not hard to do if you follow the right steps, provide proper care, and have a little bit of patience. You can take a few leaves or stems every few months to continue expanding your entire succulent collection!