So, Everyone Told You Propagating Succulents Was Easy
I’ve seen the TikToks- someone pricks off the juicy leaf of a cute little plant, places it gently on the soil, and almost magically, short little roots pop out a week or two later. I’ve also witnessed the darker side of this aforementioned trend, when each leaf unexpectedly shrivels up in a crispy demise. And it’s not just on social media, the internet is chock-full of entire listicles containing tips and tricks, varying how-to’s, and the simplest succulents for your (potentially) many propagation attempts. So where does the truth lie, exactly? Unsurprisingly, it’s somewhere in the middle. Shocking, right? In this quick guide, I’ll show you the route I’ve taken along this oft-traveled, and sometimes treacherous, path.
What You’ll Need:
Soil- succulents aren’t too picky, but a cacti and succulent variety is easy to find.
Pot- Again, these guys don’t mind most pots, but I prefer a clay pot for cacti and succulents as moisture is more easily absorbed
Scissors/knife/snipping tool (optional): Not needed for leaf propagation, but if you’re going to separate a plant, you’ll probably want one.
Rooting hormone (optional)
How To Start
Choosing the right succulent is important. For these instructions, I’m going with my Pachyveria Clavata. It’s a plant I’ve had for a few years now that has been very generous in regards to creating new little offshoots. It was actually one of the very first plants I ever purchased, and I’m very thankful the original is still alive and thriving, as well as her (now) many children. I’ve found that succulents with larger, thicker leaves are easiest for this type of propagation.
Method 1: Planting A Leaf
Step 1. Find a healthy leaf. This is important. My assumption is that many of the horrendous attempts we’ve seen have started with a poor choice of leaf. For plants like the one pictures above, they generally grow upward and outward towards the light. In the process of growing, lower leaves will shrivel up and eventually fall off. Don’t be worried, it’s perfectly normal. Conversely, new leaves will be forming from the top of the plant and spreading outward as they grow larger. Avoid picking a leaf from the lower or upper part of the plant. Find one that looks healthy and mature.
Step 2. Next, prick or cut the leaf off. Most succulents are very delicate, so you shouldn’t need to cut them off, but it’s always good to have some sort of snipping or gardening tool handy just in case.
Option 1: Leave the leaf on the soil This is were it appears to get “tricky”- I promise you, it’s not. With a lot of succulents, mine included, you can simply leave the leaf on top of the soil in the same pot with the existing "mother" plant. In a week or two, roots will form at the base of the leaf. From my own experience, this is where propagation appears akin to sorcery. For most of us, a leaf without a tree is a dead leaf. Succulents, being the marvelous living mini-sculptures they are, function a bit differently. The pro of this method is being able to see when the roots have started to grow.
Option 2: Plant the leaf. If waiting for roots to sprout still seems unsettling, this option also works. I accidentally knocked off a few leaves while photographing these plants (I told you they were delicate!). But it isn't a total loss, because I'm able to get a few more plants out of it! Plant the bottom third or fourth of the leaf into the soil.
Step 4: Repeat light and water conditions for new succulents. After giving the newly-planted or soil-sitting leaf a nice drink, make sure they remain in similar light conditions as the mother plant. Continue the same watering schedule as well. Most of my succulents prefer bright indirect light, this one in particular. Direct sunlight never hits this plant throughout the day, despite sitting in a window. This is especially important for leaves that are disconnected from the stem, as they're prone to drying out.
Step 5: Wait! Yes, wait. Patience may be annoying, but it's necessary. Your indoor desert-jungle won't grow overnight. If you planted your leaves, refrain from removing them from soil. The roots will grow- they're in there, just have faith. Small, tiny leaves will peek their little heads out of the soil in a few weeks, still attached to the larger original.
Method 2: Separating An Existing Plant
Why have one succulent, when you can have two? So you've tried planting a leaf, and after a few anxiety-ridden weeks, you finally noticed that roots have indeed begun to sprout. Congratulations! You're a gardening wizard. Once you've earned your beginner badge, you can move onto the intermediate course. Or if you're feeling confident in your abilities and possess the steady precision of a surgeon, go ahead and try this as well! For the most part, this method requires a more mature plant (i.e. one that has already grown additional branches or shoots.) My pachyveria clavata usually produces one or two of these infant sprouts from the base of the stem once a year during growing season.
Step 1: It's best to bring out the tools on this one. If you have slender scissors or a gardening tool for pruning, let's go with that. It may be hard, it may appear risky, but splitting a succulent or re-planting its new growth is a way to jumpstart your propagation. Part of your plant's life-cycle is producing these offshoots, and it means you've done a great job as a plant-parent. Slice or snip as close to the base/stem of the main plant.
Step 2: Even if you left your cutting on top of the soil, it would still more than likely produce roots- similar to the leaf method above. However, since we want a nice and upright succulent, it's best to give the lil' guy its own home. Find a smaller pot and fill with it soil. Place the end of the separated plant's stem into the soil. I like to dig the plant in slightly. If your cutting feels top-heavy, it's perfectly fine to remove a few of the lower leaves to give yourself more "stem space" to plant into the soil. Make sure the soil is gently but firmly packed around the base of the plant. And that's it!
Repeat the light and water conditions as outlined above. Soon enough, your cutting will continue to grow steadily upward on its own. I find this method grows bigger, more-symmetrical plants over the leaf method. If you think you might need a small pinch of fairy dust for additional luck, you can use a rooting hormone to try and speed up the process. I haven't found this to be necessary as I've successfully propagated without it, but if you believe it gives you a better chance at success, more power to you!
And that's really it! You're now on your way to multiplying your indoor garden- and for free! If you've gone a little overboard and think your window sill is becoming slightly cluttered, cuttings are always a thoughtful gift for friends. Hopefully this ~tutorial~ of sorts was helpful to you, and I wish you all the best in your plant-parenting journeys!