Beyond The Basics

Propagation: When Your Plant Babies Have Babies

The joys of plant grand-parenting

When you have happy, healthy plants, the reward of caring for them and seeing them thrive is more than enough for most plant parents. However, the time may come when you’re itching for something new. Are you interested in how to create more plants from just one? Or hoping to be able to share the plant love with (human) friends or fam?

Well, it might be time to start thinking about entering the world of propagation—or what we like to call plant grand-parenting! Luckily, many common houseplants are easily propagated. But there are definitely some stubborn ones out there. And it can take some trial and error to get the hang of it. Don't say we didn't warn you, though... Propagation is essentially the gateway to a total houseplant addiction. When you figure out how to successfully make your own plants from the ones you already have, you might never stop!

What is Propagation?

Propagation is essentially creating more plants from a single plant—think of it like expanding the family tree. The “mother” plant will supply the cuttings or offsets to start a brand new plant. Then, you’ll follow a method (we aren’t trying to be cryptic here, we’ll go through these step-by-step) to ultimately create established roots for the baby plant.

When we put it like that, it sounds super simple. But it’s important to recognize that you probably aren’t going to be a propagating pro right off the bat. Chances are, not every propagation will be a success. But don’t let that stop you from trying!

What Do I Need to Start?

To start propagating, you can generally start using materials you already have around the house. Look for:

  • Sharp, clean pruning tools
  • A clear vessel or small container

While not totally necessary, and not likely to be laying around your house, rooting hormone can be a good thing to have as well. It greatly increases the chance of successful root development and reduces the chance of rot and other issues. If you’re planning on propagating a lot or taking on a stubborn plant, it'll definitely come in handy.

Depending on the plant you are propagating, you may need different supplies. For example, if you are taking a stem cutting from a plant like a Pothos, you will only need a small clear vessel and some water. If you are taking a pup off a cactus (we’ll explain more about this later), you’ll need some potting mix and a small container.

Some people use eggshells (clean eggshells, of course) if they're big enough. This makes a great way to start roots because the eggshells are biodegradable. You can stick the whole thing in a pot once the roots are ready!

It doesn’t take much to start on your grand-parenting journey. A little determination and adventurous spirit are good to have! And definitely patience.

What Are the Best Plants to Start With?

When you first start propagating, it’s always best to get comfortable with a plant that is tried and true. You do not want to pick a particularly stubborn plant, repeatedly fail, and give up.

Keep in mind: not only does propagation take patience, but sometimes it just downright doesn’t work. Sometimes cuttings can be quicker or slower to root, so wait it out as long as you can. It may still root, or it may not work—but it’s all part of working out that green thumb!

Pothos and Monsteras

The lovely, hearty Pothos. This plant is super popular due to how easy going and fast growing they can be! Even better, using the cutting method, they're a breeze to propagate.

This is one of the simplest plants to propagate because all you need is a piece of stem with a node or aerial root, which is particularly easy to spot since it's a brown knob or full on root sticking out along the green stem. This cutting will grow roots directly in water and in just a few weeks! Once the roots are a couple inches long, you can pot up as you would with any plant.

Monsteras (classic deliciosas or the cute adansoniis) can be propagated in exactly the same way. In the case of Monsteras, if you use a cutting with a leaf that’s already split or fenestrated, you’ll be more likely to create another plant with hole-y leaves. Of course—it can be terrifying to cut off such a prized leaf, but in the end, you'll have TWO thriving plants!

Snake Plants

For Snake Plants, you can use the division method or the cutting method to propagate. This plant is considered a weed in some areas—so that tells you that it’s fairly easy to produce a whole lot more (willingly on our end, maybe not so much in the wild).

With the cutting method, you literally just need one leaf to get started. First, you’ll cut the leaf at the base of the soil, and then you can actually cut that leaf into multiple sections horizontally. As long as you keep the leaf upright, you can place it in water, and roots will grow. But it does take a long time with this method. So, if patience isn’t really your deal, maybe hold off on this one. Or start it along with another, faster-growing plant. That way, you’ll be distracted by the speedier growers!

Something to note: If you have a variegated Snake Plant (like a laurentii), you'll likely lose that unique patterning and color—and end up with a baby plant that's solid green instead. If you want to keep those variegated leaves, division is the way to go (not to mention...it's faster).

ZZ Plant

The ZZ plant is another candidate for easy propagation. These plants are also known to be hearty and hard to kill. See a pattern here? It’s definitely easier to propagate plants that can withstand a little neglect.

For a ZZ plant, you can use the cutting method to cut a healthy stem into at least two-inch pieces. The stem piece can be placed in water and roots will grow. This one also requires some patience—it can take up to two months to see any growth.

But like the Snake Plant, you can also use the division method to separate one plant into many.

Spider Plant

These plants are fun because they basically propagate themselves. When they're thriving, they'll send out offsets, or pups. If you’ve seen a Spider Plant that has a very long stem with what looks like a mini spider plant on the end, that’s a little pup—also called a spiderette!

In this case, you'll cut off the pup and place directly into potting mix or monitor in water while waiting for roots. The pup will grow up to be just like their mother—indeed they're genetic clones! You also can leave the pup attached to the main plant during this process. You’ll wait until they have a root system of their own and then detach from the mother plant.

Pilea

Pilea is similar to the Spider Plant in that they produce pups as well. But in this case, you’ll see the little mini Pileas popping up from the soil near the base of the momma plant. You’ll want to wait until the pup is at least a few inches in length. Dig under and around a little bit and cut the pup out from the soil, making sure to get some roots. You can then place the pup in water to develop stronger roots or pot up right away if the root system is complex enough.

Pilea is so easy to propagate, they're often referred to as the “friendship plant” because you'll quickly want to share with friends or maybe make a friend in the process!

Aloe

Aloe is yet another plant that produces pups on their own. You’ll see a new, mini Aloe offset right up against the base of the main plant. While it’s totally fine to leave these in the same pot, you can also take them out to have more plants!

Aloe is a little different than Spider Plants or Pilea as they're classified as a succulent. In order to avoid root rot, it’s a good idea to let the freshly cut pups sit out and callus over. This will help them grow healthier in the long run.

After that, all you have to do is pot up in the appropriate potting mix. Water well, and make sure the soil completely dries out before you go on to normal care. Easy peasy, right?

I’m Ready: How Do I Propagate?

You’ve chosen your plant. You have your snips at the ready. You have your water or potting mix, and your vessel. You’re ready to move forward. We’ve already been talking about methods, and you probably have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done. But we'll go into a bit more detail to walk you through step-by-step.

How Do I Propagate Using Cuttings?

By now, you’ve probably gathered that cuttings are pieces that are cut from a plant. They’re then used to grow their own plants! Depending on the plant, the cutting can come from different places in the plant—from stems to stem sections and leaves to leaf veins! The main types we'll go over are basic stem cuttings and leaf cuttings.

Stem Cuttings

Stem cutting propagation is probably the most well-known type of propagation, especially for beginners! It’s easy to do and is a method that covers a lot of common houseplants—like Pothos, Monstera, and Philodendron.

No matter the plant, stem cuttings will need at least one leaf node. That’s where the roots will come from!

Get your snips at the ready and follow these steps:

  • Clean and disinfect snips. You can use rubbing alcohol for this or a diluted bleach solution. The last thing you want to do is accidentally pass on disease to your cutting when you’re trying to grow a new plant!
  • [1] Find the cut spot. Depending on your plant, the length of the stem cutting may vary. However, it should always include at least one node. To identify a node, you’re looking at the point where a bud, leaf, or branch attaches to the main stem. You may see knobs or even aerial roots at each node. You may also see a clear division around the stem that indicates a node as well.
  • Cut the stem. Use your snips to make a clean cut.
  • [2] Trim off leaves. You’ll want to trim the bottom leaves if there are any around where you cut. Trimming these leaves will ensure just the stem and node are submerged in the water—otherwise, the stray leaves can begin to rot.
  • [3] Place. Carefully place your cutting into water (or whatever other rooting medium you are using). Make sure the cutting is well supported and stable in the chosen vessel. This can sometimes be a little tricky with a long vine cutting.
  • Wait for it! You’ll want to place the cutting near a window that gets bright, indirect lighting. Depending on the plant, it can take a couple of weeks or a couple of months. Pay close attention to your cutting, watching for root activity. Also, watch for cloudy water and replace when it's looking a bit murky.
  • Pot up. Once you see an established root system, typically about an inch or so long, you can pot up the cutting in fresh potting mix. You'll want to use a smallish pot at first. If there's too much space around the roots, they can get overwhelmed. Also, if you leave the plant to continue growing roots in water for too long, they can have a lot of trouble adjusting to soil life.

Leaf Cuttings

Some plants, like leafy succulents and Snake Plants, can be propagated by taking an entire leaf off the plant.

  • Gently break or cut off leaf at its base. Try not to break the leaf in the middle; you want to break or cut exactly where it meets the soil or the main stem of the plant. If the plant is very small, it may be easier to use your fingers.
  • Set out on a dry surface. To lessen the chance of root rot or other problems later down the road, let a callus form across the leaf's breakpoint.
  • Place on succulent mix. Place the callused cutting right on top of a succulent potting mix. They’ll start to develop roots. Put the cutting near a window so it can get plenty of bright, indirect light.
  • Mist lightly. Before you see a bud, you can lightly mist the cuttings. You don’t want to overwater them, so take care to do this sparingly. If your plant likes humidity, you can cover with a large glass jar or cover loosely with plastic.
  • Expect the leaf to go. Eventually, you’ll see a little plantlet growing. The leaf you originally used for propagating may shrivel away or die. But that means you’ve done it right!

A Note on Cuttings

There are many different types of propagating through cuttings. There are some that you need a leaf and part of the stem from any section of the plant, some where you need the apex or plant tip with a small portion of the stem, some you can just cut off any old leaf, some where you need the leaf and its petiole, and some where you just need the veins of a single leaf! But as long as you have a basic understanding of what you're doing (which we hope to have given you), you can quickly adapt that knowledge to any type of cutting!

How Do I Propagate Using Division?

Division is little more than a fancy way of saying: separate plants that are growing together in a single pot. Plants that are best suited to division grow in “clumps.” For example, our friends Snake Plant and ZZ Plant are both excellent candidates for division.

To propagate using division, follow these steps:

  • [1] Remove from pot. Expect this to be messy—go outside or spread out a tarp! Once you removed the plant from the pot entirely, identify the clumps you’d like to separate.
  • [2] Cut or pull roots apart. Many plants will let you gently pull the roots apart between the clumps. However, if you have a plant that has very strong roots or perhaps they're a bit rootbound, you will need to cut them apart. Some plants, like Snake and ZZ plants, will have a rhizome. This looks like a much thicker, sturdier root (not unlike ginger) that is growing horizontally between the sections you are trying to divide. You can slice through rhizomes vertically to divide a plant. It may seem nerve-wracking to cut your plant’s roots, but it's not as terrifying as it sounds. Plus, it results in more plant babies!
  • [3] Pot up. Once you have successfully separated the plants, repot them in separate, appropriately sized pots. You’ll have two (or more) plants at the end of this! Wondering if the division worked and the plants are happy in their new home? You can gently tug on the plant. If they've taken to the pot, they will feel strong and anchored. If not, they’ll feel a bit wobbly and unstable.

How Do I Propagate Using Pups?

Plant pups are often referred to as offshoots or clones. They come in many forms, like the spiderettes we went on about above or a new cactus growth next to the main parent plant. You can easily use these offshoots, or plant pups, to propagate your plant. Oftentimes, they're trying to do it anyway! All you have to do is help them along.

Whether it's a pup seemingly growing out of the base of the parent plant or a little further away, you can follow these basic steps:

  • [1] Cut the pup off the main plant. If the pup is buried in soil, wait for it to grow a bit (an inch or so high) and then dig under and around before cutting the little guy out from the soil, making sure to get some roots. If the pup is right up against the main plant, just do your best to make a clean cut without damaging the momma.
  • [2] Trim off lower leaves. If the plant has lower leaves, trim them back to ensure just the stem and emerging roots will be submerged. Reminder: those stray leaves can rot.
  • OR Let callus over. If you're working with a cactus or succulent, let the freshly cut pup dry out and callus over a bit.
  • [3] Place. You can then place the pup in water to develop stronger roots if the root system is not quite complex enough yet.
  • Wait for it. You’ll want to place the pup near a window that gets bright, indirect lighting. Depending on the plant, it can take a couple of weeks or a couple of months. Pay close attention to your pup, watching for root activity. Also, watch for cloudy water and replace when it's looking a bit murky.
  • Pot up. Once you see a strong root system, typically about an inch or two long, you can pot that little guy. You'll want to use a smallish pot at first. If there's too much space around the roots, they can get overwhelmed. Also, if you leave the plant to continue growing roots in water for too long, they can have a lot of trouble adjusting to soil life.

How Do I Propagate Using Air Layering?

Here’s a bonus method we haven’t mentioned yet. Air layering is a popular way to propagate since you don't actually cut anything away from the main plant until you're sure that healthy roots are forming and the propagation will be successful! This can happen naturally in the wild when a low hanging branch starts to create roots in the nearby ground.

You’ll need sphagnum moss, a knife, and plastic wrap. All you have to do is cut a little bit into the stem of the plant (close to a node), thoroughly moisten the moss and wrap it around the cut area. Then, cover with the plastic wrap (you may need some twist ties or twine to secure it) and wait. If the moss is drying out, you can unwrap and give it a good spritz.

Typically, within a few weeks or months, you’ll have a developing root system. Now you can cut off that whole portion of the plant, pot up (moss and all), and there you have it—a brand new plant bebe!

Let's make some babies

For anyone itching for a new plant project and wondering how to get even more plants without going to the nursery, propagating is a worthy adventure. It’s also a great way to share the plant love with friends and family. And once they're (inevitably) pulled into that houseplant rabbit hole, you can start doing propagation swaps!

Propagating is a fun and rewarding way to multiply your collection if you have the patience for it and the determination to succeed. Remember, a few plant casualties are bound to happen—but don’t let that discourage you from becoming a plant grandparent!

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