Learning how to propagate plants is perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of indoor gardening.
Generally, once a gardener has mastered a plant’s care, plant propagation is the next step in the gardening journey.
For some of us, propagating plants can be an addiction of sorts.
If one plant is good, more is better!
Propagating plants gives me a sense that I am doing something good.
More nature, more green, more oxygen, less stress.
I may not be solving a huge world crisis, but sharing a baby plant generally puts a smile on someone’s face.
What is Plant Propagation and Vegetative Propagation?
In simple terms, propagating a plant is simply creating more plants from existing ones.
There are various propagation methods.
Examples include planting seeds, rooting cuttings, dividing plants, etc.
However, there are 5 common methods of propagating indoor plants.
They are stem cuttings, division, offsets, foliar embryos, and leaf cuttings.
Each of these methods takes a part of an existing plant whether it’s a leaf, stem, etc. to nurture a new start of the same plant.
Therefore, this process is often referred to as vegetative propagation.
The new baby plant is genetically identical to the parent plant.
How Do I Know Which Method of Plant Propagation to Use?
Each plant species is suited for a specific propagation method.
Some plants can be propagated in multiple ways, but generally, there are 1 or 2 methods that will work best.
For instance, heartleaf Philodendron and pothos are notorious for stem cutting propagation in water.
This would be more challenging for an Aloe vera as it might rot in water before roots developed.
Our publication, The Ultimate Indoor Plant Guide, lists the preferred propagation methods for 100 indoor plants and is a valuable resource for gardeners.
When is the Best Time to Propagate Plants?
The best time to propagate most plants is when they are actively growing.
This is generally in the spring and summer.
However, there are die-hard plants (heartleaf Philodendron and pothos) that can be propagated at any time of the year.
Avoid propagating any plant that has a disease or insect problem.
Wait to propagate a plant in flower (unless it only requires removing a leaf) until the flowering cycle has finished.
What is Stem Cutting Propagation?
As the name implies, stem cutting propagation is cutting a portion of a plant’s stem away from the plant and allowing roots to form on the cutting, creating a new plant.
This is an act of faith as cutting off a piece of a plant can be daunting for a new plant parent.
However, a bit of knowledge, experience. and success makes stem cutting propagation much easier.
How to Propagate Plants from a Stem Cutting
The key to successful stem propagation is to use plants that respond well to this type of propagation and to know where to cut the stem.
Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron cordatum), pothos (Epipremnum spp.), English ivy (Hedera helix), goldfish plant (Nematanthus fornix), polka-dot-plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) are plants that are easy to propagate via stem cuttings.
Select a 3-5 inch stem section to trim from the plant.
Ideally, this is new growth that is supple and green.
Woody stems are more difficult to propagate and have a tendency to rot before roots have time to develop.
Avoid propagating plants that are stressed, have insects or diseases.
Use pruners that have been sterilized with a 10 percent bleach solution.
This is important as plant diseases can be transferred to a plant from pruners and snips through a fresh cut.
Once a 3-5 inch stem cutting is made, remove all but 1 or 2 of the leaves at the end of the cutting.
The remaining stem section should have at least 1-2 leaf nodes present.
What is a Leaf Node?
A leaf node is a bump on a stem where the leaf was attached.
It is a growth point and new roots will emerge from this node.
It’s the key to propagating a plant from a stem cutting.
If a node isn’t present, then roots won’t form.
If you have several nodes, then there are more opportunities for more roots to emerge.
How to Propagate a Plant by Rooting a Stem Cutting in Water
It is quite popular right now to root stem cuttings in water.
This is easy for many plants and can be quite rewarding for the beginner.
Simply place the cutting in a glass of water so that the stem and nodes are submerged in water and the remaining leaves are above the water.
Change the water every 2-3 days to eliminate the opportunity for bacteria to grow.
It is preferable to use water that doesn’t have chlorine, but many gardeners find that tap water works well for many types of plants.
However, if roots don’t form, it could be due to high levels of chlorine in the water.
Removing chlorine from tap water is easy.
Place the water in an open container and allow it to sit for 24 hours.
The chlorine will evaporate naturally.
How Much Light Do My Cuttings Need While in Water?
It’s important to provide light to the cuttings.
Indirect light that is approximately 2 feet away from the source is best.
Interestingly, increasing the length and amount of light a stem cutting receives will speed up the rooting process.
Transferring a Plant Cutting from Water to Soil
Once the cutting has developed roots that are 3-5 inches long, it can be planted in soil.
Use a soilless mix that is designed for indoor plants.
Avoid placing the plant in direct sun and keep it moist as it will need time to establish the root system to effectively transmit water throughout the plant.
Fertilizer can burn new, tender roots and should be avoided until the roots are well-established in the pot.
Occasionally plants will experience transplant shock when transferred from water to soil.
There may be a time of acclimatization and adjustment for the plant.
This will take time but plants usually recover and grow.
However, there are situations in which a water-rooted cutting doesn’t grow larger or develop new leaves or shoots.
This is known as a blind cutting.
It isn’t common but does happen.
Unfortunately, these plants never develop past the rooted cutting stage.
How to Propagate a Plant by Rooting Cuttings in Soil
Stem cuttings can also be placed in a soilless mix to root.
Harvesting the cutting is the same, but generally, a shorter cutting is taken depending on the depth of the container used.
At least one leaf node must be present, otherwise, roots will not form.
Before planting the cutting, it can be dipped in a rooting powder to add hormones that will speed up the rooting process.
Insert the cutting into a moist soilless mix so that all of the leaf nodes are below the soil surface.
Because there aren’t roots to provide moisture to the 1 or 2 leaves on the cutting, it is advantageous to provide a clear covering to retain moisture and humidity while allowing in light.
There are clear dome coverings for trays that make this simple and effective for the hobby gardener.
Clear plastic bags also work well.
Mist the leaves and soil as needed until the roots have developed.
Once roots have grown and are 2-3 inches long, the cutting can be transferred to an individual container.
Since cuttings rooted in soil generally are already growing in a soil mix, they generally transplant more successfully than those grown in water.
How to Propagate Succulents By Stem Cuttings
Most succulents can be propagated by stem cuttings and rooted in either water or soil.
Allow cuttings to “cure” for 24 hours before beginning the rooting process.
Curing is allowing the cut end to naturally dry and seal over in the open air.
When planting succulents, use a quick-draining soilless mix that is specifically formulated for cacti and succulents.
How to Propagate a Plant by Division
Another common method of propagating indoor plants is division.
Division is separating one large plant into several plants.
This is done by physically separating the plant’s roots.
This can be hard for the first-time plant parent, but when a plant is overgrown and root bound, it’s an invigorating process for the plant.
ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta), Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema spp.), and false shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) are houseplants that grow in a clumping habit, and lend themselves well to division.
How Do You Divide Houseplants?
The first step for dividing an indoor plant is to remove the plant from its container and place it on a clean surface.
Most plants that are overgrown and rootbound in their pots divide into a minimum of two plants.
Using the end of a sharp, sterilized small trowel or knife, divide the root system in half.
Separate the plant and roots to create 2 new plants of approximately equal size.
If the root system is circling itself at the bottom, snip away a few roots with pruners to break the circling pattern.
Re-pot each half in a clean container keeping as much of the existing soil and root system intact as possible.
Add new soilless mix as needed.
Water both plants thoroughly and keep them in indirect light for several days until the roots have a chance to acclimate to their new environment.
How to Propagate a Plant By Offsets and Pups
Another method of plant propagation is by offsets.
This is similar to division, but with offsets, the plant produces replica “baby” plants (sometimes referred to as pups) that develop alongside the main plant.
Aloe vera, zebra plant (Haworthia spp.), Bromeliads, and spider plants (Chlorphytum comosum) are plants that produce offsets.
When Can Pups Be Removed From The Main Plant?
Once an offset pup has reached a size of at least 3 inches high it can be removed from the main plant.
However, if there is no hurry to remove the plant, it is advantageous to allow the pup to get a bit larger.
The key is to allow the pup’s root system to develop so that it can sustain itself once separated from the parent plant.
The repotting process creates a bit of stress on the small plant, so the larger the root system, the better chance that it will not sustain transplant shock.
How To Re-pot Pups and Offsets
To remove a pup from the main plant, remove the entire plant from the pot and place it on a clean surface.
Gently explore the area between the pup and main plant with your fingers to find the natural separation point.
Some pup’s roots will easily separate from the parent plant with little effort.
Other offsets will require coaxing and the use of a small, sterile tool to help separate the root systems.
Make every effort to keep as much of the pup’s root system and soil ball intact.
This will reduce the likelihood of transplant shock and get the pup off to a great start.
Plant in a container with a soilless mix that is appropriate for the type of plant- standard soilless mix for tropical plants or fast-draining for cacti and succulents.
Keep the pup out of the direct sun for 1-2 weeks until the roots have acclimated to the new surroundings.
How to Propagate Plants By Foliar Embryos
Some plants can produce plantlets from their leaves.
These plantlets are known as foliar embryos.
Mother-of-thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana or Bryophyllum daigremontiana) is one of the best known-known plants that produce foliar embryos.
The plantlets are produced along the leaf edges and once mature, are released.
This is often referred to as self-sowing.
Many of the plantlets will develop roots and grow to full-size plants.
How to Propagate Plants by Leaf Cuttings
Some indoor plants are most easily propagated by leaf cuttings.
This is the process of removing a leaf from a plant and a new plant develops from the leaf.
African violets (Saintpaulia spp.) and Rex Begonias are examples of plants that will develop shoots and roots from leaf cuttings.
How to Propagate Plants From a Leaf Cutting
Always use healthy leaves for propagating.
Faded or yellowing leaves will not yield good results.
Remove an entire leaf including the leaf stem (also called the leaf petiole) from the main plant.
Using a sterile razor blade or pruners, trim the stem to 1 inch.
Use a clear dome or plastic covering to keep the cuttings from drying out.
New plantlets will form where the stem was trimmed.
Another method is to make a short cut on the underside of the leaf along the central leaf vein.
Place the underside of the leaf on top of the soil (pin down if necessary) and new plants will form along these cuts.
One of the main differences between a stem cutting and a leaf cutting is that a leaf cutting produces new shoots and leaves.
A stem cutting only produces new roots.
How to Propagate Succulents From A Leaf Cutting
Succulents such as Echeveria are ideal for propagating by leaf cuttings.
Allow the cut-end of the leaf to air dry for at least 24 hours after removing from the main plant.
This is known as curing.
After the leaf has cured, place it on a shallow container of moist succulent soil mix.
A new plantlet will develop from the base of the leaf.
Mist the leaves occasionally, but refrain from overwatering as the leaves can develop a fungus.
Once the plantlet develops roots and reaches a size of approximately 2-3 inches it can be transplanted into a small pot.
The desire to propagate plants is a natural progression in a gardener’s journey.
Creating more plants is an easy way to build a larger plant family!
There are 5 common methods of vegetative propagation: stem cuttings, division, offsets and pups, foliar embryos, and leaf cuttings.
Each plant has its preferred 1 or 2 methods of propagation.