Do you want a kabillion succulents but also don’t want to pay the kabillion dollars that goes along with buying them??? Well, then you’re in the right place, PROPAGATION is the name of the game. What the heck is propagation? Well buckle up kids, because it’s about to get allllll kinds of magic school bus scientific up in here right now. Just kidding, I’m definitely no scientist, but hey, I think that’s why this blog will be helpful to folks who like me, just want things explained to them as simply & plainly as possible…like “explain it to me like I’m in 2nd grade” status.
“the super easy, magical process of taking 1 mature succulent & turning it into 2, 3, sometimes even 20 NEW baby succulents, at no additional cost to you!”
Okay, that’s not Webster, but that definition did come straight from Lexi’s Dictionary. More succulents, for no money, truly sounds to good to be true, but it’s not, promise! If I can do it, anyone can do it!
So FIRST THINGS FIRST, grab a succulent, ANY succulent…
One of the best things about propagation is that the mama succulent can be in prime health, or one of your sadder succulents that have been dropped *guilty*, bruised, grown too tall, or stretched from lack of light etc. I have even propagated some succulents that I’ve found root rot on near the lower part of the stem, that have reproduced perfectly happy & healthy new babies! So instead of throwing away the whole damaged succulent *single tear* why not try to at least get one or two babies out of it on its way out?? (note: if you pull leaves from a succulent that you found rot or aphids on, I suggest keeping those leaves separate from your other healthy propagation babies, JUST to be safe & not spread any potential unseen aphids or rot to healthy leaves).
BEFORE YOU START PLUCKING…
Before plucking any leaves for propagating, I do a preliminary check underneath the lower leaves of the mama succulent first, many times you will find leaves that have been accidentally knocked loose from the stem & are just laying on the soil underneath mama & that have already begun the propagation process all on their own. This is like finding buried treasure. (Perfect example is this guy I just found underneath mama Perle, loungin’ on top of the pumice she’s planted in.
When you find these leaves underneath mama, you have 2 options, either leave it tucked under mama until it grows large enough to need it’s own pot, or pull it out from underneath & set on top of a bed of PUMICE or a 50/50 mix of PUMICE & cactus soil to continue growing. Either way, you’re already on the road to your kabillion succulents.
Now comes the fun part, the plucking! So one of the biggest keys to a high success rate in propagating is making sure to pluck the leaf correctly! If you don’t, the likelihood of your leaf reproducing is much lower. When removing leaves for propagating, you want to gently grab the sides of the leaf with your thumb & pointer and wiggle it back & forth from side to side, slow & steady. After a few wiggles you will hear a sort of “pop” sound & the leaf should completely release from the stem without tugging or pulling. During the plucking process you want the whole leaf to stay in tact, you want a “clean break”. If you wiggle too abruptly or at a wrong angle, or try to just pull the leaf off, typically a small part of the leaf will break & remain on the stem & chances are your baby leaf will not successfully reproduce if this happens. (Tip: The bottom leaves of the mama are most likely to give you the best results & release most easily)
After you’ve plucked your little heart out & have a handful of leaves ready to reproduce, it’s pretty easy breezy from here on out. I have personally found the best success from laying the plucked leaves immediately onto a bed of dry, pure PUMICE. (I use our 1/8″ or 3/16″ size pumice for my propagation trays)
Here’s the benefits of using Pumice vs. just soil – our PUMICE is:
- SUPER dry – which is very important for freshly plucked leaves (they are more susceptible to over-absorbing water & rot until they have been given time to callous.
- Packed with minerals & nutrients that help boost growth & photosynthesis while your new babies are growing big & strong.
- Sterile – ultra-clean, free from harmful bacterias, molds, & insects that can be hiding in soil or other natural amendments.
- pH Neutral – unlike other amendments it will not effect alkalinity or acidity, giving a more stable, neutral home for your babies to thrive.
Once you’ve placed your leaves on a bed of PUMICE (if you don’t have pumice place them on a dry tray or paper towel; however, I highly suggest NOT placing them on soil at this point). Now, place the tray somewhere dry, with indirect or filtered sunlight (ie. in a south-facing window that gets morning light, or a shady area of your outdoor garden that gets morning sun only), do NOT place them somewhere that gets lots of direct sunlight or where they will get very hot or cold at any point throughout the day. The next part is probably the hardest part, LEAVE THEM ALONE. Ha! Let the freshly plucked leaves callous for at least 3-5 days without watering them or touching them AT ALL. Until the new leaf callouses, the “head” (where it was detached from the mama) is like a super sponge water absorber, & the leaves are most susceptible to rot at this point because of that factor. So LEAVE THEM ALONE, & away from areas that get morning dew or any sort of water at all.
After the leaves have had their time of solitary confinement, you can start paying a little bit of attention to them. Leave them in this dry, indirectly sunlit spot & after 5 days to a week you can begin to very LIGHTLY spritz around the leaves with water using a spray bottle once a week. During the early stages I like to spray closely around the leaf, but not directly on it, just to be safe & keep from over-hydrating/rotting the head of the leaf. Propagating leaves can grow with very minimal water, but cannot handle over-hydration. This is another common mistake made during propagation. It’s honestly better to deprive/under-water than over-water your babies in the beginning stages. Many people will actually wait until pink roots are visible to begin watering in general!
After a few weeks, sometimes it can even take months with certain varieties of succulents, your baby leaves will start sprouting beautiful pink roots. This is when you finally have verification that your baby leaf is on its way to becoming a toddler. Keep misting/spraying your succulents once a week at this point (every other week during the winter) & just be patient. Confession: the waiting can be SO frustrating & it may seem like nothing is happening, SO I suggest taking progress pictures every other week to visibly see the growth you may not notice day to day. But STILL, leave them alone, do not move or pick up or pull the leaves to check if the roots are growing, this can disturb the roots & actually cause them to wither & die.
Once your leaf has lots of pink roots & has finally sprouted a pup (your new tiny succulent), you can transfer it from the tray to it’s own pot! (still keeping it in a south facing window or shaded, brightly lit part of your garden) I typically like to transport them to a 2″ recycled nursery pot or terra cotta pot with a mixture of 60% PUMICE, 40% cactus soil! Make sure whatever pot you transfer to has TONS of drainage (again, excess water equals rot & all that patience you’ve had thus far goes out the window). I typically leave the mama leaf on when transferring the pup as long as possible, it helps continue to lend nutrients to the pup as it grows, and the mama leaf will eventually either fall off on its own or get SUPER dry & crunchy & be easily removed when ready & done supplying nutrients to the pup.
When transferring simply set the leaf in the middle of its new pot & sprinkle a tiny bit of pumice or your pumice/soil mixture on top of the roots & once again, do not water for a few days while the pup is getting established in its new home. I like to continue to spritz water until the mama leaf has fallen off & I am certain that the baby is grown enough & resilient enough to withstand normal watering.
Once the roots are planted, all that’s left to do is really just kick back, relax, & wait for continued growth, watering once a week or whenever you feel the soil is bone dry. Additional tip: If you can give them a drink of rain water that is also super helpful (rainwater is packed full of minerals & washes away excess salts, dirt, & dust that may have settled on the pup or in the soil).
Alright, that’s all folks. It’s truly that easy. The biggest factors that trip people up are the process of plucking the leaves, (remember clean break, gentle wiggle) putting the leaves in the wrong environment to grow (no direct hot sunlight, they sunburn immediately like your palest friend at the beach) & no overwatering or premature watering after plucking (when in doubt, risk under-watering rather than overwatering). & for the thirtieth time LEAVE THEM ALONE to do their thing, I know they’re cute & you want to take videos & photos of the progress but do all those things without touching or moving them. Lastly, keep in mind, not EVERY leaf is going to reproduce, regardless of how perfectly you pluck the leaf & pristine your environment, sometimes they just don’t make it. I’ve found I have generally a 70% survival rate with my propagating leaves, so give yourself some grace for the lost ones & keep plucking away.
I hope this was helpful! If you have any other questions or comments PLEASE leave them below, I’d love to help in any other ways I can! ❤
Here’s an additional bit of advice/reading, just a few of the most Frequently Asked Questions I get on instagram about propagating:
What are some of the best/easiest types of succulents to propagate? Especially for a Beginner??
GREAT QUESTION! So some sorts that I & others have had great/quick results are:
- Thicker-leaf succies (like Graptoveria & Echeverias: Opalinas, Lolas, Lilacinas, Fred Ives, etc)
- Ghost Plants, & Dwarf Ghost Plants
- Sedum Burro’s Tail, String of Pearls
- Kalanchoe (mother of thousands)
- Panda Plant (one of my personal fuzzy favorites)
- Sedum “Jelly Bean” or “Pork & Bean” plant
What do you do if you get mealy bugs in prop tray?
Oooof, Mealybugs in your prop tray are worse than ants in your pants. First of all, immediately move the leaves/pups with mealies to their own separate tray to keep from contaminating other healthy leaves. After moving them, I have had the most success with spraying them with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol, or if you want to be even safer mix equal parts alcohol & water, and spray your infected succies with that & check back in a few days. If the mealies are still there in a few days repeat the process again. Do not oversaturate them however!
How can I know when a leaf is a lost cause or has died?
If your leaf starts becoming white/translucent, brown & mushy, or starting to get black spots or grow mold, or the roots turn brown & crunchy it’s time to say goodbye sadly. These are all signs that your leaf is dead/dying & can’t be revived. Also, if you’ve had a leaf or leaves on prop trays for a few months and there are no roots at all or changes in growth, that’s also bad news, time to restart.
How do I know when to water?
DO NOT WATER AT ALL for at least 3-5 days after removing leaves from the mama stem, give time for the opening, exposed head of the leaf to callous & adapt, otherwise it will absorb too much water too quickly, & rot. I actually put the leaves on a bed of dry pumice & wait an average of 7-10 days before watering at all. After you’ve patiently waited, you can use a clean, empty spray bottle to spritz the soil around the leaf (rather than directly on the leaf), this causes the growing roots to stretch toward the moistened soil & grow more quickly. Until they are more mature continue to only spray with water once a week, then once you transfer to its own pot & the mother leaf has shriveled or been removed, you can start watering more frequently.
How do I know when to transfer my baby leaf to its own pot?
Honestly, you can move your new baby whenever you want really. I usually prefer to wait until the leaf has sprouted a number of healthy pink roots and has a decent-sized pup (mini succulent) growing out of the leaf. The most important factor is that you move the leaf as little as possible, other than that it’s totally up to whenever you’re ready!
Hope you enjoyed the blog & learned something new!
Until Next time friends,