How to Propagate House plants

Propagating House Plants

People often propagate house plants like these because it is cheap and easy to doWell grown mature houseplants are relatively inexpensive to buy and generally easy to come buy, so why do people go through the effort of trying to propagate them? The main reason is that although plants can be cheap to buy, they're usually even cheaper to propagate. There is also a sense of accomplishment when it works and you grow an entirely new plant.

When it comes to propagating there are many methods to pick from and we explore each of them, giving you a crash course in the process. Whether you're increasing your own stock, planning on giving them away to friends and family or wanting to start fresh with a familiar but smaller version of an "old friend", we're going to teach you about creating your own houseplants.


The golden rule to remember is that plants want to be propagated, you aren't trying to force them into doing something they don't want to do (unlike attempts to push your dog outside to do its business when it's pouring with rain) so don't be afraid to give it a go!

The Basics

There are several basic rules to remember when it comes to this topic.

  • Cuttings will typically need more attention than fully grown plants.
  • Neglect - for example failure to keep the compost moist (or on the other hand, too wet) could easily end your attempt in failure.
  • Always use fresh compost (if rooting using soil) or fresh water (if rooting using water).
  • A rooting hormone is a good way to increase your chances of success but not essential.
  • Make sure your equipment is clean, this includes everything from the cutting knife down to the container your new plant will grow in.
  • Finally, never expect a 100% success rate but equally, never let failure put you off from trying again.

Soil vs Water Rooting

Cuttings need roots before they'll "take" and exist by themselves, so if there are no roots at the initial stages you need to encourage the cutting to grow some. This Lucky Bamboo is being rooted in waterThis is done either directly in potting compost, or in a small vase or container with just plain tap water.

In general, rooting in soil tends to reduce the number of steps when it comes to propagation, because once rooting has occurred you just need to grow the plant on. If you're using water you'll eventually have to pot up the new cutting which carries a small risk of failure as you may damage the fragile roots when transplanting. Neither method is fall proof however and in general we would simply advise picking the method you like the look of the most or is the most practical for you. Alternatively you could take multiple cuttings and try both.



Okay, so you've learnt the basics above and have decided how you would like to root the cuttings. If you know how you're planning on gaining the new plant material then there are some handy page content links below, if not, just browse down the page and decided which method is most suitable for the plant you're trying to propagate.

Offsets
Plantlets
Stem and Cane Cuttings
Leaf Cuttings
Seed Sowing
Layering
Division


Offsets

If you're careful you can cut offsets off mature plants like the one on this Urn PlantSome species will form side shoots or offsets, usually around the base of itself. This method is tricky to get right because when you remove the offset you have to do so carefully to ensure as many of the new roots that have formed come along with the bulk of the miniature plant you have removed. Too little root and the "baby" won't survive.

If you want to give it a try, use a sharp knife to increase accuracy and once severed, pot into ordinary potting compost and treat like you have the adult plant previously.

Examples of suitable candidates

Aloe
Dwarf Banana
Pink Quill Plant
Urn Plant


Plantlets

Spiderplants produce plantlets which can be grown on in soil or waterWith some houseplants, Plantlets appear on the end of long flowering stems. These are basically miniature adult plants and when the leaves and roots have formed and have grown to a decent size they're ready to live life on their own. You just need to remove the plantlet and pot up into a standard soil mix, watering well, then within a few weeks you'll notice brand new growth. One house plant is propagated this way more than any other and that's the Spiderplant.

Examples of suitable candidates

Moth Orchid
Spiderplant


Stem and Cane Cuttings

Many house plants can be propagated through Stem or Cane cuttings. If you're going to use a stem cutting, pick non-flowering stems and do it during Spring or Summer. The majority of cuttings should be gently inserted into the compost as soon as they have been cut from the main plant. This is a Yucca plant grown from a small length of cane, photo by Arnulf zu LindenIf you're using cuttings from cacti or succulent type plants give them at least a few hours to a day in order for them to dry out a little, this seals the raw "cut" slightly and reduces the possibility of rot setting in.

Cane cuttings are a good choice when the cane has lost its upper leaves, the crown is dying or the plant has a tall but undesirable "leggy" appearance and you want to encourage new shoots to sprout lower down. When you remove the cane simply cut it into pieces at least 2 - 3 inches long (how many cuttings you get per cane will therefore depend how long it is to start with ) and push upright into the compost, you must make sure the cane is still pointing upwards to mirror the direction it was growing in when attached to the main plant.

Examples of suitable candidates

Begonia (Cane)
Corn Plant (Cane)
Dragon Tree (Cane)
Dumb Cane (Cane)
Goosefoot (Stem)
Star Jasmine (Stem)
Swiss Cheese Plant (Stem)
Pothos (Stem)
Wandering Jew (Stem)
Yucca (Cane)



Leaf Cuttings

Depending on the plant you'll need to either gently pull or cut off a leaf from the stem, allow the raw edge to dry slightly (few hours to a day) and then pot it up in a free draining compost mix with the raw edge going in first. Propagating house plants through leaf cuttings is very easy, as shown in the picture with this Mother-in-laws-tongue

Some plants like the Sansevieria have massive leaves, which although a little more drastic, can be cut into several smaller pieces (see opposite).

Always plant in the direction of growth, keeping most of the leaf above the ground which prevents rotting and allows for photosynthesis to take place which in turn creates the new growth you need. Only a few centimeters of the leaf needs to actually be in the soil, just enough to hold it in place. Keep warm and water very occasionally.

Examples of suitable candidates

African Violet
Begonia
Christmas Cactus
Easter Cactus
Jade Plant
Mother-in-Law's Tongue
Wandering Jew
Zamioculcas Zamifolia


Seed Sowing

Seeds are normally the cheapest method and attain the best value when looking to obtain new house plants through propagation (ask any outdoor gardener). The downside is that If your Bird of Paradise gives you seeds you can try and germinate themonly a few indoor plants will produce viable seeds to even allow you to attempt this. The clear disadvantage here is that it takes time for germination to occur and then a great deal more for the seedlings to reach a decent size. It can still be worth a try and if your house plant has given you some you've nothing to lose in trying to grow some new plants from seed.

Make sure you use fresh compost and keep temperatures at the correct level to encourage seed germination. If you have a greenhouse or heated propagator, this will be a valuable piece of kit. Once germination happens you must take extra care to keep the seedlings in a protected condition as their small size makes them vulnerable to damage.

Examples of suitable candidates

Chrysanthemum
Strelitzia
Umbrella Grass


Layering

The majority of climbing house plants will produce "runners" of stray, exploitive vines or stems that will root into new soil if given the chance. This is called "layering" and is a really reliable way of creating new plants if you don't want to take the greater risk of a standard stem cutting. The downside is that it takes quite a while before rooting has taken place, you also need to have space to work with as the propagating happens right where the new growth actually is, i.e. next to the parent.

Once the stem(s) have been chosen, use a hairpin or a piece of flexible wire that allows you to pin the stem into a small pot filled with compost. Ensure the stem is pushed slightly under the soil surface as contact must be made in order for roots to form. The parent will continue to fuel the stem until rooting has taken place, once this happens you will notice new growth and at this point it can be cut lose from the parent and just like that the smaller pot contains your new self-sufficient plant.

Examples of suitable candidates

Goosefoot
Ivy
Pothos


Division

Sometimes one of your houseplant's might get too wide or spread so you can reduce its size and also create new plants at the same time by dividing it. You can divide certain house plants to create new ones, just make sure some of the root ball remains attached to each pieceYou can divide it perhaps in two, or even into more smaller "pieces" or "clumps" if you want multiple plants.

Division is normally very easy as all you need to do is remove the plant from its pot and gently pull the roots apart. Just remember that each "piece" or "clump" must have its own root ball, otherwise it will be very vulnerable to drying out. Out in the garden you might use a spade to do this, although this is not advised for indoor plants as they tend not to be so accommodating of really rough treatment, so do it by hand (or a sharp knife if it's too tough).

Examples of suitable candidates

Aspidistra
Boston Fern
Calathea
Dumb Cane
Peace Lily
Purple Shamrock
Umbrella Grass


Also on OurHousePlants.com

Photo credit of the Yucca cane cutting to Arnulf zu Linden
Credit for Lucky Bamboo roots to Life @ 35 (mm)
Credit for the picture of the Bird of Paradise seeds to Sebastian Stabinger

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