Leaf Supply: A Guide to Keeping Happy House Plants is the perfect primer for anyone looking to take their houseplant game to the next level this spring. In this excerpt, authors (and serial plant addicts) Lauren Camilleri and Sophia Kaplan break down how to propagate a wide variety of plants to start an indoor jungle on the cheap.
We all know that plants are pretty magical to have around, but even more incredible is that many can be reproduced via just a small cutting of a leaf, stem, or root. Surely we’re not the only ones guilty of swiping a small cutting or two from a thriving succulent in a stranger’s front garden? Sharing is caring, and the truth is, propagating plants is an awesome way of growing your indoor plant collection on the cheap.
There’s something really lovely about sharing and swapping plants with friends. We have amassed an excellent scented geranium collection born of friends giving away cuttings of every new variety found. Propagation is also a fantastic way of making use of bits you’ve pruned from a plant that is getting a little unruly.
An afternoon spent in the stunning garden of a friend’s mum a few years back resulted in a thriving succulent corner on my balcony at home. Succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate, but there are many foliage plants that can also be reproduced with ease.
The different methods of propagation and some tips and tricks to help you along.
Generally, the best time to experiment with propagation is during a plant’s growth period, which occurs in the warmer months of spring and summer. Ensuring the stock or parent plant is in tiptop condition before taking any cuttings will also give you the best chance for success. There are a number of different methods for propagation, and the one you choose will depend on the plant you are hoping to reproduce.
Some plants, such as the first aid plant (Aloe) and mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria), form side shoots or offsets: little baby plants that pop up usually around the base of the plant. You do have to be very careful in handling and cutting these offsets to get as much of the delicate roots as possible, as this will give the new plant its best chance of survival.
Carefully remove with a very sharp knife, then simply pot up in potting compost and care for it as you would the parent plant. Be careful not to overwater in the early stages, when the root system is still developing. Other plants suitable for offset propagation include the zebra plant (Haworthia) and Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides).
Plantlets are essentially miniature adult plants that are naturally formed at the end of branches or runners as a form of asexual reproduction. When the leaves and roots have formed to a decent size, they’re capable of living on their own as a new plant. Simply remove the plantlet, and pot up using a standard potting mix with good drainage. The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is a perfect specimen for this type of propagation, with a healthy parent plant producing lots of spider babies.
This method of propagation is suitable for many common indoor plants including, but not limited to, devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), and begonias. You have the option of growing these cuttings either in potting mix or directly into a vessel filled with water.
Pick a healthy-looking stem, and cut it on an angle with clean shears. Gently remove the lower bits of foliage and any other young growth that might easily rot. You want to let your cutting focus on putting down roots rather than growing leaves. Insert your cutting into potting mix or simply filtered water. Once it has rooted over a couple of months, it can be transferred into your desired pot. If you’ve taken cuttings from cactuses or succulents, leave them out to dry for at least a few hours or a day before placing them in compost or water. This seals the raw edge slightly and reduces the possibility of rot setting in.
To propagate from a leaf, gently twist the leaf from its stem, making sure nothing is left behind. Let the leaf dry out for one to three days to ensure that the cut scabs over and won’t absorb too much moisture when you water it. Dip the stem in rooting hormone (knock off any excess if it’s the powdered kind), and insert up to two-thirds in soil with the leaf pointing outward. Gently press the potting mix around the stem. Plants that can be propagated from leaves include mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria), Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera), Zanzibar gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), and jade plant (Crassula ovata).
You can divide some plants to make two or more. Species such as peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) and Boston ferns (Nephrolepis exaltata) can be divided into new plant pals. Early spring is generally the best time to divide plants, and it’s super easy to do. To begin, remove the plant from its pot. Place your thumbs into the middle of the plant, grab the plant with both hands, and pull it apart. If this doesn’t work, remove the soil and try again, or use a knife to cut the plant up. Then simply pop your new plants in fresh potting mix, and give them a good watering. Over the next few weeks, keep the soil evenly moist to help the roots take hold and heal.
Pro tip: Create your very own propagation station with a mix of beautiful glass jars lined up to house your cuttings. Thrift stores are a good place to find unusual glass vessels!
Based on an excerpt from Leaf Supply: A Guide to Keeping Happy House Plants by Lauren Camilleri and Sophia Kaplan, with permission from the publisher.