How to Grow Succulents: Propagation and Rooting

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Succulents add color, texture and a variety of shapes to the garden.
Succulents add color, texture and a variety of shapes to the garden. (Image: palmpai/iStock/Getty Images)

Succulents are plants found in many different plant genera that have fleshy leaves, stems or roots which store water. The word “succulent” derives from a Latin word meaning sap or juice. Because of their water-storing capabilities, succulents are often chosen as container plants or drought-tolerant plants for the landscape. They are easy to care for and easy to propagate.

Basic Succulent Care

Succulents are low-maintenance plants but do require some basic attention. They have adapted to environments with little water and like to reach an “almost dry” condition before taking in more water. Overwatering turns succulent leaves brown or black and may cause the plant to die. Soak them thoroughly once a week, whether in a container or in the garden. Succulents thrive in bright light but do not require more than three or four hours of direct sun each day. Too much light causes a bleached-out look, and too little light causes the plant to stretch out in growth toward available light.

How to Make Cuttings

Succulents do not mind growing closely with other plants or filling their containers to the brim, but occasional thinning is recommended.Early summer is a good time to take cuttings and propagate new plants. Many types send stems growing over the edge of the pot, making it easy to cut them off and root them individually. Succulents such as mountain stonecrop (Sempervivum montanum), which produce “pups” -- miniatures of the parent -- are especially easy to snap off and re-grow. Cut or pinch off succulent rosettes or leaf formations, leaving several inches of stem. Place the new cuttings in a dry, protected place out of direct sunlight. The stem will harden within three days to a week. The red-margined paddle plant (Kalanchoe luciae) has broad leaves that can be cut off at the base of the stem with a sharp knife and hardened off in the same way. Use a commercial potting mix formulated for succulents when it is time to pot up the cuttings.

Divide for New Plants

One reason gardeners love succulents is that they are so easy to divide. Fire sticks (Euphorbia tirucalli) form a thicket of brightly colored upright stems that are easily propagated using this method. Dig with a garden shovel 8 to 12 inches around the root-ball of a mature succulent and apply leverage to loosen it from the ground. Succulents are shallow-rooted and easy to dislodge. Lay it flat on the ground and use the shovel to cut cleanly down the middle or divide it into thirds. Allow the divisions to harden off in a dry place out of direct sun for three days. Plant each division in its new location, covering the root system with fresh soil. Water thoroughly.

New Plants From Leaves

When succulent leaves fall naturally from a plant, they root and grow right there. You can duplicate this natural method by cutting off leaves and placing them on the surface layer of soil in a container or on open ground. Gently pull or cut off individual leaves of the panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa) and place them on suitable soil out of direct sunlight. The leaves develop very fine roots that will stretch toward the soil within seven to 10 days. Cover the roots gently with soil as they develop and soon the leaf will become a growing plant.

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