Beheading Succulents- Why? How? When?

Many of you may wonder what on earth is beheading a succulent and why would someone want to commit such a crime against a perfectly good plant. Although it all sounds rather drastic, there are circumstances when chopping the top part off your succulent is not such a bad idea.

The reasons for beheading a succulent are:

  • Propagating
  • Fixing succulents that have grown too tall for various reasons
  • To encourage new growth
  • To help rejuvenate succulents that have suffered damage to the very top of their rosette.

 When you decide to behead your succulent the How and When is also very important. Let’s have a closer look at all of this.

Why Would Anyone Behead a Succulent?

As mentioned above there are perfectly good reasons for beheading succulents or cutting the top rosette off.

Many people use this method to propagate difficult or rare succulent species such as Echeveria Romeo Rubin, Ebony or Graptoveria Amethorum that do not produce many offsets or chicks. Beheading a succulent, if done right, will spur new growth and will encourage new offsets to grow from the cut. Also, the top, beheaded part, can be re-planted. Depending on the plant, you can gain anywhere between 1-5 new plants by beheading one plant.

By beheading this Pachyphytum Diamond we have gained 3 extra plants (4 if you count the beheaded rosette which can also be planted and grown on)

Another reason for beheading succulents is to fix tall growth. Many succulents such as Echeveria Blue Bird or Derenbergii naturally grow a bit taller and can start leaning. To maintain the look, they can be cut and planted again.

Echeveria Derenbergii grows tall naturally. This can cause it to lean as shown in the photo below.

While leaning succulents are generally ok, in this case the Echeveria Derenbergii is uprooting itself. This can be fixed by beheading or replanting with support to hold the heavy top head in place.

When sun loving succulents are grown indoors or in too much shade they will grow tall, searching for the sun. Cutting the tops can help with trying to get them grow as they are supposed to. The growing conditions will, however, need to change too (place the plant in more sun etc.) so the growth is maintained.

Sun loving succulents grown indoors or in too much shade will grow tall, searching for the sun. This Echeveria Elegans has done just that. To correct its growth, the top part of the rosette will need to be cut off.

And this is how to behead stretched succulents. The top bit will need to dry for 24hrs before planting again in succulent potting mix. The bottom part with the roots can also be planted in a pot as it is likely to grow offsets.

This is how Echeveria Elegans should look like. The rosette grows tightly and close to the ground. Elegans will need at least 4-5 hours of direct sun followed by very bright shade to keep growing as it should.

As we’ve established above, many succulents will be encouraged to grow new heads when the main head is cut off. This will create an attractive, multi-rosette look.

Before we beheaded this Graptosedum there was only one main rosette. After cutting it off multiple rosettes shot out soon after (about 1 month). Graptosedums like this one would naturally grow multiple rosettes, but by cutting and trimming, the process is sped up significantly.

Lastly, succulents can be beheaded if the top of the rosette has suffered some kind of damage. Hail, mealy bugs in the centre of the rosette or a hungry caterpillar eating the newest growth can all distort the look and by cutting the damage off, new heads will replace the damaged one.

When & How To Behead a Succulent

The best time to be cutting any succulents is the spring or the growing season of a particular plant (some succulents are summer dormant, the majority are winter dormant). Spring is however the best season as most succulents grow during this time. If you behead a plant outside of its growing season, there is a strong possibility it will die before it is able to send roots/ recover from being cut.

Beheading refers to cutting the top part off on rosette type succulents/ succulents that form a central main head rather than the ones that branch out. Some succulents are easier to behead than others. To successfully undertake this, the ‘victim’ plant will need to have enough stalk so the top doesn’t fall apart and there are still a few leaves left at the bottom, root end as this is essential for new growth to sprout. If there are no leaves left, some plants can never recover and may die.

So the most important thing is to make sure your plant is of good size and can survive the beheading. Second, as mentioned above, is to only behead succulents in their growing season. It is no good doing this when the plant is dormant and not growing and is likely to result in the top part of the rosette not sending roots and bottom rotting away. Most succulents grow well in spring, so this would be an ideal time for any propagating.

Once you have your plant, gather your cutting tool. This can be a Stanley knife (it’s super sharp and thin, so a good choice), pair of sharp garden scissors or a strong piece of string (can be fishing line or similar).

Next, sterilize your cutting tool. Although not essential, clean sterile tools will prevent fungal infections or other nasties entering the open wound and killing your plant. A good way to sterilize anything is by dipping in methylated spirits. Metal tools can be heated up in boiling water. To be entirely honest, I don’t always sterilize my cutters when propagating as I can do thousands of cuttings in a space of a few days, so it would just be very time consuming. I do, however, clean whatever I cut with before going on a cutting spree. I would still recommend to sterilize the tools, just in case, especially if you’re going to behead a particularly rare/ expensive succulent.

Once all that is done make sure you’re cutting at the lowest possible point, but so there are a few leaves left at the root end. If beheading a stretched succulent, make the cut at the top, where the concentration of the leaves is at its most thick, but also allow for a bit of a stalk. When the cut is done put the top and the bottom in a bright but covered and shaded spot to help the wound dry. This will stop diseases entering the plant through the cut.

24-48 hours is enough for the wound to dry off. The top bit of the plant is now ready to be planted. Choose good quality succulent potting mix and place both, the bottom bit where only a few leaves and the roots are now left and the top cutting planted in potting mix, in a bright but protected spot. Depending on the plant that has been beheaded, select a spot with a bit of a morning sun and then afternoon bright shade. 30% shadecloth over the plants is ideal as this way they will be protected from harsh UV rays that would otherwise burn them (the cuttings will be a little sensitive before they grow a good root ball) and they will still get enough essential sunlight which they need to grow well. Some plants, such as the Haworthias, prefer more and deeper shade than sun-loving succulents, so if you’re beheading a Haworthia, place the cutting in a bright shade with no direct sun or filtered sun (under a tree) or under shadecloth. Sun loving succulents will need to be slowly introduced to sun otherwise they are likely to stretch again. If they are under shadecloth though, this will let enough sun in to keep the happy all year round. Pretty much all succulent types will grow well if they are under 30% shadecloth(more that 30% will be too dark for sun loving succulents), so if you’re growing rarer plants it may be worth investing in a simple greenhouse and buying 30% shadecloth to put over.

In my experience, not many succulents like to grow indoors (there are a few exceptions, of course). They prefer fresh air and loads of light and so I’d recommend not having your succulents inside, unless you have an extraordinarily bright place with good airflow. A bright verandah or a balcony are fine though.

In about a months time your beheaded succulent should have a few roots (some species may take longer, some will have roots in 2-3 weeks). The bottom stalk should also have new growth sprouting from the cut. How much growth will depend on the individual species. Some plants can have 3+ rosettes while others may only manage one. Tender growth attracts pests and so it is always a good idea to check for mealy bugs, aphids and slugs.

In conclusion, beheading succulents can be a fun way of propagating and experimenting with your plants. It may also serve as essential maintenance tool. However, if you're not sure how to go about it, feel nervous or have a very expensive plant, i would not recommend tampering with your plants. Succulents are super hardy and chances are everything would be fine, there is no 100% guarantee that things will work out and your succulent could die.

If you have any experiences with beheading succulents you would like to share, you can comment below 🙂

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