One of the main reasons succulents are so popular is that, for the most part, they are easy to grow and propagate. Some are so easy that you literally only need to drop a single leaf on the ground and next thing you know, it grows into a whole new plant!
Taking and planting cuttings in order to get new plants is very easy with most succulents but, as with everything, there are exceptions and some basic rules to follow.
- Only take cuttings in the growing season
- Choose mature plants
- Use a clean cutting tool
- Leave for 24hrs
- Find a suitable planter
- Buy good quality succulent potting mix
- Find a suitable spot
- Water the cuttings
- Wait for the roots
- Don’t panic
Now lets have a look at each of these points in more detail.
How To Take Succulent Cuttings
Only Take Cuttings in The Growing Season
This is one of the most important rules of taking cuttings & propagating. If the plant is dormant it is very unlikely the cutting will send roots and it will either do nothing until the growing season kicks in but it can also die completely.
The bad news is that not all cuttings have the same growing season. Some grow throughout the warmer months while others over autumn and winter. To further complicate things, in cold climates with freezing winters, some cold season growers can struggle due to not being frost tolerant.
The good news is that the majority of succulents are winter dormant and will grow in spring, summer & even beginning of autumn if the weather is still quite warm. The ultimate time to take cuttings is mid spring, even for the summer dormant succulents.
Choose Mature Plants
Although many succulents will grow from even tiny bits, to ensure success I’d advise to take cuttings that are already quite big. How big is big will depend on individual plants but in general, there should be at least a few sets of leaves and a stalk.
Bigger the cutting, better it will take and grow.
Use a Clean Cutting Tool
It is best to clean your cutting tools whether it be scissors, garden shears or a stanley knife as there is a chance the wound can get infected on either the mother plant or the cutting.
Leave For 24h
Once the cuttings are taken, they need to dry for 24hours. This will give the cut enough time to dry and seal. The wound is an easy target for fungal and other diseases which can enter the cutting.
I have to admit that I’ve planted many a garden cutting in our private gardens without bothering to dry the plants off first and I can’t say I’ve ever seen any adverse effects but, when I propagate our nursery plants, I always use clean shears and dry everything for a day, just in case.
How To Plant Succulent Cuttings
Get Something To Plant In
I say something as the planter can be many things. Food tubs, cans, plastic pots, decorative pots, hollow logs, trays, old cups, wheelbarrows etc. can all be used to plant cuttings. I usually advise to get a size appropriate to the size of the cutting and then repot once the roots have grown, but this is not a strict rule.
One strict rule is to always clean the planter, especially if it has been used to grow plants before as it can carry all sorts of nasties (ie mealy bugs) that can ruin your plants.
Buy a good quality succulent potting mix
I’ve experimented with a lot of growing mediums over the years and succulent potting mix worked best for me. We propagate tens of thousands of succulent cuttings every year and so it is very important to have a good growing medium that facilitates strong root growth.
If you’ve previously had success with other growing media/methods such as propagating sand or water propagation, you can use whatever works best for you. I've seen many methods of propagating on other websites, but from a nursery point of view potting mix works best. Many succulents are hardy plants that will send roots even if they are not planted in anything (I’ve found fallen bits of succulents just lying under the table on top of the weedmat with roots everywhere trying to find something to grow in and even growing on a besser block!). But if you want guaranteed results, good quality potting mix will do the trick.
Find a suitable spot
If propagating is done in spring and the weather is still quite mild, the planted cuttings can go in a sunny spot. But once the temperatures start rising over 25C/77F the cuttings of more sensitive plants can burn and will need to be placed in a spot where the sun does not shine in the afternoon.
In summer there is a good chance the cuttings can burn in the sun when a hot day comes along and so it is advisable to keep them in a morning sun/afternoon shade position or under 30% shade cloth.
In my opinion once planted, cuttings should be exposed to at least some sun to make sure they are used to it, stay compact and colourful. If a plant is in shade too much it will grow larger, thinner leaves that will spread apart more, lose colour and almost definitely get burn marks when suddenly exposed to hot sun.
It can be tough finding the right balance of sun and shade. Sometimes it is best just to observe and see how the plants are responding to different spots.
Water the cuttings
I know many people will not agree with me here, but I always water the cuttings pretty much from the get go. The success rate of our plants taking and sending roots is very high and we rarely lose a plant.
If the potting mix is good, it will ensure the plants get their drink while also letting the water out fast enough. A good rule, when it comes to watering succulents, is to let the potting mix dry out before watering again. In spring this can be a few days to a week and in summer every other day (depending on your weather and temperatures).
Wait for the roots
In the growing season, it should take anywhere from about 2 weeks to a month before the first roots appear. How fast the roots grow will depend on the particular succulent and some can take much longer than others.
To try whether the cuttings have roots the plants can be tugged gently. If there is resistance, there should be roots.
The cuttings can be left as they are until the roots grow some more and can then be repotted when a substantial root-ball (multiple roots at least 5cm long) forms.
Do not panic
While some plants will look the same during the rooting stage, many can change and appear shrivelled, with some yellowing leaves. Many people interpret these changes the wrong way and think the cuttings are dying.
When cuttings are planted in the potting mix some of bottom leaves may drop off- this is quite normal and can happen as a stress response to being cut off or when the leaves are touching the potting mix. As long as it’s only a few leaves there is nothing to worry about. If most of the leaves have dropped, the cutting may be in trouble. The best thing to do in this scenario (lots of leaves dropping) is to move the cutting into more shade.
Many plants will also shrivel quite a bit. When they are cut off from the main plant, cuttings start losing water immediately and will continue to do so until the roots grow and start nourishing the plant again.
There is a chance you will lose some cuttings and it is best to be prepared for this. If you’ve not got enough experience, experiment first with cheap plants that are plentiful. As they say, practice makes perfect and more you do it, better the results will be.