Succulent leaf propagation is both fun and rewarding. It is quite amazing that a whole new plant (or more!) can be grown from just one leaf. But there is a trick to succulent leaf propagation and some are easier than others.
Some of the easiest succulents that will grow from a leaf and are suitable for a beginner are:
Echeveria Perle Von Nurnberg
These particular succulents will strike root and grow new plantlets almost 100% of the time, the leaves are easy to pull off and once the leaf shrivels off, the new plants have a good survival rate. In general (though not always)- graptopetalums, sedeverias, graptosedums, graptoverias and succulents with chunky leaves that are easy to pull off are very likely to propagate well by leaf.
But not all succulents are easy to propagate from leaf and many have a low strike rate. There are even some that will never grow from a leaf. Succulents that cannot be or are hard to propagate from leaf are:
Most ‘Frilly’ and ‘Bumpy’ Echeveria (Echeveria Blue Curls, Zorro, Paul Bunyan etc.)
Cotyledon Tomentosa (and many other cotyledons)
Echeveria Mexican Giant & Lindsayana
Crassula Buddha’s Temple
Sedums with minute leaves (sedum acre for instance)
There are more, but we have tried and tested the above many a time. Some will grow roots and for a while look viable, but the new plant never emerges and the leaf eventually dies.
Next, let’s have a look at how to propagate succulents from leaf. There are many methods to be found if you ask google and any one of them can work very well. Our nursery has its own preferred method which works for us and that is what we are going to describe in detail.
Get to know your succulents
Before you start pulling your succulents apart it is best to establish what they are. Once you know the name, simply type ‘can (name of the succulent) be propagated from leaf’ into your search engine of choice. It is very likely there will be an answer to that somewhere out there on the internet.
If your succulent did not come with a name you can search for characteristics, things like ‘succulent pointy green leaves red tips’ etc. and then go to images and scroll through. If you can’t find your plant, you can try a different description. It is possible you may never find out the name or get a false identification. This can happen a lot as anyone can put a name to a succulent photo, even if it’s not correct.
Do not despair if you can’t identify the plant. It is still possible to follow through the next steps.
Although many of the easy-to-propagate succulents will grow a new plant even from a small leaf it is best to choose a bigger, more mature plant that has quite a few large leaves or multiple branches.
Bigger the leaf, bigger and more resilient the plant that will emerge from the leaf.
Let the plant dry out for a few days
Although, this is not essential, in most succulents the leaves come off easier when the plant is a little thirsty and not plump. When the leaves are full of water they are more likely to break. Once the leaf breaks, it is worthless.
Only pick a few leaves
Don’t go crazy and pull all the leaves off. Even if you know the name of your plant and the information available says it is possible to propagate from leaf we recommend to only take a few leaves off (3-4 depending on the size of the plant) just in case it does not work out.
Only propagate in the growing season
Depending on where in the world you are and how cold your winters are your succulents natural growing clock will be affected by the seasons. Many succulents grow rapidly in the warmer months (though, as always, there are exceptions) and go dormant in winter. During the dormant time it is difficult to propagate and you may be wasting you time and precious plant leaves.
For many succulents the best time to pull leaves for propagation is spring. In more temperate climates with little or no frosts in winter leaf propagation is possible most of the time. Even still, the best time is spring.
Pull from the bottom & be gentle
The largest leaves are usually the oldest ones at the bottom of the plant. In succulents with a rosette formation they are also the easiest to pull off whole (this is extremely important). Sometimes it also helps to take the plant out of the pot to get better access.
If a leaf that has nothing else growing to its side can be located, it should be easy to gently pull to the side that is free of any other leaves. You will then create good space for the next leaf to come off. Sometimes gently trying to dislodge by pulling from side to side and top to bottom works best. Sometimes the leaves come off easily just by gently touching. It all depends on the particular plant.
If the growth is too tight a leaf or two may have to be sacrificed and pulled off even if they are breaking to make space.
Ensure the leaf is not damaged, broken or partly still on the stalk
There is only one succulent I know of that will grow even when the leaf is damaged- Kalanchoe Tomentosa. All the others we propagate from have to be cleanly taken off the stalk with no bits left behind. If the leaf is broken or parts of it are left on the stalk it is extremely unlikely it will produce any new plants.
Place your leaves on a dry surface & leave in a bright but sheltered spot
We use plastic trays but anything will do- a dry towel, take-away container, paper towel. Put the leaves on the same way as they were when attached to the plant and space out so they are not touching each other.
Next place on a windowsill, verandah or in a greenhouse if you have one. It is important the leaves are not in direct sun for too long and should be kept dry. In most instances they will grow even if left in the rain, but some varieties may rot, so better to be on the safe side and keep them dry.
New plants should emerge within a month. Some plants will send roots first, some the new mini-me version of the mother plants and some both at the same time.
Plant your plants
Once you have a few leaves and ideally some roots it is time to get your hands dirty. We recommend using succulent potting mix but a general potting mix (can’t have manure) with some extra perlite or pumice added will do.
The plants can be planted straight in pots, or trays and the hardy varieties can go right in the garden.
If the plants have roots make a little hole in the potting mix for them and cover with more potting mix. If there are only leaves you can either wait until the roots emerge or put the plant with the leaf still intact on top of potting mix. Do not bury the leaf in (this prevents rot), the roots will find their way in.
Introduce the new plant to the sun
At this stage the baby succulents are still a bit fragile and can get quite literally cooked by direct sun on hot days. The best way is to slowly introduce them to the sun a bit at a time.
Morning sun is quite gentle. The plants can be placed in a spot that is sunny in the morning but shaded in the afternoon (unless you are experiencing a heatwave in which case even sun at 9am can reach over 30C/86F. This is too much for the babies). After about a week place in a spot where they can get an hour or so of the afternoon sun as well and increase until they are able to withstand full sun.
Once the leaves are in a tray/pots watering can begin. While the plants are still small water regularly, but leave the potting mix to dry out between waterings. The original leaf will die off and shrivel up on its own.
If you have a favourite way of propagating plants from leaf, you can share your experience in the comments below 🙂