Debra Lee Baldwin with graptoveria (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Propagation: What Your Succulents Want You to Know

In my new video I show and explain how your succulents want to propagate, if you help them or not...and whether you like it or not! When propagation happens, you may be delighted or dismayed. Delighted, because you get free plants; dismayed because you get too many.

It all comes down to observation. Succulents are good at telling you what’s important to them. You'll soon discover how yours want to reproduce in your garden or pots. See examples from the video below.

Note: I use the terms "offsets," "plantlets" and "pups" interchangeably to refer to baby plants that grow from the parent via a sort of botanical umbilical cord. Depending on the type of succulent, this pipeline of nutrients might be above or below the soil.

When leaves pop off easily

Succulents with leaves that pop off easily (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Succulents with leaves that detach easily

You know that little snap when a plump leaf falls off? Leaves of sedums, graptopetalums, pachyphytums, and pachyverias tend to fall off if you merely brush against them. This is infuriating, but do consider the plants’ perspective: They’re simply trying to clone themselves...and you can help. Tuck the fallen leaf where it’ll produce its own little leaves and roots.

When stems work best for propagation

Jade cutting with roots (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Jade cutting with roots

Succulents with stems propagate readily from cuttings, and jade is one that drops stems for that very purpose. If this fallen jade stem could talk, it would say, “Plant me please.” Notice how drying out a bit has made it curl. It's all set to go, with roots that point downward and leaves that go upward. Both emerge from meristem (growth) tissue.

What cacti want you to know

Ceroid cactus with offsets (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Ceroid cactus with offsets

If you wonder why cacti tend to fall over or break apart easily, consider how doing so helps them propagate. Columnar species tend to be shallow-rooted and top-heavy. By falling over, they're able to launch a colony.

What aerial roots are all about

Aeonium with aerial roots (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Aeonium with aerial roots

Stems on plants may send roots into thin air, like this aeonium. Aerial roots are almost always about propagation. This succulent is saying, "I'm SO ready to leave home and start a family!"

What pups are trying to tell you

Agave americana 'Marginata' and pups (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Agave americana 'Marginata' and pups

Pups grow from underground roots that run parallel to the surface of the soil. These are white until they break through. When exposed to the sun, root tips turn green, photosynthesize and form new leaves and plants.

You may think pups look cool, like the Agave americana “Marginata’ above with feral plantlets poking out of gaps in a terrace. No! They’re baby alligators, cute until they get huge.

When baby plants form on leaves or flower stems

Haworthia fasciata offset (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Haworthia fasciata offset

Haworthias are efficient at creating offsets from their roots, but every so often a plant will produce one or more plantlets on a flower spike. As the baby plant grows, it gets heavier. Gravity lowers it to the ground where it takes root---hence the long stem. Other succulents that do this include Crassula multicava and bryophyllums.

When tissue damage produces baby plants

Barrel cactus with offsets (c) Debra Lee Balwin

Barrel cactus with offsets caused by being cored

Cacti, agaves, mangaves and other succulents may produce offsets as a result of tissue damage. Above, a gopher ate the root of this barrel cactus up into its core, which stimulated the plant’s meristem tissue. Damaging the meristem is a method professional growers and collectors use to propagate succulents. They may, for example, cut out the cores of agaves, then remove the little clones that result.

What yuccas want you to know

Yucca aloifolia (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Yucca aloifolia started from cuttings

Because a yucca’s lower trunk is a water tank, it'll get by on rainfall alone once established. Don’t plant a yucca near your home’s foundation, pipes or anything that an ever-expanding, bulbous base might encroach upon. I prune my yuccas to make them fuller and more shrublike. And if I want more succulent trees, the cuttings root readily.

When succulents need your help

Echeveria in need of beheading (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Echeveria in need of beheading

Leggy aeoniums and echeverias that have ever-smaller rosettes atop naked stems want your help with propagation. Cut off the top along with enough stem to anchor the rosette, set it aside until roots form, then plant in good soil.

The above is merely an overview of the 18-min video. Types of succulents in the video include sedums, agaves (large and small), echeverias, aeoniums, crassulas, graptoveria, graptosedum, cacti (paddle, columnar, spherical), kalanchoes (bryophyllums), sempervivums, aloes, euphorbia, haworthias, stapeliads and yuccas.

Have you had an interesting or potentially helpful experience propagating your succulents? Please share it in the Comments below! 

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