this is where things get a bit more advanced — and equally exciting! we’ll have a brief look at processes like
- Propagation (& tips)
Some of the above procedures, like repotting, are essential to give your plants a fighting chance against pest infestations and fungal infections. Similarly, propagation allows you to expand your houseplant collection without having to buy anything from the nursery! Essentially, you’d take a few cuttings and set it up in its own pot to grow into a big boy — and the cycle goes on. You can even use propagation as a backup plan when you’re treating an infected plant. All you need is a few healthy cuttings planted in a separate pot which will continue to thrive and grow even if you fail to save the original plant.
So, the contents of this chapter are pretty important — to say the least. Let’s get into it!
Propagation for Beginners
Who doesn’t want to expand their houseplant collection? Good news — you could do it right at home without having to spend an extra penny on new buds, seeds, or even a greenhouse. Even though the word propagation starts with “pro,” it’s actually pretty newbie-friendly! You don’t need any pricey equipment either. All it takes is an ounce of love for plants, the will to learn, a little patience — and yeah, some essential supplies.
With the propagation techniques shared in this chapter, you’ll soon have the next generation of your houseplant collection sprouting out!
What’s Plant Propagation?
In simple words, reproducing a plant from a single plant parent is a process called propagation.
This primary goal of reproduction can be achieved through many different techniques which all fall under the umbrella of propagation. Examples include budding, grafting, division, and the most common one — cutting. Each technique has its own pros, cons, and risk level (cutting being the lowest risk of them all).
But before we break down each technique, let’s address a quick question — what sets plant propagation apart from regular plant reproduction?
Well, while regular plant reproduction production involves seeds (containing genetic material from two plant parents), propagation is an asexual alternative to reproduction that only requires a single plant. Moreover, while seed-started plants give birth to all new plant babies, plant propagation leads to new, semi-mature, plants. Not only does that make the process faster, but also has a much lower risk of failure.
Now, let’s discuss popular propagation techniques one by one and the steps you can follow to try them out.
The cutting technique involves “cutting” off a healthy stem of the plant you want to propagate and potting it in fresh potting soil. Depending on the nature of the plant, you can also propagate it in water. For instance, most Aroid plants like pothos, monsteras, ZZ, and philodendrons can all be propagated in water as their natural environment and ancestral background is swamps.
Even some land plants have tendencies to adapt, survive, and grow in the water. However, you’d want to propagate them in a soil mix for the best chances of success.
- A plant propagate
- A pair of scissors
- Garden gloves
- A water-filled glass vessel (room temperature)
✿ Step 1
Observe your plant to find a mature vine, and look right below the stem/vine juncture or the leaf to find little brown-colored root nodes. They’ll be about an inch long. Snip off a few inches of healthy stem and make sure the cutting has a node or two on it as that’s where the new roots show up.
✿ Step 2
Get rid of any leaves if you find any close to node(s) — especially if they’re low enough to be under the water in your glass vessel.
✿ Step 3
Gently put the cutting in a glass vessel that’s about halfway filled with room-temperature water. Make sure you place the vessel in a spot that gets sufficient indirect sunlight. Placing it directly in the sun (like on the window) is a rookie mistake that may lead to a much lower success rate depending on the type of plant you’re propagating.
✿ Step 4
This is where you take a step back and let nature take its course. Practice patience and let the cutting grow on its own! Be sure to check back for a close observation every week or so to see how much the root has grown out of the nodes, top off the water if it looks a bit low. You could also replace the water from time to time, but it’s not necessary as long as there aren’t any visible signs of fungal growth or murkiness.
✿ Step 5
Once you see root growth that’s about 1 inch long (or longer), you can also transplant the cutting into a potting mix. Typically, you’d get to this stage no sooner than 30-45 days.
Once you’ve successfully potted the cuttings in a soil mix, saturate it with water (again, room temperature) and place your pot in a spot that gets lots of indirect light.
Remember to check the soil for moisture before each watering, and apply all of the watering tips you’ve learned in previous chapters for healthy growth.
Another technique for propagating plants is a process called “division” — which is most commonly used for propagating plants that have a lifespan of over two years. The right term for such species in planting jargon is perennials.”
The process entails digging up the plant’s sight, dividing it, and migrating it to another pre-prepared spot. This way, each division gets plenty of nutrients and water with less competition for vital resources — hence promoting growth and rejuvenation for each half.
Division can be carried out in a rough or fine way. The “rough” version involves an axe or sharp blades to slash, cut, dig, and replant clumps of plants. On the other hand, sophisticated division practices consist of carefully digging the site, gently breaking the plant’s clumps apart by hand, and using a sharp knife to cut them apart.
In the layering technique of propagation, the “new plant” remains attached to its single parent for a certain period as it grows new roots after a modification in the mother plant’s stem structures.
Other methods of layering
Layering has 5 different types:
- Simple (discussed above)
- Compound (also known as “Serpentine” layering)
- Stool (or mound)
Simple layering involves winding and bending a mature branch of the parent plant down into the ground. Using ground staples, the branch is pinned in place with a cover of soil on top — with a 6 to 12-inch section with the shoot tip left uncovered. From there, the process of root development starts to take its course. Once the new roots emerge and fully develop, the branch is severed from the “mother” and continues to grow as an independent plant. Simple layering has a high success rate with plants like abelia, boxwood, honeysuckle, forsythia, climbing roses, wax myrtle, azalea, rhododendron, jasmine, and pyracantha.
Similar to simple layering, except that the shoot tip is buried in a hole instead of being left above the ground.
You can try out tip propagation with plants like dewberries, raspberries, blackberries, and loganberries.
Compound layering is also closely related to the base technology used for simple and tip layers. What sets compound layers apart is that the stem section is buried at several different points throughout its length, which exposes and uncovers the stem between those points.
At each section, one lateral bud must be buried and one left exposed. This is a pretty advanced procedure of layering and you shouldn’t try this out until you’ve been successful at several simple and tip layer attempts.
Once you do reach that stage, give it a shot with vine-type and trailing ground cover plants. E.g. willow, heart-leaf philodendron, rambler roses, grapes, pothos, wisteria, clematis, dogwood, viburnum, vining honeysuckle, etc.
✿ Stool (Mound)
The stool process of layering — also commonly referred to as “mounding” — takes place in several steps in a complete growing season. The first step is to cover the plant’s base with substrates or soil (like mulch) which is left as it is for some time (several weeks, or even months) until there’s visible root growth developing on the plant’s shoots, arising from the main stem’s buds.
From there, you cover half the plant’s height in the soil to let roots develop on lateral shoots. These shoots are cut away from the main stem when new roots start to form. At that point, you plant the cutting separately and it (hopefully) grows into a new plant!
Nurseries commonly use this technique for fruiting trees to propagate dwarf understocks. However, it’s one of the trickiest methods of propagation with the most number of steps involved. You’d better push this way down your bucket list of houseplant adventures to make sure you tackle it with some respectable layering experience under your belt.
Lastly, we have air layering. In this variation, you target a branch that’s somewhere up the middle of the trunk but still within reach. Ideally, its diameter should be between 1 to 2 inches. A bigger branch works best in terms of layering success chances.
Once you have the ideal branch in sight, try to make a vertical cut in the stem’s upper part as well as two horizontal ones over and under the vertical one. Once the cuts are in place, peel the bark off around that entire area. Apply some auxin to stimulate faster root growth.
Once you’ve done all that, wrap it all up with moist peat moss and some plastic (as if you’re bandaging a bruised finger). Make sure that it’s wrapped well by securing it with a rubber band or some twist ties.
Soon, the growing roots should develop and penetrate the moss which you’d be able to spot through the plastic wrap. Once you see that occur from all sides of the branch, it’s time to cut the branch right underneath the roots (without damaging them) and plant it.
You can try this procedure out with roses, dracaena, Oregon grape holly,
magnolia, dumb cane, croton, Schefflera, azalea, rubber plant, and Norfolk Island pine.
Along with cutting, division, and layering, you can also propagate plants by grafting! It involves cutting off one plant’s twig and attaching it to another’s stem. This way, they form a unit and function as one. The process is
relatively complex, yet it’s one of the most effective ways to get the desired combination of qualities and character to your plant. It’s almost like the planting version of selective breeding!
# Pro tip: Make sure to use clean gloves, or at least wash your hands well with soap before coming into contact with the plants to avoid transferring infections to the plant(s) along the way.
The first question is when you should start grafting. Well, the actual process should ideally begin in spring, but you can begin your preparations in the dormant season, too — i.e. late winter.
Simply cut some new-growth scions that have buds attached, and store them in an airtight container (or plastic bags) in the fridge till spring. Once you get to that point, follow these steps:
✿ Step 1
The first step is to inflict vertical incisions on the bark of the rootstock. Start at the top and make 3-inch long cuts on four sides, and put a rubber band under the cuts. Peel off the bark on all four sections that are separated by the incisions (as if you’re peeling a banana). Use the tip of your knife to make this easier, but be careful not to detach the four flaps!
After peeling the bark, cut off a 3-inch piece of the rootstock using shears.
✿ Step 2
Now that the rootstock is ready, it’s time to prepare the scion to go in it. Trim the scion about half an inch near the bottom to reveal green, fresh food. Slice its bottom end with a 2-inch cut to expose its cambium tissue that helps carry sap through the plant.
Create four evenly-spaced cuts using the same process.
✿ Step 3
Now it’s time to connect the two! Carefully place the scion into the rootstock between the flaps, lining up the cut ends of the scion with the flaps.
✿ Step 4
Tightly wrap the graft with plastic and secure the joint in place using rubber bands. The key is to make sure the scion’s and rootstock’s cambium tissue is aligned and pressed against each other.
For additional protection, you can add a layer of aluminum foil before wrapping it up with plastic. Once the plastic wrap is on, put masking tape over it for 100% security.
Ideally, new buds should show up within a month (and sometimes even two weeks). It’s a good idea to write the grafting date on the masking tape to keep track, especially if you carry out the process with several plants simultaneously.
Lastly, you can also propagate plants using the budding technique. It involves inflicting a cut in the rootstock, splitting it open to fit another bud into it — such that they form a unit and grow as one.
✿ T-Budding or Shield Budding Propagation
Shield budding is a propagation technique that involves making a shallow incision on the bark of a rootstock in a T shape (hence the name). When done right, the bar flaps hanging out of the T-shaped cut will lift away from the tree slightly, allowing you to slide the scion (in this case, a single bud) under them.
The scion for T-budding is generally a healthy bud that’s carefully selected and cut out of the plant being propagated. Once inserted under the bar flaps, it must be secured in place by wrapping some grafting tape or thick rubber bands over the closed flaps — over and under the scion.
✿ Chip budding propagation
Chip budding is another variation of the budding propagation technique. In it, you cut the rootstock plant at an angle between 45 and 60 degrees, with a right-angle cut under it. This lets you cut a triangle-shaped chip out of the rootstock plant. In the same way, you’d also cut the scion (or the bud) out of the plant being propagated and place it in the triangular cavity of the rootstock plant. Once it’s inserted, it’s secured by grafting tape.
Now that you know what propagation, its types and step-by-step processes are — make sure you remember the following tips when you try any of them out.
Cutting preparation tips
The “cutting” is an essential part of any propagation technique, as that’s what eventually grows into a new plant — or goes into the rootstock plant to propagate. Here are some tips to get it right.
Every plant is different, so make sure you follow specific instructions and advice depending on the plant you wish to propagate. The “right” steps may vary from plant to plant, and a quick Google search will let you know if your method of propagation works for that plant, and the modifications you need to make to the procedure (if any).
Try to get your cutting from a fresh, new, and healthy part of the plant.
Don’t let dropped leaves from the cutting float around in the water as they can pollute the water as they rot with time.
You can use rain or filtered water if you choose, but tap water also works just fine.
Your cutting spot should have plenty of indirect light, but not direct sunlight. If there’s a window in your home that doesn’t get direct sunlight, but sufficient indirect daylight, that’d be a perfect spot for your propagation cuttings to grow.
Don’t place your cutting in an extremely hot room as that speeds up rotting.
You can mix sea salt or rooting powder into the water to stimulate faster root growth in propagation, but it isn’t necessary — especially if you don’t want the water to look murky.
You should replace the water in your glass vessel at least every two weeks. Keep an eye on it and regularly top it up if it looks low, and change it out sooner if it starts looking murky.
Before you transplant your cutting from the water vessel to the potting mix, make sure it’s ready — with roots that are at least an inch or two long.
Remember that you can’t wait too long to transplant your cuttings from the water to the soil. That’s because, after a long time, the roots may get used to the water and go into shock upon being transplanted o a potting mix.
Some plants can survive and even grow in water permanently, but might need a bigger vessel with continued root growth. You should also add some fertilizer to the water after certain intervals to make sure the water is sufficiently nutrient-rich to sustain the plant’s growth.
Where to Find Cutting!
As mentioned above, cuttings are the most important part of any propagation procedure — no matter what technique you use. So where do you get them? Well, the easiest (and most cost-effective) source of cuttings is one of your own houseplants. However, some people propagate for the sole purpose of increasing the plant variety in their home collection — which means they obviously won’t have it in the first place. If that’s the case with you, you can always request a cutting from your neighbors if they have it.
Thanks to the internet, you can join online houseplants groups and ask for a cutting on forums to see if someone has it near you (maybe even in exchange for one of your own plant’s cuttings). The community is close-knit and generally very helpful, so it’s definitely worth a shot.
As a last resort, you can always visit your local nursery and buy a cutting of the plant you’re looking to propagate.
Plants Recommended For Water Propagation
Some plant cuttings propagate better in a water vessel than potting mix.
Here’s the list!
- Swiss cheese plant (Monstera Adansonii)
- Golden Pothos (Devils Ivy)
- Variants of Pothos like Marble Queen, Snow Queen, Satin
- Fruit salad plant / Monstera Deliciosa
- Monstera Siltepecana
- Heart Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron Cordatum)
- Peperomia Scandens
- Philodendron Micans
- Cacti (and many succulents)
- Snake plant
- Peperomia family of plants (like Watermelon, Emerald Ripple, and Obtusifolia)
- Chain of hearts
- Burro’s Tail / Donkey’s Tail
- The string of pearls/bananas/beads
- Fiddle Leaf Fig
- ZZ plant
- Maranta (cut under leaf node)
- Woody-stemmed succulents (most of which can be snipped from anywhere along their stem)
- Coleus (cut below node)
From a bulb or seed
- Chinese money plant
- Spider plant
Some plants don’t respond to water propagation at all. Some examples are the Peace Lily, Calathea, Ferns, Palms, etc.
The best thing you can do before your propagation attempt is to google the plant and look at its advised technique and tips for propagation.
How to Repot a Plant
Spring is a great time to repot your plants into fresh soil as they’re ready to grow faster than ever after a sleepy winter! Besides seasonal repotting, the practice can also come in handy to treat issues like waterlogging or simply as a necessary step in procedure propagation.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to correctly re-pot your plants!
✿ Step 1
The first step is to gently remove the plant from its current pot. Now, that certainly is easier said than done. The difficulty level may vary depending on the type of plant you’re working with. Some are attached more firmly at the base of their pots, while others slide out relatively easier when you tip them over.
For those firmer plants, you’ll have to slide a small shovel down the sides to detach it from the walls (even a butter knife or a spatula works great) and keep at it until it softens and slides out. If the pot is somewhat malleable (like the ones made out of plastic), you can also give it some gentle squeezes to loosen its hold.
When the plant begins to slide out, grasp it around the sides and wiggle/slide its pot off. Make sure to keep your grip as gentle as possible.
Inspect the bottom of the plant to see how badly your plant needs repotting! Most plants with poor drainage will have their roots jumbled up into a circle at the bottom which means they were waterlogged.
✿ Step 2
These jumbled-up roots need to be freed out to be able to take advantage of healthy aeration and proper water/nutrient absorption. All you need to do is gently massage the circled bunch of roots at the bottom, “caressing” it with your fingers until you feel them loosen up.
Not all roots will make it to their new home as some will fall out during the loosening process, but that’s fine. As long as you’re not aggressively breaking off any roots and pulling on them — you’re doing it right.
By the end of your massage session, the roots will no longer be tied up together and have plenty of room to freely breathe, drink, and grow!
✿ Step 3
The plant’s new pot should ideally be about an inch or two larger than the previous one. The roots should have sufficient wiggle room, but not too much as an extra-large pot will surround the roots with excess soil. This means they won’t be able to absorb all the moisture between waterings — leading to root rot. It’ll only waterlog your plants again, which is one of the most common reasons behind houseplant death.
So, get an appropriate-sized pot and fill it up to about one-third capacity with fresh soil (ideally a potting mix that’s suitable for the type of plant you’re repotting). Then, place your plant in the middle of the plant and hold it up — keeping the stem base about half an inch below the pot’s top. Make sure the plant is at the right height by removing or adding the soil underneath it.
From there, add potting mix around the plant as you gently hold it in place. Fill up all of the pot’s empty spaces, fill it up, and lightly pat the soil down to make sure the plant is snugly fit.
✿ Step 4
Remember that plants that have been newly transplanted into a new pot will suffer from temporary stress — they’re living things, after all! To deal with it, they need lots of water right away. If you’ve been paying close attention to your watering habits before, you need to be even more careful moving forward — your plant needs it!
For the first watering in its new home, place it inside a saucer or a cachepot (to catch drained water) and water the plant slowly. Let it all soak into the fresh soil, and start watering again until the pot starts to feel significantly heavier. Once you see water draining out of the pot’s holes at the bottom, stop watering.
Let the plant sit inside the saucer for about 30 minutes as the roots absorb excess water to their fill. After that, take the pot out — place it in a nice spot with plenty of indirect lighting and good aeration, and empty out the cachepot.
Congratulations, you’ve successfully repotted your plant in the perfect manner! Doesn’t it look a little greener already?