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Plant Propagation 101

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Plant Propagation!

Don't let the thought of plant propagation intimidate you if you've never done it before. Propagation is actually quite easy as long as you know the basics. We'll break it all down and give you a foundation to set you up for success. After you've experimented a little, we encourage you to branch out a little further with some more advanced techniques.


Tools You'll Need

Potting Soil and Shears. Tools for propagation
Potting Soil and Shears

  • Sharp knife, shears or scissors- sterilize your tools first using 70-100% isopropyl alcohol

  • Rooting media such as

    • peat moss/coco coir

    • perlite

    • lecca

    • Lechuza PON

    • soil

    • water- this one is free!

  • Vessel to hold your rooting media and plant. This can be a small pot, jar, plastic food container, etc.

  • Rooting hormone~ optional but will speed things up

  • Humidity container or dome~ this can be a storage container, clear plastic bag, cling wrap, etc. This is optional but really helps to speed up growth and keep your rooting media moist. The plants will love the humidity!

  • Heat mat~ optional

  • Patience~ It will take time for your babies to grow, with some plants, it could take months!

Tips for Selecting Rooting Media:

  • Water~

    • Use just enough water to cover the node where you want the plant to root. Keep an eye on water level as changes in temperature, heating units and humidity can change water level quickly.

    • Change out the water every week. This will keep bad bacteria from developing. Can you keep the same water the entire time? Sure, but you'll have a better chance of success if you keep it fresh!

    • Don't allow the roots to grow too long if transplanting to soil. Roots should be at least 1" in length but try to keep them less than 4". Roots are usually ready when you have secondary roots starting to form, although some folks prefer to transplant before this. The longer a cutting is in water, the harder it may be for the plant to adjust to soil life. Water roots are very fragile and if they grow too long or with several secondary roots, they can be damaged easily. Do what you can to minimize shock for your cutting.

  • Sphagnum Peat Moss~

    • With this method, you place your cuttings in pre-moistened peat moss. Because the roots will still have access to air around the moss, this more closely resembles life in soil and is thus less-shocking to plants than water propagation is.

    • Dip your cutting in rooting hormone (optional) and place peat moss around base of cutting or position cutting into moss. Peat moss should be damp but when squeezed, should not drip water.

    • If you have elected to use a plastic container with a lid, you may be able to fit several cuttings in one container. Open the lid once a day and gently blow air into the container. Adequate air flow is important for optimal plant health. Blowing air also helps with CO2 levels. Containers with lids are great for keeping the humidity levels high, just make sure the leaves aren't touching the sides of the wet container.

    • Keep moss damp but not wet. Plants can get root rot if roots go from periods of being lightly moist to periods of sitting in water. Don't allow moss to completely dry out either.

    • Some people dislike how the moss will stick to the roots when they take it out to pot it up. Try perlite if this is the case for you. The perlite will still stick but it can be a little easier to remove.

  • Soil~

    • Soil propagation is fairly easy with plants such as pothos. Simply make a small hole within the pre-moistened soil (moist but not dripping when squeezed) and insert plant cutting. Fill in hole around cutting.

    • You'll want to give the cutting a little more water than you would a plant with established roots but be careful about overwatering.

    • Soil propagation is also great for succulents!

  • Other rooting media (perlite, lecca, Lechuza PON)~

    • Try these if you've previously tried soil, moss or water.

    • Lecca and Lechuza-PON are a bit more expensive and take additional learning in order to use them.

    • There will always be people that have amazing success and there will always people who have failures with each of the rooting media. The fun part is experimenting and seeing what works for you and your environment!


The Basics

Rooting a Stem Cutting~

This is the method most people are familiar with and can be the easiest. It is done by taking a cutting from a plant along the stem. Depending on what type of plant it is, the cutting should be about 2"-4" of the stem and 1-2 leaves, in cases like below, 1 leaf per cutting. If you have a cutting with multiple leaves, you'll want to remove the leaves from the node closest to the bottom so that the leaves are not in water or other rooting media. The node is where new roots will form. If you have a single leaf cutting, leave the leaf but only submerge the node in rooting media. Make sure you get at least one node in your cutting, sometimes they can be harder to identify on woodier plants like ficus trees. Google will be your friend! Plants that can be propagated using this method include: Monsteras, pothos, philodendrons, ZZ Plant, Hoyas and ficus plants (Fiddle Leaf, rubber plants, Ficus Audrey, etc).

Take a look at the pothos in the photo below. At each point where a leaf has emerged, there is also a node or a visible aerial root. This is the part you'll want to cover with your rooting media. In the case of pothos, you can cut the stem where indicated by the red and purple lines and each leaf will become a new plant.

Where to Cut a Marble Queen Pothos for Propagation
Where to Cut a Marble Queen Pothos

Once you've made your cuts, dip the node in rooting hormone. This is optional but helps speed the process along. Next, you'll need to pick which type of rooting media you're going to use. If you're just starting out, I would recommend doing a water propagation and a clear glass or jar. Going this route will enable you to watch the growth process and know when to pot your cutting.

Monstera Deliciosa Propagating in Water
Monstera Deliciosa Propagating in Water

Leaf Propagation

Leaf propagation can be as simple as drop and prop, the same as stem propagation (for leaf cutting) or as fascinating as vein cuttings!

Drop and Prop~

Succulent plants propagated from leaves
Tiny Succulent Plants Propagated from Leaves

  • Succulents are propagated this way and couldn't be easier! Lay the succulent leaves on top of the soil, no need to bury them! Watch them form roots and tiny baby succulents. Once the baby is large enough, the original leaf will die and fall off. Plant into a pot with adequate drainage.

  • The downside to this super simple propagation method is the success rate tends to be a little lower. The good news is that every individual succulent leaf has the potential to grow into its own plant. Its a numbers game so the more you have, the better your odds of at least one successful prop.

  • Use a spray bottle to gently water the babies.

  • Make sure the soil you use is fast-draining. Use an inch or two of cactus or succulent soil in a tray and you're all set. As they grow into plants, you can separate them and pot them into slightly larger containers.

Begonia Cutting in water for propagation
Begonia Leaf Cutting with Petiole

Leaf Cutting with Petiole~

  • This process is very similar to stem cutting propagation.

  • Include as much of the petiole as you can. This is the part that extends out from the leaf and connects it to the stem. See photo diagram above for reference.

  • Not all leaves can be propagated this way as others will need part of the node in order to grow a plant. Sometimes you might be successful growing roots but no leaves will ever grow. Think of single leaf Hoya Kerrii (they look like little green hearts in soil).

  • Plants that can be propagated from leaf petiole cutting include African violets, peperomias, jade plants, and Kalanchoe, ZZ Plant.

  • Can be placed in any of the same stem cutting rooting media.

Leaf Vein Cutting~

  • Ok, this one I think is really cool! This is the process of taking plants with prominent leaf veins and making clean slices, severing the veins.

  • Can be done by the following techniques:

    • Slice the leaf in sections perpendicular to the vein

    • Slice slits into the leaf severing each vein

    • Cut out squares of the leaf, each square should include part of the vein.

  • With the top method, you can take the leaf sections and stand them up in potting soil, top part of the leaf should be up.

  • In the last two methods, you can simply place the leaves on top of soil, laying flat. Use a pin to keep the leaf in place. Roots will develop from the slits. Begonias are great for propagating in this way!

Sansevieria Leaves to be Propagated
Sansevieria Leaves Ready to be Cut into Leaf Sections

Leaf Sections~

  • This method can be used with monocot leaves; leaves that have clearly visible parallel lines on the surface.

  • Sansevieria are a perfect example of monocot leaves that can be propagated this way.

  • Take a leaf that is in good health and cut it into sections perpendicular to the leaf.

  • Align the leaves in the direction of top and bottom as it can be easy to forget later which end is up.

  • Stick the bottom end of the leaf section directly in soil and water.

  • Some people suggest cutting the bottom portion of the section in a V shape, allowing more surface area for the roots to grow.

  • ZZ plants can also be propagated this way but the growth is VERY slow going.


Humidity Domes for Plant Propagation
Humidity Domes Ready for Fresh Plant Cuttings

General Propagation Tips:

  • Keep the environment consistent. The more changes in temperature, light, humidity, water, etc can stress the plant and lead to death for the cutting.

  • Use a plant heat mat under the container to aid in rooting. Do not use a heating pad as temperatures can become too hot for plants to handle.

  • Keep cuttings in bright indirect light and out of direct sunlight.

  • Humidity can be created using any of the following:

    • Clear plastic bag around container

    • Plastic lettuce bin with lid- reuse those plastics!

    • Humidity dome over tray

    • Tupperware or other similar type plastic container with lid

    • Humidifier

    • Propagation box~ place all of your cuttings in one large storage container with lid

  • Make sure the leaves or sections of the plant you are using are healthy and mature.

Advanced Propagation

I want to put these techniques on your radar if you aren't already familiar with them. Once you've had some success in the above methods I encourage you to experiment and try out the following methods of propagation!

  • Layering~ A method in which you provoke root growth to part of the plant while it is still attached to the mother plant. Pretty cool, right?!

    • Air layering~ Peeling away the outer layer of the stem, propping it open and packing it with damp sphagnum moss and fastened with cling wrap of other type of vessel to protect it.

    • Simple layering~ process by which you take part of the plant and bury it in the ground. Leave the tip exposed but soil covering a node. Pothos are great to layer in this way!

    • Compound or serpentine layering~ this is just like simple layering except you repeat the process, giving the plant a serpentine appearance.

    • Modified air layering~This is what I call air layering for vining plants with nodes such as monstera and pothos. Take a section with a node that has a visible aerial root and wrap in damp sphagnum moss and cling wrap. Pretty simple!

  • Air layering techniques will require the "new" plant (the section of the mother plant above the layering technique) to be severed just below where the roots have formed in order to make separate plants.

I know that was a lot to take in. You don't have to do it all at once, start small and keep experimenting! No one has 100% success with propagation so keep trying if you don't get them to take at first! If you want additional help or see these methods in person, we will be starting plant propagation workshops and classes very soon. Sign up for our newsletter to receive notifications on when those and other workshops will be available.

Happy propagating!

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1 Comment

Tommy Behner
Tommy Behner
May 26, 2021

Great guide!

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