Propagating House Plants
Gail Baxter and Marie Stolte, Master Gardeners
Winter blahs got you down? Bring more green into your home by propagating your houseplants. It’s easier than you think for many plant varieties, and it’s a fun way to spend part of a gray day.
January blahs got you down? Bring more green into your home by propagating your houseplants. It’s easier than you think for many plant varieties, and it’s a fun way to spend part of a gray day.
Each plant species has its own preferred way to be propagated. Some prefer division (see list below) where a single plant is separated into two or more. Other plants start easily from cuttings (think philodendrons; stem pieces of 6” or so root easily in a glass of water). Some cuttings, like jade plant, can be started in seedless potting medium instead of water. And then, there are the cuttings that can be propagated from a single leaf, or even part of a leaf.
Propagate from cuttings: Jade plant, aloe, hoya, Christmas cactus, snake plant, croton, Philodendron, Rex begonias, dragon wing begonias, kalanchoe, English ivy, dracaena, hen and chicks, pothos, African violet
Propagate by division: Anthurium, peace lily, snake plant, pilea, dracaena, ZZ plant, spider plant (or plant the baby offsets)
Fun with Rex Begonias
By January, I am usually ready to propagate more Rex begonias. They come in many colors, and every year, I seem to buy a new variety to fill my summer containers. I bring them indoors in the fall and overwinter them as houseplants.
To propagate them, I gather my materials: soil-less seed starting mix (or, you can use a 50-50 mix of perlite and vermiculite), cutting board, pruning shears and a razor blade (both sterilized with rubbing alcohol or bleach water), pins (I used quilter’s pins and T-pins), and a take-out container with a lid (punch several holes in the bottom).
Step 1: Fill the nursery tray with the seed starting mix. Wet it well; when you gather a handful of soil and squeeze it, the soil should hold together but not be dripping.
Step 2: Cut a healthy leaf with your pruners. Middle aged leaves work well, rather than very old or very young leaves. Cut off the stem so all that is left is the leaf.
Step 3: Turn the leaf over so you can see the veins. Make a perpendicular cut across each of the largest veins with the razor blade.
Step 4: With the leaf vein cuts facing down, press the leaf onto the soil and pin to hold the cuts firmly against the soil. Cover the container with the clear plastic lid, and put on a windowsill that receives indirect light—not direct sunlight, which can bake the tiny plants that emerge. Check the soil every few days and water if it starts to dry out.
Within 6 to 8 weeks, baby leaves should appear near the site of each vein cut. Remove the plastic lid at this point. When the leaves are about a half-inch across, carefully separate the baby plants from each other and pot them individually in 3-inch pots.
Look up your plant, and get propagating!
Each plant type will have specific instructions for the type of soil to use for propagation, lighting, and other requirements. Look to the U of M Extension library or other trusted source for your specific plant. For instance, if you have cacti and Succulents or holiday cacti to propagate, the University offers tips on the environment these plants need to thrive.
Propagating plants is fun to do. You can keep and raise the new plants, or share them with others so they can enjoy a little green, too. And remember: your houseplants could even become the next stars in your summer planters.
Photo credits: Marie Stolte (1, 2, 3, 4)