Succulents are absolutely all the rage at the moment and it’s easy to see why; they are gorgeous plants, easy to take care of and make beautiful dispays when grouped together. I am planning to make a wall planter in the spring with lots of succulents and so I am in the process of propagating new plants from the leaves of my existing plants.
I purchased a mixed set of 20 succulents from eBay last year, which have grown really well and now I have a never ending supply of leaves to grow my new plants from. If you don’t have plants of your own and don’t fancy buying a batch, you can buy just the leaves online from various sellers (including me, via my Etsy shop!) – this will mean you have all sorts of succulent varieties to get you started.
This blog will focus on how to propagate new plants from leaves, a process I have found to be especially effective for sempervivum and echeveria succulents (as well as hybrids) and basically any succulent you can ‘wiggle’ the leaves off (as shown in the video below).
It is important that the leaf comes away from the parent plant intact. I find that if you give the leaf you wish to remove a gentle wiggle, it generally comes away fairly easily (it varies from plant to plant).
The leaves should come away looking like this”
Leave to callous over
Leave the leaves for a few days to callous over at the bottom, basically to form a scab at the base where the leaf was removed from the main plant. This should only take a day or two. I just leave mine on the worktop. The scab helps prevent the leaf from drawing up water and rotting.
Now this stage will involve a fair bit of patience! It will probably take a good few weeks (maybe a couple of months in winter!) for the leaves to form roots and tiny succulents to appear. So if you aren’t seeing much happen very quickly, don’t worry, it just takes a while.
Use any shallow dish, planter or other container for your leaf propagations. I have even used an old cardboard box lid. Fill the container with succulent compost (see below) – just an inch is enough. It doesn’t need to be deep. Then simply lay the leaves on top of the compost (you do not need to push the end into the compost; this can actually encourage the leaf to rot) and wait. It’s important the light can get to the leaves, so if using an old box, make sure you cut it down. You should leave the container in a fairly bright spot, but out of direct sunlight to help prevent leaves from shrivelling up and drying out.
In this picture, I have leaves at different stages of propagation. Some have already developed little succulents, others haven’t yet formed roots. Some haven’t worked at all and have just dried out. Don’t expect a 100% success rate.
Mixing Succulent Compost
You have a few choices:
- Buy special succulent/cacti compost.
- Use multipurpose compost.
- Make your own compost.
Ready-mixed succulent compost will certainly do the trick but is more expensive than options 2 and 3.
Multipurpose compost tends to be wetter than the special succulent/cacti compost (hardly surprising), so if you do use this, leave it to dry out a bit for a day or two first.
I make my own potting mix using about 60% multipurpose compost and 40% perlite. The easy way of measuring that out is 6 handfuls of compost and 4 handfuls of perlite mixed together in a bucket. You could also use horticultural grit or sand in the mix instead of perlite or a mix of the three (when I’m potting on, I use a mix of compost, perlite and horticultural grit, with a layer of grit or pebbles at the bottom of the pot to really help with drainage).
Established succulents do not need regular watering.
However, as your leaves develop roots these do need to be kept moist as they will dry out quickly and you may end up with a shrivelled up leaf or you may get a little plant but without roots. Once the leaf has sprouted tiny roots, cover them (but not the little succulent that will also eventually appear) with compost and keep a spritz bottle nearby so that you can spritz the compost around the roots regularly. The compost should be moist on top but not sopping wet. Aim to spritz just the roots. Try to avoid getting the compost or leaves too wet because, as with established succulents, this may cause the roots and/or leaf to rot.
Once small plants have started to grow, you can leave the soil to dry out between waterings and once dry, give it a good soak, then leave to dry again and repeat. Leaving the compost to dry out encourages the roots to search for water and so grow longer and stronger. Watering little and often means they don’t have to work so hard and will probably be shorter and weaker, since the top of the compost is providing the water they need, meaning they don’t spread out searching out water deeper down. If your cuttings are in a seed tray with holes, you can set it in a dish of water to soak from the bottom up. Otherwise just carefully water without disturbing the little plants too much.
If you feel nervous about overwatering the plants, then it’s better to keep spritzing the roots once a day instead. As you become more familiar with growing succulents and their watering needs, you can move on to the soaking method.
After about 4 to 8 weeks (give or take) you should have some baby succulents!
Don’t be tempted to remove the leaf from the baby succulent until it is completely dry, shrivelled up and comes away easily. This is because the new succulent will take up nutrients from its parent leaf as it grows.
Once your succulents have started to look like little plants, you can pot them into their own little 5cm pots. They should have formed small roots, like this chap has.
Tease the roots out from the soil, ready to go in its new pot.
Do not remove the parent leaf.
Fill your little pots with succulent compost or your homemade potting mix.
With a finger, make a small well in the soil
Carefully place the roots into the well.
Add a little more soil (I teaspoon it in as it’s easier than using your hands) and pat the roots in gently.
Keep the leaf attached even once re-potted.
The potting mix will be pretty dry, and your succulents will need a drink, so fill the container with about a centimetre of water for the soil to soak up from the bottom. Don’t water the pots from the top as this will disturb the soil too much. The soil shouldn’t stay soaking wet and the succulents should not be sitting in the water a long time. If they are, there is too much water, so empty it out to avoid root rot. Only water again (same method) once the compost has dried out.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting for them to grow!
Keep the succulents warm and in a sunny spot (ideally, though that said, I’m writing this blog in winter and they will work in the cold – it will just be a slower process).
It will take a good few weeks for the succulents to really take root and grow, but when they do, you’ll have a brand new plant.
Here’s some of mine that I’ve successfully grown into healthy plants; they are still small, but certainly mighty!
I’d really love to see how you get on, so please comment below or tag me in any Instagram pics!
A final word: try not to be too disheartened if it doesn’t work perfectly first time. Remember that not all the leaves will grow a new plant and that this is completely normal.
Leaves drying out and shrivelling up: it is normal for the leaf to begin to shrivel a bit as it will lose moisture, having been removed from the main plant. However, if the leaf dries up completely, this is likely due to being in direct sunlight, so remember to keep the leaves in a bright spot but not in the sun. You should also spritz the compost – and specifically the little roots that form – regularly to avoid them drying out.
Leaves becoming soft and/or yellowing: this sounds like overwatering. Try to avoid getting the leaves themselves too wet. Only soak the compost once small succulents have started to grow: prior to this, just keep the roots moist. Remember less is more with succulents and underwatering is less likely to kill a succulent than overwatering.
Leaf grows roots but no succulent: try pushing the roots into the compost and keeping spritzed. A little succulent may form, but sometimes this is just the way it happens. You probably won’t have a 100% success rate.
Leaf grows succulent but no roots: this happens sometimes too. It could be that the tiny roots that did form didn’t receive enough moisture and dried up or it could be that the new plant simply didn’t form properly in the first place. You can try placing your baby succulent on moist compost (with good contact) to see if this encourages roots to grow. A small dab of rooting hormone on the bottom of the succulent may help.
Leaves are slow to root: this could be due to a number of things. Succulents are dormant in winter, so growth is always much slower at this time. Secondly, temperature will affect growth and they will do better somewhere warm. Thirdly, sunlight is required. I find that placing my propagating leaves in a warm, bright spot in my conservatory is best for me (out of direct sunlight but still bright). A sunny windowsill is also a good option (though best to avoid really hot direct sunlight from a south facing windowsill until the plants are established).
Succulents form but grow slowly: the same reasons above apply. In addition, once potted on, you can begin to use succulent plant food once a month if the parent leaf has dried up to ensure your baby plant is getting the nutrients it needs to grow.