Houseplants 101: How to Propagate Plants

Houseplants 101: How to Propagate Plants

By Kier Holmes, Gardenista.com


As a garden designer who also loves making homemade gifts, I often propagate my houseplants. Giving away or swapping the plant babies is a rewarding project—and if you take up the same hobby, you can give yourself a pat on the back for practicing environmentalism and frugality.
Depending on the plant, you’ll use one of several propagation methods—from rooting a leaf to taking a stem cutting to coaxing new roots to grow in water. Whatever method you choose, multiplying your houseplants will yield satisfying results (and thoughtful gifts for anyone in need of a little more indoor green love).
Please keep reading to learn more about the ways to propagate houseplants.

Leaf Cuttings
A snake plant (Sansevieria) sprouts offshoots. Photograph by Mimi Giboin. For more, see Dressed to Kill: 7 Haunted Houseplants for Halloween.
Above: A snake plant (Sansevieria) sprouts offshoots. Photograph by Mimi Giboin. For more, see Dressed to Kill: 7 Haunted Houseplants for Halloween.

You can make more of some houseplants by cutting off a leaf section. The snake plant is a great choice for this technique.


How to do it: Cut a leaf into sections and note with angled cuts which end is the bottom. Next dip the bottom end in rooting powder, place in moist potting soil, and patiently wait.

Rhizome Division
ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) can be divided by teasing apart a plant
Above: ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) can be divided by teasing apart a plant’s stems to separate its rhizomes. See more at Everything You Need to Know About ZZ Plants. Photograph by Mokkie via Wikimedia.

This method works for multi-stemmed houseplants.


How to do it: Remove the plant from its container. Then use both hands to gingerly play tug of war to encourage the plant to come apart. Use a knife to cut the plant in half if the first method fails. (Sometimes plants will naturally divide with gentle tugging. )
Make sure in each division to maintain some roots, stems, and leaves. Pot in moist potting soil, place in indirect light, and provide even moisture to the recovering plants. Check in about two weeks to see how they are doing.

Tuber Division
Begonias under propagation at White Flower Farm. See growing tips for begonias in Gardening data-src=
Above: Begonias under propagation at White Flower Farm. See growing tips for begonias in Gardening 101: Hardy Begonia. Photograph by Sara Barrett.

This method works for plants like tuberous begonia or caladium because they produce bulbous-like underground tubers.
How to do it: Slice the tubers into multiple sections, ensuring each section has an eye, and then plant right away and keep the soil moist.

Stem Cuttings
Succulent starts at a recent plant swap organized by horticulturalist Sarah Scott of Botanic Creative in Victoria, Canada. See more in Plant Swaps: The New Sharing Economy.
Above: Succulent starts at a recent plant swap organized by horticulturalist Sarah Scott of Botanic Creativein Victoria, Canada. See more in Plant Swaps: The New Sharing Economy.

This process works for most multistemmed houseplants.


How to do it: Cut off three to five inches from a top or a side branch, just below where the leaf meets the stem (this spot is called a node). Next, carefully pull off the lower leaves and dust the cut end in rooting hormone. Now take a pencil and make a hole in the potting soil where you will plant your cutting so as to not inadvertently remove any of the hormone powder, and finally place the stem in your new hole. If your stem seems weak in the knees, prop it up with small rocks or angled chopsticks. Provide indirect light and keep moist.
You know your cutting has rooted when you gently tug on the stem and you find resistance. Now you can carefully dig up your start and replant.

Water Propagation
Photograph by John Merkl.
Above: Photograph by John Merkl.

Another similar method is to place your cuttings in a glass of water.


How to do it: Place a cutting in a jar of cool water and wait until white roots start presenting themselves. When the roots get to be about a half-inch long, remove from the water and plant in potting soil. If you wait too long, the roots will not acclimate to soil because they will have come to believe they are water plants.

What are some of the easiest houseplants to propagate?
Ready to plant, lithops with healthy root structures. See more in Gardening data-src=
Above: Ready to plant, lithops with healthy root structures. See more in Gardening 101: Lithops. Photograph by Yellowcloud via Flickr.

I will not lie and say I have attempted propagation of every houseplant. In fact, my main success stories involve the characters spider plant, jade plant, pothos, and mother-in-law’s tongue. But in general, the best indoor plants to try to propagate (including those I mentioned) are generally hardy and quick-growing: Consider coleus, begonia, scented geranium, Swedish ivy, and African violet.

What are the most difficult houseplants to propagate?
Horticulturalist Sarah Scott of Botanic Creative hosts workshops for houseplant lovers. For more information, see Botanic Creative.
Above: Horticulturalist Sarah Scott of Botanic Creative hosts workshops for houseplant lovers. For more information, see Botanic Creative.

Unfortunately, despite generous pampering (and plant prayers), some indoor plants are difficult to clone. Not surprisingly, variegated selections can be challenging because variegation is a mutation that can vary in stability, meaning the plant could potentially revert to solid green.

Pothos 
Above: Pothos ‘Marble Queen’ has white variegation and is slower growing than other varieties. It looks excellent in a white pot. See more at Pothos: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Other factors that may make it difficult to propagate: A sickly plant will obviously provide less than favorable results, as will a plant notorious for fickleness (such as Calathea ornata,which is super sensitive to temperature fluctuations).

Do I need any special equipment?
Photograph courtesy of Needles and Leaves. For more, see DIY: How to Root Succulents.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Needles and Leaves. For more, see DIY: How to Root Succulents.

Unless propagation is your full-time job (and therefore you’re talking about supplies such as thermometers, grow lights and greenhouses), there are only a handful of required materials needed: quality potting soil, a sharp, clean knife or pair of clippers, small starter pots, and rooting hormone you can find at most garden centers.

An aloe offshoot, ready to repot. See more at Aloe src=
Above: An aloe offshoot, ready to repot. See more at Aloe 101: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Photograph by Justine Hand.
How long does it take for new roots to form?
See more at How to Care for Aloe Vera, the Plant of Immortality. Photograph by Justine Hand.
Above: See more at How to Care for Aloe Vera, the Plant of Immortality. Photograph by Justine Hand.

Every plant’s growth rate varies as do the variables involved in propagating, such as the humidity level and temperature in your house, the amount of moisture you give the plant, and the health of the “mother plant.” Plus, a bit of luck always affects the outcome in the world of gardening. With that said, however, expect to see some action in anywhere from one to two weeks.


See more growing tips in our curated Garden Design guides for Succulents, Houseplants,and Vines & Climbers.

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