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Plant Propagation 101 - Easy Ways to Multiply Any Plant

There’s nothing better than making new baby plants from your existing plant collection. It allows you to expand your indoor and outdoor garden without spending a dime on new plants. And for the vast majority of plants, plant propagation, as it’s formally known, is both fun and easy to do. Ready to start growing your plant collection? Here are the easiest methods you should try.

What is propagation?

Propagation refers to the multiplication of plants. Seed propagation is one way to multiply plants you’re surely familiar with, but you can also skip the step of purchasing or growing seeds, and use a single plant to grow new baby plants. This type of propagation is known as vegetative propagation, and it’s extremely versatile and easy to do at home.
Plant Propagation 101 philodendron water propagation

Frankly, vegetative propagation is often the only way for a home grower to multiply plants, as many of the tropical houseplants we grow indoors are close to impossible to get to bloom, pollinate, and produce seeds in a home environment.

When you propagate your plants, you’ll be taking parts of the mother plant, separating them, and getting the parts you divided to develop a root system and new leaves - not necessarily in that order. For different plants, this will take anywhere from a few weeks to months, so a little patience is definitely required.

Now, shall we examine and learn each propagation technique?

1. Division

Plant Propagation 101 plant division

Division is one of the easiest and quickest ways of getting two, three, or more plants out of a single mother plant. It works for multi-stemmed perennial plants, which includes most houseplants and a multitude of garden plants as well. As the name suggests, this method involves dividing the plant and moving it to a prepared flower pot or a new location in the garden.

Division is best done in early spring or fall when your plants are not actively growing but still get enough sun to stay strong and healthy.

Root Division

Basic root division works great for multi-stemmed plants like most herbs, most vining houseplants, Snake plants, ZZ plants, Aglaonemas, and even indoor plants that are otherwise quite tough to multiply like Calatheas. In fact, even certain ferns, such as Rabbit's foot ferns (Humata tyermannii) or Staghorn ferns (Platycerium) can be propagated by division.

When dividing a plant, your goal is to make sure that all of the baby plants have a root system, a stem, and leaves, otherwise, the new plant may not survive.

Plant Propagation 101 divided ZZ plant
How to divide a potted plant: 
1. Fill a new planter halfway with potting soil and have more potting soil on hand. Set aside.
2. Remove the parent plant from the pot and set it on a clean work surface. Gently shake the plant’s root to loosen up the soil, using your fingers to gently scrape away the soil until the root structure is visible.
3. Decide the point of division. For some plants, you will be able to just untangle the roots and readily separate the plants. For others, the roots may be too delicate or completely entangled, and you will need to use a clean knife to cut through the roots. Fewer cuts always result in a better outcome, so try to do as little damage as possible.
Note! Some of these plants, such as the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia, pictured above) have rhizomes that like like tough bulbs. Try not to damage these underground structures as you’re dividing the plant.
4. Transfer the new plant to the planter you prepared earlier. Pot up both plants as usual. Voila, you have 2 plants for the price of one.
Bulb Division

Did you know that plants that grow out of underground bulbs or tubers can also be divided into 3-4 plants? This list includes plenty of garden flowers like dahlias and lilies and even houseplants like tuberous begonia and caladium. The process is very similar to root division for soft bulbs - you simply clean the bulb and divide it by hand, teasing apart the roots. 

Tubers will need to be cut using a disinfected knife. Just make sure that each section has an eye and some flesh. 

You can plant bulbs and tubers immediately and water generously. Some people choose to sprinkle the freshly-divided tubers with some fungicide before planting to prevent rot.

Dividing Pups
Plant pups are tiny offshoots that are essentially clones of the same plant. They look like miniature versions of the parent plant that are attached to the main plant. Why do plants clone themselves? Some plants, such as bromeliads, produce pups during illness or before dying off after blooming, whereas others do so to create massive colonies.
The largest and one of the most ancient colonies of this kind is a quaking aspen tree colony in Utah called the Trembling Giant (or Pando). It includes 40,000 tree trunks entangled by a single root structure.
Plant Propagation 101 plants with pups

But you don’t have to travel to Utah to see plant pups. In fact, you likely have plenty of those in your own home. Common houseplants like Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum, pictured on the right above), Pancake plants (Pilea peperomioides, pictured on the left above), many palms, most succulents, and cacti produce pups all the time.

Dividing such plants is super easy - just gently remove the pup with your hands or a pair of clean garden shears, and pot up the pups in any small pot. I use recycled deli containers to propagate pups, and they work great.

If the pup doesn’t have any roots, you can dip it in a little rooting hormone before planting. Rooting hormone is sold at most garden centers. Although not necessary for the propagation of pups and cuttings, it can be very beneficial for propagation. Watch the video below to see how to propagate pups step by step.

With all the newly divided plants, keep a close eye on them during the first 2 weeks. It’s best to keep newly propagated plants in a warm environment with bright indirect sunlight. You may also need to water new plants more often before they become fully established.

2. Cuttings

Plant Propagation 101 ficus cutting

When you’re taking a cutting of a plant, you’re utilizing the plant’s incredible regenerative properties to essentially produce several plants. This method involves severing a leaf, a part of the stem, or even some of the root, and using this so-called cutting to grow a new plant. The advantage of this method is that it always allows you to preserve the parent plant, as it will continue growing. 

Now, cuttings can be taken from both soft-stemmed houseplants, herbs, and even trees. But it’s always advised to propagate hardwood cuttings in the fall and go for younger stems, as hardwood generally takes longer to root. Some plants take weeks to root, whereas others take months. If you’re impatient like me, using some rooting hormone can help speed up the process a bit here as well.

There are 3 main types of cuttings (not all plants will propagate through all three techniques):

  • Stem cuttings work great for woody shrubs, herbs, and single-stem houseplants like Crotons (Euphorbiaceae), and ficus, including Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus Iyrata) and Rubber Fig (Ficus Elastica, pictured above). The process involves cutting off the healthy top growth of a stem and propagating it
  • Leaf cuttings are excellent for multiplying most houseplants, herbs, and woody plants. When propagating leaves on aeroids or other climbing plants, it’s important to leave the growth point of the plant called the node attached to the leaf. Other plants, such as succulents, can readily root from the leaf alone.
  • Root cuttings are predominantly used for propagating outdoor woody plants in the fall.
Plant Propagation 101 succulent propagation

With all cuttings, you have a variety of ways to propagate them, but it’s important to provide the cutting with optimal light and humidity:

Water propagation - you can place the cuttings you took in a clear container or vase with water and replace the water every few weeks. The plant will be ready to be potted up when the roots are well developed (about 4 inches long). But for most plants, there’s no rush. Many vining houseplants like philodendrons, monstera, and pothos, for example, will live happily in water for months. Once you transfer the plant to a pot, water it a bit more than usual for 1-2 weeks to help it get nutrients and develop soil roots faster.

Soil propagation - You may stick the cuttings directly into the soil and keep it moist until the plant is established. Leaf cuttings of succulents, for example, are best grown this way (pictured above). The disadvantage is that you don’t see the roots, and it may take a bit longer than other methods.

Plant Propagation 101 water propagation
Propagation in other substrates - some plant growers also propagate plants in containers of moist sphagnum moss, leca, or damp perlite. Certain plants may develop roots faster this way than they would in water, but eventually, you’ll need to transfer the plant to a pot, so this method requires a bit extra work.
Some growers also put a plastic bag or a terrarium top over the plant cuttings to speed up their growth and retain moisture. If you choose to do so, remove the bag or terrarium 1-2 times a day to reduce the risk of rot.
The video below demonstrates the basics of cuttings on a Pothos plant:

3. Layering

The last plant propagation technique we will discuss here is layering. Although all of the methods we discussed here are very useful, layering is one of my personal favorites because it’s ridiculously easy.
Layering doesn’t work with all plants, but most vining plants, hanging succulents, shrubs, many herbs, berry shrubs, and even trees can be propagated with this method. Layering utilized these plants’  natural ability to root when the stems or runners make contact with soil.
Plant Propagation 101 air layering

What are runners? Plants like mint or strawberries have specialized stems called ‘runners’ that root very easily to make new plants. But you can take any stem, not only a runner, and simply pin it down with a rock or brick. Wait for a few weeks, then remove the rock and check if the plant has started rooting. If so, you can cut off the connection to the parent plant, and you’ll have a brand you plant ready. 

When layering woody plants, scratch or wound the bottom of the stem before pinning it down, this will urge the plant to start producing roots in that specific area.

A variation of layering is air layering (pictured above), which is when the top of the plant’s stem is wounded and then wrapped in sphagnum moss and plastic, and secured until the wounded area starts rooting. This is a pretty cool method for both trees and tall, single-stem houseplants like fiddle leaf figs, bonsai, or monsteras.

Now, there are many other, more complicated, and scientific propagation techniques like grafting or tissue culture, but those are typically reserved for professionals and even labs. Since we really wanted to keep the information in this article as practical as possible, we only included the methods you can easily replicate in your own home and garden. So off you go, experiment with your plants, and start growing a lush garden for free right away!

H/T: Gardener's World, Gardenista

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