February 27, 2024

Extension Notebook: How to propagate houseplants

Have a favorite houseplant that you just can’t get enough of? Houseplants can be propagated by a variety of techniques, allowing you to expand your collection. Cuttings are a method of asexual propagation that work for many houseplants. There are different kinds of cuttings — tip cuttings, stem cuttings, and leaf cuttings. The best method for taking cuttings will depend on the type of houseplant you are propagating.

Cuttings allow for a clone of the original plant. Take cuttings at any time of the year while the plants are growing. There are differences in the types of cuttings that may be available throughout the year for rooting plants. Stem cuttings can be obtained on the lower portions of a stem or branch, distinguishing them from tip cuttings.

Use small, sharp pruning shears or floral snips to take the cuttings. One-sided razor blades or a sharp knife can also be used. Morning is the best time to take cuttings when stems are the most hydrated. Cuttings are usually taken at three to six inches long and the lower third of leaves are removed.

Leaf cuttings are used to propagate houseplants such as African violets, begonias, peperomia, snake plant, and succulents. These cuttings do not contain an axillary bud, and only work with plants that can form adventitious buds. For succulents, leaves are best removed and allowed to callus before insertion into media.

Leaf cuttings can also be taken with buds (leaf-bud), petioles, (leaf-petiole), or a particular part of the leaf like the leaf-blade, leaf-vein, or leaf-section. The type of cutting to be used for a particular houseplant can be found referenced in plant propagation books, Extension publications or other gardening references.

Rooting hormone is used for plants that need encouragement to root. Rooting hormone should be utilized in a separate container to avoid contamination of the original container. Dispose of remaining rooting hormone after each propagation session.

When the cutting is ready to be planted, a hole can be made with a dibbler or something as simple as a pencil. After the cutting is inserted, the media is firmed around the cutting to ensure good contact and avoid air pockets.

Enclose the plants in plastic bags or containers to increase the humidity. Loss of moisture is a challenge when it comes to propagation from cuttings. A high humidity environment allows for lower transpirtation from cuttings. Drainage is critical for cuttings to avoid rot. Drainage holes in the container or flat used are necessary for success. Water every few days to keep the media moist.

Keep the cuttings in a bright, but not sunny location like near a bright window. Occasionally, a grow light may be needed to provide enough light.

Andrew Holsinger is a University of Illinois Extension educator, horticulture.